Friday, March 13, 2009

Banning Picasso at the Lapin Agile, part 11...Steve Martin weighs in!

Steve Martin's letter in defense of his play and in support of our efforts to stage it in La Grande appeared in the The Observer today. The paper also featured its own column here as well as a front page article here .

Needless to say, I really like Martin's letter. He strikes a very reasoned tone and tries to appeal to people's sense of decency and openness. He also says some nice things about me, and he pledges to fund our production. So he gets my vote for White Knight of the Year.

One of my favorite parts of the letter is where he says that upon hearing of the dust up concerning his play, he reread it in order to check his own perceptions of the material. I wonder how many people noticed that. I mean, he wrote the damned thing. He's overseen rehearsals of it; he's witnessed countless performances of it, yet he still took the time to reread it just to give a fair hearing to the complaints brought against it. Contrast this with the selective and cursory readings performed by the complainants and by the superintendent and you begin to get an idea of who's been operating in good faith and who hasn't.

The arguments presented thus far against the play have all had one thing in common. They are extreme; they are blanket condemnations; they concede nothing meritorious to the other side, and they insist on preventing other people from having a voluntary educational experience.

Time and again, I have attempted to show respect for the diverse individual opinions of people by furnishing them with information about the play so that they can decide whether or not they wish to take part or attend. The response to this good faith effort has been for certain people to shut down the project entirely, to remove any chance of other people choosing to participate or attend, and to label supporters of the project as morally inferior beings.

For all the good feeling engendered by the news that Steve Martin has thrown his support to our cause, I fear that the really important news today concerning the role of theater arts in our school system got buried inside this story in today's Observer. The story reports that superintendent, Larry Glaze has appointed school board member, Michael Frasier to head up a new committee. Pay attention to this passage:
The committee is being formed in response to the controversy involving the LHS student play “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.’’

A bit later this passage.
Glaze said it would have been easier to avert the controversy if the district had had a specific policy addressing the selection and approval of student plays.

I hope people are paying attention. The intent here could hardly be more transparent. Mr. Glaze wants to make sure that it's easier to make sure that a play like Picasso at the Lapin Agile never gets produced at LHS.

Let me make a prediction: this committee is going reflect a "cross section" of the community. It will attempt to put in place some kind of ratings system that more or less reflects the district policy on films shown in classrooms. It will also require scripts to be submitted by drama coaches to some one or some group of readers who will evaluate scripts for appropriateness of content. I could be wrong, but I'm willing to wager that I'm not.

In the end, whatever this committee recommends will then be considered by the board in May, quite possibly before our production is staged at EOU. I find this timing to be fascinating. There won't be another theater production until late next fall yet for some reason the committee needs to conclude its work before even having had a chance to see the very production which the new and as yet undefined policy will be designed to prevent from ever taking place in the future. Now here's a radical idea. Before this committee makes a single recommendation, its members should be required to view the production at EOU. Is it asking too much for people to at least become informed on the subject before crafting policy recommendations on it?

I suggest that people get butts seated on that committee because the other side will definitely be represented there.
K

11 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dangit, if I still lived in LG I would be all over that committee! Kevin, keep fighting the good fight. This has got to be really hard on you and your little family.

I have started about 4 letters to the editor of the Observer but I always end up trashing them. My letters end up being me bemoaning the state of affairs in my hometown and being all mean to the folks who feel entitled to push their views on everyone. Not real productive.

Is there anyway you can videotape the play and post it on Youtube or something? How many more people are going to see this play thanks to this controversy (isn't that how it always works)...

Jerry

9:29 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

I certainly noticed, and was also impressed with, the fact that he re-read it. I'm glad you're blogging this because all I read was SM's article and was only happy and excited - I didn't realize what else just emerged that you pointed out (said committee)...
Nevertheless, it's a wonderful new development in the saga. Kudos to you and your students.
Karen McFarlane

11:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, JCH, I keep hoping the right letter will write itself, too, while I am commenting here; but I've had to tear 'em up, too, mainly so they don't draw any more fire to Kevin's and the kids' cause. I'll keep trying.

Kevin, I, too, got the chills from the notice that the new committee's task will be to keep this kind of thing from happening again, "getting this far...." again. That certainty, that you can legislate all tones but the proverbial "black and white" out of an issue, with apologies to black which historically gets stuck on the negative end of a false spectrum, often results in throwing the baby out with the bathwater. No babies will be bathed. We will produce revivals of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown every year for the rest of the century and could somebody please clean up that Pigpen kid while we're at it. I see a basic refusal in the members of the community who oppose the play and probably any future play that is not suitable for crib to walker audiences to consider that Drama is an art, that drama teachers and students practice it as diligently as football players practice their sport, that they practice it in a developing arc like sports, taking more risks, investigating more avenues as they progress toward adulthood. I might like sports to be all inclusive and minimize all risk for all students, especially since they are not yet adults, cannot know what risks adults are encouraging, even demanding, they accept on the various sports fields, some perhaps not in their long-term best interest. I might like a committee to study the idea that students be allowed to play only flag/NO TOUCH football from pre-school to graduation, after which they are considered adults and free to play college sports as they wish. I'm sure that I would get the standard lecture that our kids "need" to engage in the rough and tumble of sports, which are gradually more risky, involving more contact, as they mature and head toward adulthood, to teach them real life, teamwork, sharing, goal setting. There is no such consideration for the dramatic arts as this controversy is being played out. As we heard expressed at the town meeting, children are to be protected completely from acting out mature or adult themes until graduation, at which time they are free to vault into adulthood with its freedoms and responsibilities and head for Broadway if they want--with their four YAGMCB audition tapes. The kids in drama are just as anxious to try out their chops, take on gradually more mature or adult themes and roles. To allow them to do that judiciously is a part of their progression to maturity as much as allowing and encouraging sports teams to engage in activities which we adults cannot ensure--or insure--are not completely free of consequence.

Keep up the good fight. We're waiting for the production. I will encourage as many doubters to attend as possible even if they come away unpersuaded.

Anon/GrK

1:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kudo's to you, your students and to Steve Martin.

It has been a long time since I graduated and left La Grande and often ponder returning. This controversy shows exactly why I would like to come back, and why I want to stay away.

Thank you Mr. Cahill for fighting for these kids!

Please keep us posted on how this is progressing - and if tickets go on sale. I have been looking for a reason to come back "home" and ensuring that every seat is filled is enough to get me there!

Keep up the good fight.

tammy urquhart

2:46 PM  
Blogger Shawn4lia said...

I live in California, and heard about this on the Democratic Underground blog. As a mom of three adults, all of whom participated in drama in high school, I applaud your efforts to bring quality material to your students. And good for Steve Martin. I wish I could see the production, I am sure it will be marvelous.

4:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Cahill (I still use "Mister" 27 years after graduation because you have earned and deserve that level of respect)

The lessons you are teaching your students are far greater than the contents of the play. You are teaching them to stand up for what they believe in, voice opinions, stand tall, and fight the good fight when neccesary.

I would be proud to purchase tickets, travel to L.G. and have the honor of attending this event.

Thank you Mr. Cahill!

Dan Sullivan
Class of 82

5:32 PM  
Blogger adam jk gallardo said...

Kevin, this is fantastic! I kept hoping that Mr Martin would become aware of the situation and weigh in. You and your students must have been ecstatic.

You know, I re-read the play myself last week and I have to agree with Mr Martin--Some of the lines made me raise my eyebrows when I imagined them delivered by sixteen-and seventeen-year olds, but the spirit and message of the play far outweigh any questionable language.

Congratulations, Kevin.

9:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hollywood Insider picks up the story after it hit the AP:
http://hollywoodinsider.ew.com/2009/03/steve-martin-fi.html

Great comments!

12:13 AM  
Anonymous Michael said...

I have just read through all of your posts and comments, and I must say that I have many feelings on the subject. First I commend you and your students, as well as your supporters, for fighting the good and right fight. It strengthens my beliefs in humanity. Second, reading some of the opinions of your detractors, my beliefs in humanity are weakened. They find the play sick, insulting, and obscene, basically, and don't want their tax dollars paying for it. Well, I find nuclear weapons, white phosphorous, and the two wars we are currently waging (at least outright) sick, insulting, and obscene; but I know I don't have a chance in changing how my tax dollars are spent on those things. In a republic such as the US, one cannot simply pick and choose how his/her tax dollars are spent by protest--that's why we have elections--just because s/he disagrees with it.

Also, they want to "protect" high school students from such themes as sex, alcohol, foul language, etc... Obviously, they haven't visited a high school lately. The students are already aware of such themes, and in many cases engaged in them. The problem is, many of them engage in such activities ignorant of the complex issues and consequences surrounding those themes. Theater, especially in high school, is one way to bring the issues into the open so an honest discussion can take place between students, parents and educators. This play is an excellent educational tool if used properly.

I imagine your detractors have probably erected a shrine to Thomas Bowlder and "The Family Shakespeare", but then I realize they have a snowball's chances in hell of knowing who he is and what he did.

Best of luck to you and your students. Please post it to Youtube.

4:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just wanted to let you know that your travails have made it across the Atlantic. I've accessed your blog from Ireland after a US colleague of mine told me about it. Kudos to you for having your students perform a play that has a real message. I personally think 16-17 olds are mature enough to handle Picasso's well-known chauvinism and understand that Mr. Martin's play does not endorse it.

5:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Cahill,
Yes, I too still call you Mister, even after 28 years. I am so proud of you and want you to know that I, and many other former students, support you. Many of us will be in LaGrande to, hopefully, watch this play. I think it's tragic that LaGrande hasn't changed much in all these years. This attitude is why I left and why I rarely return.
Keep fighting for literacy, in all its forms. We'll come and help, just give us a time and a place.

Shelly Hampton DeAtley
Class of 1981

2:49 PM  

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