A play is yanked from the Arts Centre. What was technology’s role?


David F. Rooney Current Publisher and Editor
David F. Rooney
Current Publisher and Editor

Angered by what they regard as a heavy-handed attempt to censor their performance of the controversial play Dog Sees God, the Revelstoke Theatre Company has jerked the play from the Performing Arts Centre.

“Further to our conversation this afternoon, this note is to confirm that the Revelstoke Theatre Company will not be performing Dog Sees God May 15 thru May 24  at the Revelstoke Performing Arts Centre,” Theatre Company President Denny Kaulback told RPAC Manager Miriam Manley in an e-mail sent on Monday, April 7. “We are not prepared to meet the censorship restrictions you are demanding for this production.”

At issue was a perceived demand that admission to the play be restricted to theatre-goers over the age of 18  because of the nature of this drama.

Peppered with coarse language, Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead, is an exploration of sexuality, suicide, eating disorders, bullying, teen violence, rebellion, sexual relations, sexual identity and other themes of interest to teens. Written by Bert V. Royal, this 2004 play is very loosely based on Charles Schultz’s Peanuts comic-strip characters. (Please click here to read more about this play on Wikipedia.)

“We don’t have a problem with the School District’s decision not to permit the play to be performed for the student body, but we don’t think they (the district) can impose restrictions on the general public,” Kaulback told The Current on Sunday, April 6.

Director Martin Ralph said the Theatre Company would have issued cautions warning theatre-goers about “adult themes and coarse language” and might even have gone so far as to suggest that it might not be suitable for young children.

The Theatre Company approached me because they believed the RPAC, was attempting to censor their production. I find the notion of censorship abhorrent and promised to look into it.

What I discovered was that communications between SD19 Superintendent Mike Hooker, Manley and Ralph broke down, likely because they were relying on email as opposed to direct, person-to-person or face-to-face discussion.

Here’s what Hooker — who told me he was unaware that the play had been yanked from the Arts Centre lineup — said in an e-mail to Manley after he met with Ralph on March 18: “The content of the play is far beyond anything that we would provide, support, or suggest to our students, so, our students will not be involved. Advertising should be very clear that there is extreme profanity, and deals with issues related to drugs, alcohol, and sex. (18A if it was at the movies). I understood that Martin was going to make this a no minors event.

Here’s what Manley subsequently communicated to Ralph in a separate email: “As I promised I contacted Mike Hooker to get clarification on the schools’ policy around smoke/flame and the age restriction for Dog Sees God. As you can see below he supports a “NO MINORS, show restricted to 18 years and older” advisory, so please can you add this to your publicity.”

Ralph replied: “No. We do not censor our productions by restricting them in any way. See further commentary below. This production is about teenagers, and though the majority of actors are over 20 the story remains the same…

Content warnings (or advisories) in live theatre (are) very common practice. Restricted or ‘No minors, 18 years and older’ is never done in community or professional live theatre.

“I have conferred with Theatre BC executive on this topic, and they were disappointed to hear of the discussion. They believe, as we do, that preventing anyone from attending a live theatre performance is counter to the purpose of live theatre and would only serve to disrupt the availability of the art form, its expression and the experience.

Between April 6 and April 11, I spoke with everyone concerned with this issue.

Manley, who was hired to manage the Performing Arts Centre based on her terrific qualifications, says she only ever wanted an advisory — not a true restriction — and both Revelstoke Arts Council Executive Director Garry Pendergast and Arts Council Chairwoman Carol Palladino believe this is a case of miscommunication and misperception. For his part, Hooker agrees and wants to see the issue resolved as swiftly as possible. Everything I know about everyone involved in this controversy inclines me to believe that this is a clear example of why people should get together and talk things out when there is disagreement instead of relying on email.

Based on comments made to me on Thursday it is apparent that this controversy has already leaked into the general community and some people are, for whatever reason, taking sides.

Revelstoke’s arts-loving general community is not well-served by a this kind of open disagreement.

My suggestion to everyone involved is that they take a deep breath, sit down in a neutral environment and talk face-to-face. Engaging a mediator is another possibility.

The moral to this tale? Technology may be a wonderful thing but it is no substitute for person-to-person communications, particularly if it looks as though something is going sideways.