Sunday, February 24, 2008

Worried About Guns? Ban a Campus Musical :

After the Virginia Tech murders a year ago, Yale University banned the use of stage weapons in a student theatrical production — infuriating actors and educators who believed audience members could distinguish drama from real life. After a few days of ridicule, Yale backed down.

A year later, after another gun tragedy, college officials are still trying to figure out how to make their campuses safe — and theater still is a target. A student production of Assassins, the award-winning musical, was to have premiered Thursday night at Arkansas Tech University, but the administration banned it — and permitted a final dress rehearsal Wednesday night (so the cast could experience the play on which students have worked long hours) only on the condition that wooden stage guns were cut in half prior to the event and not used. Assassins is a musical in which the characters are the historic figures who have tried to kill a U.S. president.

Robert C. Brown, Arkansas Tech’s president, issued a statement explaining the decision as follows: “All of us have a healthy respect for the freedom of artistic expression that college theater represents, and all of us agree that out of respect for the families of those victims of the tragedies at Northern Illinois University and Virginia Tech, and from an abundance of caution, it is best at this time not to undertake a campus production that contains the portrayal of graphically violent scenes.”

While faculty members involved in the program declined to comment on their views, others said privately (citing fear of offending administrators) that they viewed the decision as an overreaction and one that sent the wrong message about theater, the role of art, and free expression. The local newspaper reported that the administration was so concerned about the production that reporters were barred from the dress rehearsal.

5:29 PM