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Poll Question: Do any of you attenuate offensive language in your shows?
Poll Choice Votes Poll Statistics
7 [17.50%]
8 [20.00%]
20 [50.00%]
2 [5.00%]
3 [7.50%]
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VPA1
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bullet Topic: offensive language
    Posted: 12/08/08 at 9:43pm
Just curious. Some of our directors do, some of our directors don't. Our board turns a blind eye to the practice, but generally approves of attentuating offensive language as it tends to improve the bottom line.

We've never had anyone complain that our shows would have been improved had more offensive language been present, but we've gotten tons of complaints when it is present.

Thanks!
Larry
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tristanrobin
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bullet Posted: 12/09/08 at 11:54am
I am totally against it.

I'm always against rewriting the playwright's words.

I feel that if you are unable to present a play as written, you should choose a different play that is appropriate for your company/audience. There are thousands and thousands of plays to choose from. Choose one that will work for your group.

... not that I have strong feelings about this or anything  LOL
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VPA1
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bullet Posted: 12/10/08 at 1:36am
So, I directed OF MICE AND MEN. Our CT is in a lilly white area. The ONLY appropriate, willing and competent black man to play the role refused to be called "nigger" in the play, as Steinbeck wrote. I subbed in "darkie" for the few references we had and this tremendous show had its debut on our stage.

Tristan, should I have not directed this wonderful story for the sake of this substitution?
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tristanrobin
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bullet Posted: 12/10/08 at 10:22am
Well, I believe that the actor should have the reason the word is used to him.  Deriding them as a nigger an' a dum-dum and a lousy ol' sheep, she viciously but accurately lays bare the perceptions by which they are ostracized by society. By not using the offensive word, they make her and her prejudices less offensive. I would imagine that he would understand that bigotry and ignorant prejudice is not something we should white wash and make more acceptable for polite company.

It's interesting that is the word that was an issue. Just last night I saw a production of The Meeting, which is a fictional historical meeting between Malcom X and Martin Luther King ... the n-word is thrown and it's like a bomb. There are few words in the English language which have the immediate impact as that word.

In answer to your question, I can only repeat what I wrote in my previous post: I'm always against rewriting the playwright's words. Sometimes that means making tough decisions.

I'm sure your production was wonderful - but imagine the electricity that might have happened when an all-white audience saw a pretty white woman toss that word like a molotov cocktail at a black man on stage.

I can't tell you what you should or shouldn't have done. I can only offer my opinion on the subject presented. I don't mean to offend!
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skoehler
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bullet Posted: 12/10/08 at 11:09am
I completely agree with tristanrobin.  It is wrong to change the words of the playwright, not to mention that is illegal and a direct violation of your contract.  Of course if you have written and received permission fromteh publishers to change the language (they will get permission from the playwright) then by all means.
Words are very powerful, the playwright has constructed the play by (one would hope) very carefully selecting words that will have an impact on the audience.  By changing the word(s) for whatever reason, you are probably diminishing the power of the show.

Steven Koehler
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Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette
www.lafayettecivic.org
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VPA1
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bullet Posted: 12/10/08 at 12:39pm
No offense taken, Tristan. I understand your pov and thanks for your post.   It's just that it came down to either take out that word or don't do the show. I had no choice whatsoever from that actor, and I could hardly blame him.

It is also wrong and illegal to speed or to copy a cd, yet these things are done commonly. The world is not black and white. I would rather present a show as tremendous as OF MICE AND MEN with 99.9% of its language intact than to not present it at all. My bet is that Steinbeck would concur.
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tristanrobin
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bullet Posted: 12/10/08 at 3:20pm
well, LOL, these things that are done commonly also have their consequences if caught doing them! LOL

I understand your POV - I just disagree. Wouldn't be much of a world if we all thought the same way! Smile
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JohnEZ
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bullet Posted: 12/29/08 at 5:25pm
The high school that I help is in an amazingly conservative town where half the people don't speak English and nearly everyone else is over 60. Though I don't condone the practice-- I try to discourage it--the director often edits language at the request of the Board of Education.

They don't want to choose other productions, either, because to them, most shows in which the language is wholly appropriate draws images of sugar plums and Wizards of Oz.
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bullet Posted: 1/09/09 at 11:55am
I voted that changes are made occasionally but I agree with tristanrobin 100%. We recently did FAME and in addition to casting Tyrone as white (though done well) they completely cut the rap number and that was only the most glaring change.
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bullet Posted: 2/23/09 at 10:18pm

We decided not to do a production of "Deadwood Dick" because of offensive (racist) language and/or stereotypes.  I'm considering writing a play in which one of the characters uses offensive (politically incorrect e.g. "Oriental" for "Asian" and swearing) language.  I'm planning to write a few different versions of her lines, with different levels of offensive language.

The ethics aside from "is it legal" would depend some on whether the offensive language is "just" characterization (Person A is a bigot, or whatever and talks that way) and one instance of many, or whether a specific word or instance is being used for maximum impact (You know the Sunday School teacher is MAD when she starts cussing).  Of course it's wrong to change the playwright's words without permission.  With some plays, the publisher and playwright are totally willing to give permission to change a specific word or phrase if you ASK.

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