Saturday, February 28, 2009

Banning Picasso at the Lapin Agile, part 2

This post was revised at 7:15 pm.
What follows is a letter I sent in to the local paper, The Observer. I don't know if it will get published but the issue is sure to get hotter in the coming days.

Years ago I would sometimes go into my classroom wearing a button on my lapel. It said, “I want complete control.” It was a joke, of course, though there were times when it did seem more like a plaintive wish. The fact of the matter is that I’ve never had complete control of anything and certainly not of anyone. But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t exercised authority. My many years in public education have driven home the distinction between control and authority in myriad ways, some of them benign, others not so much.

On February 26 the La Grande School Board upheld a ban on the LHS production of the play Picasso at the Lapin Agile. The discussion that night was wide ranging but at no point did I hear anyone object to this play being performed at a different venue. To the contrary, several speakers on the side of Mr. Glaze, including the complainant’s husband, conveyed an expectation that this indeed was an option, as long as school district funds were not involved.

I proceeded, therefore, in good faith to attempt to secure a theatre venue at EOU. Theatre faculty and at least one student club offered to sponsor the event and to reserve McKenzie Theater as well as help raise funds for the production to go on. Several community members including some parents of my cast members also pledged to help in this effort. It had all the makings of a difficult but exciting community volunteer effort.

But then the president of the university, Dixie Lund, informed me in a telephone conversation on Friday, February 27 that she would not allow the event to take place on the EOU campus. She cited interagency loyalties between EOU and the La Grande School District, and she cited political concerns from conservative elements in our community. She said that she would be happy to see a forum or debate about the play on the EOU campus and that she would support such an event.

When I suggested that the forum take place immediately after the production so that audience members and cast members could all take part in a unique educational activity perfectly suited to a university, she demurred, saying that EOU would host the forum but not the production. I pointed out that I have heard of many such forums but never one in which the production did not precede the discussion. As I hung up the phone, it was as if I had just heard the sound of a great door slamming shut. A couple of hours later, one of the parents working for the play project called to let me know that he had tried to rent the Armory but that when he told them what it was for, he was turned down flat. Slam.

Ironically, the very next day The Observer ran a column authored by EOU president Dixie Lund with the heading “Community plays an important role in EOU success.” Lund cited the EOU mission statement. “The educational, cultural, and scholarly center that connects the rural regions of Oregon to the wider world,” and she added that “you are all an important part of that mission.” I guess she meant “wider” in a narrower sense and I guess “all” just isn’t as inclusive as it used to be.
The events of the past few days have caused me ponder the meaning of the words “community” and “public”. Is there no longer even the pretense of a commitment on the part of local public servants to recognize the simple fact that we do not live in a homogeneous community and there are a significant number of community members who see this theatrical project as a positive expression of good, solid moral, aesthetic and intellectual values?

No amount of polite manners and decorum can obscure the offense that has been committed here. It is not only professionally and personally offensive to me; it is absolutely dismissive of an entire segment of our community. A segment that is offended by the insinuation that it has no values or standards or that it does not have the best interests of its children at heart. The fact that these insinuations are being made by nice people doesn’t make it any less terrible. In fact, that’s about as nasty as it gets.

It is time for the powers that be in this community, those public and those who operate behind the scenes, to declare themselves. Do they mean to recognize the entire community and be worthy of the authority that derives from doing right by all of us. Or do they simply want complete control?

Kevin Cahill


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been saying the recent events surrounding the banning of the play, ostensibly from the HS, were interesting and may even represent demoncracy at work, but now I am just shocked. And I shouldn't be. As anyone who knows me knows, I am not just vigilant, I am fully addicted to watching the forces I consider dangerous to my views on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness at work, as mundane as my version of that pursuit may be. The crossed arms and veiled threats of the majority of people at the local school board meeting, a majority (on both sides) of whom had not read or seen the play, represent that old bug-a-boo cultural war that has doubled down now that the election is over and they're again afraid that their plan for dominion has slipped from their hands once more. After the meeting I could understand the point that perhaps a play done at a small town high school should be accessible to all, young and old, conservative, cutting edge, whatever, so that sister Susy and Grandma could both attend. But the fact that the powers that be have in effect implemented with a few well chosen phone calls (speed dial anyone?) within their ranks a scorched earth policy is shocking to those of us who thought there was a smidgen of inclusion and good will left. Shocking. Nasty is a good description,too. Some times and places this phenomenon is like an abscess enclosed inside the body politic. Some times and places it is more like a systemic pestilence that infects and ails the whole body. Sometimes it erupts and drains itself, like the Salem witch trials, the Scopes trial, the McCarthy hearings, and those caught up in it have time later to regret at their leisure--or not. Sometimes it goes subclinical and just weakens the collective body's vitality. Sometimes it takes over and destroys the host. What happens from this point on will be interesting. Kevin, I'm afraid you have been appointed to be the target for the frustrations of a lot of different groups of people who think that a few words or sexual references are responsible for their loss of power and control over their world, whether or not they ever really had it. Like I said to a man at the meeting, I hope no one here reads the Bible. I would hate to have a rash of fratricide break out at the high school after the Bible class across the street opens to the first book.

To answer your question, Kevin, NO, they do not mean to do right by all, and YES, they do demand complete control. Sorry about that. It's not you personally either--try very hard not to take it that way. National or local, the war has arrived here on our doorsteps. Watch your back, your front, and keep the kids away from that answering machine. To me, this has the makings of another bad prophetic novel--the hard, cold, violent? look in the eyes of those otherwise seemingly harmless citizens whose minds are uniformly pre-ordained, pre-made up on all manner of subjects, who look at those with other opinions as enemies to annihilate or control.
It's the fear of all minorities when a majority marks them and forgets that democracy is not worth spit if it doesn't protect the rights of all. It's standing outside your house yelling, Hey, you know me, to a mob of people who do indeed know you but have subjugated their individual intelligence and subverted their individual responsibility to go along with a power that demands uniformity and blinders. Its the worst of adult peer pressure and it scares me because it contains all the necessary ingredients for evil to flourish.

Sorry about the rant. Crushed that box--better go wash the soap off my shoes.



12:42 PM  
Blogger isha said...

Mr. Cahill,

I hear you've been having trouble putting on a play... lol :)

well good luck making it work, you'll hopefully make enough off ticket sales to cover costs :) Have you found a space yet? I'm teaching Drama in Honduras, and even tho I'm not being driven out of spaces, I'm having a really hard time finding a space as well, so I totally empathize.

being LDS I can understand some of the censorship and stuff, but I participated in another of Steve Martin's shows at my first high school.
If the school had a drama program it wouldn't be so bad. The whole point is to do lots of different types of shows...

oh well, anyways, I thought I'd just send you a note and I hope you can make everything work out. Sounds like you might have the help and support you need. Brittney's a really good stage manager, who else is in your cast?

8:41 AM  
Blogger Kevin Scherrer said...


My LG friends alerted me to your plight via Facebook, and now I have another Blog to keep up with.

I never had you as a teacher, but the ones who did, and do, are very lucky.

Keep up the good fight.


PS, I hope that Midori, Emili and I can make it over to see the play.

1:35 PM  

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