A theatrical benefit for a national anti-censorship organization was canceled by the host venue because it found some of the program's content offensive.
Playwrights For A Cause, presented by the Planet Connections arts festival, was to feature new works by Erik Ehn, Halley Feiffer, Israel Horovitz and Neil LaBute, along with discussions about censorship and inclusion in the performing arts. It was scheduled for June 14 at The Sheen Center in New York City, with the proceeds to benefit the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC).
But the show was canceled this week by Sheen management, which sought to make artistic changes to the show. Specifically, Sheen officials wanted to change the title of LaBute's play Mohammed Gets A Boner. They also sought changes to the remarks of some of the panelists who were scheduled to speak about censorship issues.
But Sheen's suggestions fell on deaf ears. As Glory Kadigan, the founder of Planet Connections, put it: "We refuse to alter Neil's script, or any of our speakers’ speeches, and we refuse to present Playwrights For A Cause without any of them."
Sheen Center Executive Director William Spencer Reilly defended their decision, saying that the venue "will not be a forum that mocks or satirizes another faith group." LaBute's play, according to a report in the New York Times, is "about an actor asked to perform in an offensive satire." The playwright added that the play does not depict the prophet Muhammad.
"It's hard to imagine a more ironic outcome: a venue attempts to alter, edit and censor the works that are being performed at an anti-censorship event," said NCAC Executive Director Joan Bertin. "And when the artists won't compromise their vision, the venue cancels the show."
Playwright LaBute said he was "saddened by this recent decision by the Sheen Center," and added:
This event was meant to shine another light on censorship and it was unexpected to have the plug pulled, quite literally, by an organization that touts the phrase 'for thought and culture' on their own website. Both in life and in the arts, this is not a time to hide or be afraid; recent events have begged for artists and citizens to stand and be counted.
This incident brings into sharp relief some of the urgent questions surrounding artistic freedom, offense and censorship, as private venues increasingly fear the consequences of supporting open and unfettered dialogue. For some, silence is preferable to controversy.
Playwrights For A Cause is currently searching for alternate venue for the show.