Students, alumni, faculty ‘ban together’ against censorship

By Campus Reporter

In a small room in the back of Wicker Park’s Davenport Piano Bar Sept. 26, performers, including Columbia students and alumni, squeezed onto the small stage to act out 14 scenes with censored content previously deemed unworthy for theater. 

The censored content performed at the bar, 1383 N. Milwaukee Ave., is part of “Banned Together: A Censorship Cabaret” and was chosen after being challenged or banned by schools and organizations in the past. “A Censorship Cabaret” was organized by the Dramatists Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit organization created by the Dramatists Guild to advocate freedom of expression in theater.

“There are a lot of things in the way of what’s guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States, which is freedom of expression,” said Paul Amandes, associate chair of the Theatre Department, who participated in the show. “You don’t have to come to see the show, nobody is forcing you. But, you can’t tell other people they can’t go.”

Amandes introduced the two scenes that students participated in   informing   the circumstances surrounding their censorship.

Columbia students and alumni participated in scenes from “Almost Maine” and “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” both of which had canceled performances in high schools because of explicit content. Other students, alumni and staff from Chicago colleges, including Roosevelt and Northwestern University, performed other scenes.

“Almost Maine” by playwright John Cariani was canceled by school officials at Maiden High School in Maiden, North Carolina, in 2014, because it includes a scene depicting two men declaring their love for one another, according to the DLDF website. Senior theatre major Kyle Hamlin and 2016 theatre alumnus David Stobbe performed in the scene.

“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” by comedian Steve Martin was canceled at La Grande High School in La Grande, Oregon, in 2009 because it portrays women as sex objects and shows people drinking alcohol in bars, according to the DLDF website. The scene was performed by Hamlin, junior theatre major Henry Weisel and junior theatre major Leslie Keller as well as 2016 theatre alumnus Rory Beckett and Stobbe.

Cheryl Coons, Chicago regional representative for the Dramatists Guild, contacted theater administrators from Chicago colleges to enlist support for the show. The cabaret was directed at students because censorship can be prevalent in schools, according to Coons.

“Theater is dangerous in the eyes of people who are afraid because it is ‘present moment,’ and they feel that it is going to affect people,’’ Coons said. “[Fearful individuals feel] controversial ideas are going to somehow disturb their community, as opposed to thinking that we could welcome new ideas. It might change us, but the change can be for the better.”

“A Censorship Cabaret” educates writers about their rights and how those rights are often disrespected through censorship, according to Coons.

The performance was scheduled to coincide with national Banned Book Week, a program supported by many organizations to spread awareness about censorship of literature.

“The point of art is not to make people feel better, it is to make people feel more deeply,” Amandes said. “If that means angry, ambivalent or confused—because they now know more about an issue than they did previously—that’s a good thing.”

Keller said she hopes the performance inspires the audience to resist censorship in their own artistic pursuits.

“[By censoring], it’s like we’re pretending those things don’t exist, even though they do in a very real way,” said Keller. “If we censor everything, we do lose the [value] of those facets of life, which can be very beautiful.”