CMU School of Drama

Thursday, April 06, 2017

In Minnesota, Change Play’s Title Or Lose A Production?

Arts Integrity Initiative: If you happen to have been giving any thought to producing Langston Hughes’s 1935 play Mulatto at the Ames Center in Burnsville MN, save yourself some time and either move on to another play or another venue. Why? Because the Ames Center is uncomfortable with the word “mulatto,” and won’t approve it in the title of an offering in their building. Hughes’s stature, and the fact that the Black Repertory Group in Berkeley play produced the show as recently as 2015, probably wouldn’t make any difference.

5 comments:

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Marisa Rinchiuso said...

The topics in this article are extremely relevant and could act as a precedent for many other playwrights/theatres in this situation. So, clearly the issue lies in the title, which begs the question: how important is a title? For the sake of the article I kept imagining the title as an advertisement that could pop up on any channel at any time. With that in mind, I understood why a theatre in Minnesota did not want a derogatory word headlining in their season. Although I do see their reasoning, I completely sided with the playwright while reading. When it comes down to it, the playwright gets the final decision and if they choose not to change the name, especially when it comes to a name that is crucial to the topic of play. I thought the playwright and theatre did a wonderful job of publicly explaining their negotiation and reasoning in a very amicable and respectful manner.

John Yoerger said...

So as much as it does suck, I do tend to agree with the decision. I can understand the importance in producing work that is valuable to a community, and I certainly would never suggest changing the title of a work (especially when it can have integral value to the story). That being said, it is also fair of the venue to say that they are unable to allow a work with a generally offensive term. I can see how very easy it would be for people to get up in arms about the city sponsoring or being associated with an event that utilized an inappropriate racial slur or other profanity in the title. Public entities have to be very cautious and walk a thin line between supporting the arts and supporting ALL members of their community so I understand where they are coming from and certainly understand. Frankly, I think if they wanted to produce work like that to begin with, they shouldn't of been doing it via a city sponsorship/partnership/producer. Rather, they can produce fun musicals like Legally Blonde instead and save the impactful and valuable art for other places.

simone schneeberg said...

I can see both sides of the story, but I don't quite agree with the venue. I understand that the venue does not want to appear insensitive and like they're supporting offensive material, but the only people who would think that are ones who would say so just to be reactionary. The show itself addresses the offensive and derogatory nature of the word within the first few minutes. Those who see the show or even read a summary or review would know that it does not support but rather addresses directly the offense and oppression associated with the word "mulatto." I think this is one of the big reasons why people get angry with what becomes blankety called "PC culture." It is supposed to be the acceptance of those marginalized and the recognition of offensive terms and the support of people's beliefs. But when taken to the point such that at first glance without any further research people blow up and start fights that is when the genuine work and acceptance of "PC activists" is disregarded.

Emma Reichard said...

Ok, so I do get it. You’re a big venue, with a lot of stature. You’re trying to make sure no one gets offended. And that kind of trying is sweet. But in situations like these, you have to look to the source of the material. Because it’s one thing if a white person casually throws the use of m*latto into a show or the title of a show without giving any thought to its meaning or representing that experience onstage. But in this case, the playwright is of mixed race and the whole team clearly felt comfortable using the word to describe their identity. So to deny them the use of a word that white people have been using as an insult since forever seems really insensitive. And it’s not like it is a word so offensive you can advertise with it, and even if it was, there are ways to discuss that without forcing a total title change. It just seems like the Ames Center was a little dated in their understanding of identity, and while maybe they were just trying to do the right thing or save their own butts, it wound up censoring a show from a very much missing perspective.