Commentary: The Barn's role is to challenge all of us
In response to the Barn Theatre complaints:
Let me first make it absolutely clear that I have no connection whatsoever to The Barn Theatre.
I am currently a theater instructor at Ridgewater College here in Willmar. I am also a professional playwright, theater artist, columnist for The Dramatist magazine, and the regional representative of the Dramatists Guild to Minnesota and the surrounding area.
I also acted as technical director and set designer for a production of "Sylvia" at Yellow Tree Theatre in the Twin Cities in February, so I am very familiar with the play.
I feel it is important to hear another facet of this discussion, especially before anyone hastily considers ceasing their attendance to The Barn because of a couple of swear words.
First and foremost, The Barn is under a strict contract with whoever owns the rights to the play they produce. A major stipulation of this contract is that they are not allowed to change any part of the play whatsoever without written consent from the writer. Does that always happen? No. But I assume it is out of reverence for the work of a rather famous and talented playwright, Mr. A.R. Gurney, that they chose to let the language remain.
Because I am familiar with the play I also know that they used the alternative dialogue section that the playwright provided. Yes, there were still swear words in this secondary dialogue, but far less than the original script. If then the language, which is no worse than anything you hear during a prime-time television show or in a PG to PG-13 movie, was still offensive then I would suggest three things.
First, The Barn should have a clear warning about language and sell safe or family season tickets, tickets that include only the G-rated shows.
Second, if you see that warning and a couple of four-letter words make you lose your lunch, it's your fault if you show up. And especially don't show up if you're simply looking for a censorship fight. Frankly, that's terribly annoying. And please don't cease your patronage of the theater because they produce something you happen not to like. Different strokes for different folks, ladies and gents.
The Barn is a community theater for all community members, not just those who think "The Odd Couple" and "Harvey" were the greatest plays ever written. You do realize Shakespeare has women raped and dismembered in his plays, yes? And yet he remains the most produced playwright at community theaters across the country.
Third, The Barn should most certainly not give in to community members who are offended by difficult subject matter or occasional flagrant language. If anything, they should challenge the community more.
A theater's primary task should be to both entertain and educate their audience. How much can an audience really garner from re-producing "The Music Man" and shows like it every five years or so? Really? Those are the kind of theaters most contemporary theater patrons avoid like the plague. A theater-goer's job then is not to censor the art but to absorb it, take what works for you, and leave the rest... just like anything else in life.
I very much hope The Barn Theatre does not give in to any complaints and continues to produce work that stimulates and challenges the Willmar community. If they do make the fatal mistake of giving in, they will find themselves folding quickly, because like it or not, audiences, much like the times, they are a-changing.
Jayme McGhan is a theater instructor at Ridgewater College in Willmar.