Just in time to celebrate Banned Books Week 2013, actions by officials at New Ulm's Martin Luther College have created a chain of events leading to the cancellation of a scheduled community theater production of Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee's classic examination of censorship.
MLC is affiliated with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
In one of the final articles that will appear in the New Ulm Journal under his byline, staff writer Josh Moniz reports in NUACT production of ‘Inherit the Wind’ canceled:
The New Ulm Actors Community Theatre's production of "Inherent the Wind"?was canceled last week due to cast dropouts stemming from objections by Martin Luther College professors and local WELS members over the play's depiction of the evolution/creationism debate.
NUACT originally slated the play as its fall production with MLC student Zach Stowe as director. The play deals with a fictionalized version of the evolution/creationism debate in the 1925 Scopes "Monkey Trial." The play is also a metaphor for criticizing the suppression of free expression under the McCarthyism of the 1950s.
The play was not slated to be performed at MLC, but a final audition was scheduled on campus on Friday, Aug. 30. NUACT previously used MLC for auditions, rehearsals and performances.
After seeing the poster for the audition, several MLC professors raised objections about the play's subject to the administration. . . .
Althought the director, who is a student at Martin Luther College, believes in creationism, he believes his creative freedom has been limited by the college. Moniz reports:
[MLC's VP of Student Life Jeffrey] Schone informed Stowe on the morning of the audition that it could not be held on campus. The audition was then rescheduled to a new location.
On the following Tuesday (Sept. 3), Stowe resigned from the play. He cited a flood of e-mails and letters objecting to his association with the play from MLC professors and local WELS members for his decision. He was also concerned that MLC administration would maybe take their concerns further if the outcry kept growing, so he decided to focus on the more important issue of his schooling.
However, he said he felt his creative freedom had been stifled and that he was very disappointed that some of the criticism seemed to come from MLC. He said he shares WELS' belief in creationism. He said he believes open discussion about the topic is essential to proving its validity.
Read the rest of the tale about the non-production of 1955 play in the New Ulm Journal.
Online Cliffnotes for Inherit the Wind note that censorship is a key theme of the play:
. . . When writing Inherit the Wind, the playwrights were not concerned with the controversy between evolution and creation, the focus of the Scopes trial. Instead, they were concerned with the censoring or limiting of an individual's freedom to think. The authors used the issue of evolution as a metaphor for control over an individual's thoughts or beliefs. . .
Who knew? Indeed, one wonders if the MLC professors had ever read the script to which they so object as to shut down an audition on campus, triggering the withdrawal of actors and eventual abandonment of the production.
The American Library Association's Banned Books Week resources website recommends the 1960 Stanley Kramer movie version of the play for First Amendment film festivals:
Film and video productions can vividly depict the impact of censorship on individuals and society. Consider screening a film or sponsoring a First Amendment film festival for Banned Books Week. Public performance of these videos and DVDs may require a license. Vendors provide information at Motion Picture Licensing Corporation and Movie Licensing USA. Note, though, that many documentaries come with public performance licenses. . . .
" Inherit the Wind," director Stanley Kramer's stellar work based on the fictionalized Broadway play depicting the Scopes Monkey Trial and William Jennings Bryan's and Clarence Darrow's debate on teaching evolution in the public schools. (1960, 128m, United Artists/MGM)
The ALA catalogues the film under fiction.
Intolerant?: WELS 2011 "anti-Christ" kerfuffle
Creationist views aren't the only controversial item in the church's menu. In June 2011, Michele Bachmann and her family left the church, the Washington Post reported in Michele Bachmann’s former church explains pope ‘anti-Christ’ claims:
The Lutheran denomination that GOP presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann quit in June sought to explain its belief that the papacy is the anti-Christ after reports questioned whether Bachmann is anti-Catholic.
Six days before Bachmann officially launched her presidential campaign last month, the Minnesota Republican and her family verbally requested to leave Salem Lutheran Church in Stillwater, Minn., which is part of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS).
When Michele Bachmann quits you, that might be a sign your doctrine is a tad narrow.
Image: Poster for 1960 film version of "Inherit the Wind."
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