On staging “Banned Plays”

Well, another liberal friend has defriended me on facebook for asking too obvious questions – for questing perceived wisdom, for questing the faith, even, I think. You know, I’m not sure. For weeks the young lady was promoting the staging of “banned plays,” inviting all to see. I said nothing until yesterday, when I asked what I thought were simple questions, after the proud huzzahs that the staging was successful and all were thrilled – which frankly, I thought was wonderful, and stated so. Woman works hard at staging event, event goes well – what is not to like?

Still, I asked: How could banned plays be promoted and staged? Were these plays that were banned in the past, or are they newly banned plays? How could a staged play with a good audience and public promotion be banned? Are plays considered banned if they don’t get a government grant to be staged? For asking these questions – I was, um, banned from learning all about future banned plays. Well, then, I won’t know about any banned plays, oh well. I wasn’t going to go to them anyway. It’s like not reading the ad for the Lollipop Band come to town. Still, for the effort to be put into staging and promoting banned plays to ban the learning of them is a conundrum I can’t answer. In any event, while my questions were pointed, as they are wont to be, I also asked, with one word: “Seriously.” I truly wanted to know the answers.

I was not provided the answers to my apparently too searing questions – but merely told I’m banned from learning about banned plays in the future for asking about the nature of the banning. Seems antithetical to the point of the promotions and the staging, and the point of the very plays themselves, but, I’m not running the shows. It’s also antithetical to the concept of “dialogue” and “diversity” and “learning” and “educate” and all the other ideas that percolate on the left side of the social divide. Here it was, I was trying to learn about the nature of banned plays and instead I was banned from learning a thing more – at least by this woman. For oddly, I might learn of these banned plays nearly instantly on the Internet – right down to the theater in which this lady stages the plays. I might then buy a ticket and trundle on up to my seat and take in the dangerous banned plays.

Who’s banning them? This I don’t know either. I have never heard of the “national play approval committee” or something. Is there a cabal of theater operators banning them? Are there any private funded theaters left? I don’t think even a movie theater can survive anymore without some fancy tax break – sales tax forgiveness, property tax abeyance for 10 years, pick on program please. Perhaps, if the theaters are all owned by civic groups and organizations, and even private companies, beholden to government funds it’s quite possible that the automatic censors – those who disburse government money to the arts do become censors, yes? If they fund this and not that, and both require government funds for they can’t make a dime otherwise, well, one is allowed the other disallowed. But, well, he who was the gold rules, they say. So, perhaps the government funded theaters wouldn’t allow the plays to be staged – and so the lady sought still another venue and held her event.

Why a theater might refuse to stage a play could be many – too many in the pipeline, the sets cost too much, the sets are too big, too dangerous (cannon fire? A staged hanging? Hmm,) too…. fill in the blank. Perhaps there’s some guidelines well promulgated that these plays run afoul of – too much nudity, sex, violence, filth, foul words – I don’t know. Perhaps even the government funded people running these theaters just don’t like the message of the play – perhaps there is politics involved.

Well, sure there is. Say there’s 20 plays come to the theater asking to be staged. There’s 12 months to operate, there’s set up, rehearsals, staging, and such, so, there’s one new play a month. It’s mathematical that 8 plays won’t be staged at this theater. The decision needing to be made, the content of the plays comes to the fore. What does the “community” want, it might be asked. The people who decide are, of course, the government employees, or grant issuing committee.

Even at the remove of the non-profit playhouse the government still decides – for hanging over the head of the non-profit is the sword of next year’s budget. It’s quite easy to self-censor, to make government funding flow, rather than to run afoul of whatever rules the government has already set. Indeed, funding for the arts is censorship – but in a negative way.

This funding or lack thereof doesn’t prevent plays from being put on, no. In fact, its quite possible for anyone to stage the play at any venue they can find on their own dime. Perhaps some rich guy wishes to have his kid in plays, keep him off the street. So he funds the little theater with his name on top with the proviso that his son is in every production. Or maybe just given a chance. Or, maybe, it’s not even mentioned more than, “You know, playwright, my son loves to be in plays, here’s a million for your theater.” And the playwright goes off to find or write plays with this thought of a million in his mind, and the son wandering around – and the playwright must, perforce, human nature, lean to making sure the son is in the play somehow – for the next million, of course. It’s a small price to play, it’s paid often. Putting a legislator’s daughter into a production never hurt a little theater for sure.

But, 20 plays, 12 funded – are the 8 banned? This is the question I asked. I think it’s a good question. Are we really at the point in society that the lack of a government grant means something is banned or prohibited? I’m not sure, but it seems to be peeking through, this pernicious idea.

I’m against the grants in the first place. Not because I’m against plays. Nor do I think plays really need the money from government. Yes, they need money – then, sell the product. The product is the play. Even seeking a grant they are selling their play to those who might fund it. What difference if Government or Corporation? Well, there is a difference. Government takes small amounts from all for their purpose, and corporations must wait for consumers to shell out their cash voluntarily.

The poor folks who this woman I know is so very concerned about are paying a sales tax, or a portion thereof, to the city, county and state governments, and other taxes to the federal government, all so the city, county, state and federal arts agencies can disburse the money with the public good and the community in mind. Except, well, unpopular groups won’t get the money, they are censored out of the process – and yet, they must pay for the privilege of funding other people. In essence, when the government at any level taxes everyone to fund a few, the few do benefit, but the many do not. This I brought up, this is maybe the question which banned me from learning more of banned plays.

It is true that the people who put on the play with government grant money – no matter how construed – whether a direct grant to build the sets, or to the theater to have the materials, or to the non-profit office which then can use donated money for the previous two items, or some confabulation of terms and points of tax money input – they benefit. They have convinced a second group of people, the government, to go to a third group of people, the taxpayer, for the money. That means the taxpayer doesn’t have the money for his use, but it goes to the playwright – perhaps for a play he will never see, has no interest in seeing, could care less that it goes on, or doesn’t get put on, and who perhaps, when he finds out how his tax money is spent, is opposed to the play. Ah, now a member of the community speaks.

Yes, the vaunted member of the community speaks, but – if he speaks against government money for the play he’s for censorship! Absolutely not. He’s for not giving his own money to people he doesn’t know to do what he now finds he doesn’t like paying for. It’s not that the play goes on, it’s that he pays for it. Much as liberals might complain of their tax money to go to the military. Well, same principle. Had his tax payer money not gone to the playwright he wouldn’t have known a thing about the play – or, if he had heard it might have muttered “Worthless trash, but at least I don’t pay for it.” But, at least he’s not giving something up for something he will never use. Just like poor folks who don’t go to sports stadiums pay for rich folks to watch richer folks play football.

Of course, those asking for government grants are quite sure that without this money the community will suffer without the wondrous play about … whatever it is about. It’s usually not much, or as a potentially popular play, it could be put on for profit. It is argued by some that without the government money then know one would stage plays. Well, so what? Suppose the society, the culture, the people, the community, has moved beyond plays? It happens, you know. In fact, movies seem to have taken the place of plays. Or musicals on Broadway that can spin off a cast album, book and t-shirt and a few trinkets, and, a movie.

But no, the playwrights insist that there work is important for one reason or another – much of this lady’s stuff is about the white male hetero capitalist power horrors that have brought her the comfortable life of leisure to stage banned plays. So the oppressed put on plays about their travails – it’s never comedies that go for grants, is it? Or musicals, no, I don’t think so. Maybe I’m wrong, I’m not in the play business – but, I am astute enough to glance at the ads for plays in my local “alternative” weekly in my city which is just as alternative as the liberal thinkers can make it – so alternative it’s nearly identical word for word in dozens of such publications across the land and all in a demand to conform to the way they would like things to be. There seems to be two alternatives, the daily rag and the weekly rag, of late.

 Most plays promoted in the weekly, and often the daily, are about the travails caused by the power elite. And then, right after the play is over, and the set broke down, the playwright goes again with his next idea to the very power elite he decries, and takes the money from the power structure he claims does him in – which gives it to him without much fuss and muss, perhaps even just to find out what his problem is, and laugh – and all the while the playwright takes the money from the poor, which he is writing a play about them not having enough power and money. Yes, their power to not support plays with their cash has been taken away, and they are further impoverished so the middle class guilt ridden playwright with angst can write about the plight of the poor and get his name in the paper. It’s just a strange conundrum, to take money from the poor by using the power of the elite to stage plays about the plight of the poor. And to claim to do so for the very community that is usually not thrilled with the content of the play. In fact, it’s rather intellectually fraudulent.

 I had wanted to discuss this morass with the lady and her other commentators, but, with the new found love of diversity and inquiry in this nation, I was banned from questioning anything. Ahem.

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