Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Wait, Wasn’t This The Plot to a Porky’s Movie?

http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2010/01/26/bawdy-bard.html

Romeo and Juliet is too much for Nashville.  At least it’s too much for Nashville high school students, according to their parents.  They came to town, and out came the censors.

Apparently they recognized the word “maidenhead” in the first scene, because they wanted that gone.  Oh, you can still thrust them up against the wall, and pull his naked weapon out, that pretty piece of flesh – apparently nobody figured out what that means.

Falling under the same “I recognize that word!” magnifying glass is also Mercutio’s hand upon the very prick of noon.  Nope, right out.  Makes me wonder if Sleeping Beauty is allowed to prick her thumb on the spinning wheel?  Does this mean that Macbeth is out, too?  By what would something wicked this way come??

Romeo and Juliet is all sex and violence.  You can’t begin to censor half of it.

UPDATE: Be sure to read the lengthy rebuttal from Will O’Hare, Education Director for the Classical Theatre Project.  Apparently there’s more to the story than meets the eye, and any audience disapproval that may have existed seems to be centered squarely on some interesting choices by the actors, rather than on the specific source material.  I appreciate Will stopping by to set the record straight!

4 comments:

Andrew Huntley said...

You can even extrapolate your final statement further to include all of Shakespeare. And yet he is still widely considered one of the world's greatest dramatists. His blending of the high and low comedy is one of the reasons for this, as well as one of the reasons that his plays have endured. I would love to see the parent's reaction if someone mounted a production of Titus Andronicus in Nashville. But in the end, it's just another unfortunate example of the lack of cultural understanding in modern society.

Will OHare said...

I am the Education Director for the Classical Theatre Project and I am a native of Nashville. What has been reported in the media about our production of Romeo and Juliet is untrue. We were never asked to cut any lines from the play. The people of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center have been great supporters of the Classical Theatre Project and this production of Romeo and Juliet.

We did have discussions about the the physical actions during the bawdy lines (Mercutio putting the Nurse's hand on his own genitals during the "prick of noon line" or Sampson using his arm between is legs as his penis and wiggling it about on the "maidenheads" line), but TPAC left all decisions up to us as a company. To repeat: they NEVER tried to cut any lines from the play.

Unfortunately, that doesn't sell papers, so the story became grossly distorted in favor of sensationalism.

The response to the show in Tennessee was overwhelmingly positive (you can see the comments on our Facebook fan page for evidence of that). We did have a couple of teachers take their classes out, but we've had complaints about sexuality in the production ever since we first produced it in 2006 in Toronto. Yes, that's right, even Canadian teachers wrote letters of complaint. Since I started this job about five years ago, I learned that our society in North America is much more sensitive about sex than violence. We've never received a complaint about some of the graphic murders depicted in our plays, but we have regarding the references to sex in Romeo and Juliet.

I believe it's important to point out the difference between the reaction of a few audience members and the behavior of a major cultural institution. The papers suggest that some official body wanted Shakespeare's text altered, and that's just false. As far as the reactions of the audience members, we received three standing ovations during our week in Tennessee. As for those few who walked out, I noticed that the only time teachers left was when the actor playing Mercutio stood on the armrests of the students seats in the audience and then simulated sodomizing someone during the Queen Mab speech. When his movements were not so graphic, nobody left the theatre. So, even for those few who did leave, were they reacting to Shakespeare's play, or the the graphic actions in the actor's portrayal of the role?

Duane said...

Hi Will,

Thanks very much for the clarification! Guess it goes to show the quality of sensational journalism, huh? Whatever puts the butts in the seats, I suppose? I'd like to think, though, that a story about censoring Shakespeare would tend to bring even more people out to see what all the hubbub is about!

Craig said...

I remember reading R&J way back in grade school--it was included in one of those reading anthology books the school board selects, and all the juicy stuff was cut out. So the Nurse said like three words in the whole play, but, anyway, the "maidenhead" thing was cut as well. It was a couple of years later that I started really getting into Shakespeare (after we read and saw Hamlet), and I started thumbing through my Dad's ancient Complete Works. One of the first things I looked at was Romeo and Juliet, and there was the whole "maidenhead" gag, which I was precocious enough to pick up on.

Dirty jokes in Shakespeare?! Well, that's it--I was hooked.