Update 6/7/2019: The show will go on in August thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor who stepped in to fund the production.
The City of Carrollton, Georgia pulled its sponsorship from a theater production because the play’s text references nudity, raising serious First Amendment concerns. The play was scheduled to run at the Carrollton Center for the Arts, a city-owned venue. The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and Dramatists Legal Defense Fund (DLDF) demand that the City restore funding to the production.
Calendar Girls, a comedy by Tim Firth, is based on the true story of a group of middle-aged women who pose nude for a charity calendar to benefit a local hospital. The project far exceeds expectations and raises over five million dollars for cancer research. After the success of the 2003 film version, the play has toured nationally and internationally since 2008.
While the movie includes brief glimpses of female breasts, the stage performance does not include any nudity whatsoever. The City of Carrollton had approved the play and the production rights have already been obtained. However, the City Manager and some members of the City Council reportedly do not want the city’s name to be associated with a play that even references nudity. The City pulled its funding, leaving the future of the production in peril.
While the City Manager and City Council members may personally find the mere idea of nudity offensive and worry that potential ticket buyers may react similarly, city officials are barred by the First Amendment from suppressing speech because they personally take offense at the ideas expressed. And that includes defunding the play: While the government may choose whether to fund art or not, it cannot wield the power of the purse strings to discriminate against viewpoints it doesn’t like. The City may be found in violation of constitutional imperatives if it has withdrawn funding because of the subjective opinion of some city officials and their discomfort with references to nudity.
This is not the City of Carrollton’s first brush with theater censorship. In 2011, the city’s then-mayor shut down production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. However, some plays many would deem provocative, like Spamalot and Tombstone, which features an attempted sexual assault, have gone on undisturbed.
NCAC and DLDF demand that the City restore its sponsorship to Calendar Girls immediately and restore it to the fall schedule as planned.
Supporters of the play have organized a protest at the next city council meeting.
Read the full letter to the school district below.