NCAC Asks Boston Children's Theatre to Reverse Artistic Director's Suspension Over Play Involving Nudity
As an organization dedicated to defending creative expression, the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) is urging the Boston Children's Theatre (BCT) Board of Directors to reinstate its Artistic Director after his suspension following his refusal to remove a scene containing nudity in a production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
NCAC argues that creative decisions are for the Artistic Director to make, and must not be compromised by the moral qualms of a few community members.
Burgess Clark, who has been the Artistic Director of BCT for nine years, chose Cuckoo's Nest because it is both a classic and widely read at the high school level in Boston Public Schools. The play enjoyed a full run in late April, and was a critical and box office success.
Despite this success, and the fact that audiences were adequately warned of the play's adult language and brief display of nudity ahead of time, two board members demanded that Clark remove the scene containing nudity for the play's final performances. Clark refused, saying he would resign rather than remove the scene. He is currently indefinitely suspended until the board can make a decision regarding his employment.
NCAC argues that keeping children from viewing artistic representations of nudes does not 'protect' them; rather, it imposes the religion-based view that the nude human body is shameful. Children encounter representations of nudes in many public places, from museums to city squares. Historically, nudity has been one of "the central subjects of art, and the beauty of the human body has inspired painters, photographers, sculptors and choreographers for many centuries." The U.S. Supreme Court has stated on multiple occasions that simple nudity (that is not sexually explicit) is constitutionally protected expression.
"Calls to censor artwork containing nudity for the sake of 'protecting' children are, of course, nothing new," said NCAC's Arts Advocacy Program Associate Joy Garnett. "However, select individuals' sense of morality and decency cannot be imposed on an entire community and an Artistic Director's ability to produce creatively rigorous productions of artistically valuable work."
Read the letter in full here and below:
"May 8, 2017
To the Board of Directors of the Boston Children's Theatre,
The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), founded in 1974, is an alliance of over 50 national nonprofit organizations, including literary, artistic, religious, educational, professional, labor, and civil liberties groups dedicated to promoting the right to free speech. We write to express our concern over some Board members' actions with regard to a brief scene containing nudity in the production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in late April. Burgess Clark, BCT's longstanding Artistic Director, refused to remove the scene. The Board suspended him temporarily, pending a meeting.
It is our understanding that Clark chose to produce Cuckoo's Nest because it is widely read at the high school level in the Boston Public Schools. Clark has been the Artistic Director at BCT for nine years and has never been obliged to submit his creative decisions to the board for approval, and contractually he retains full artistic control of the productions at BCT. Also, we are aware that the theatre has presented many boundary- pushing plays in the past including a gay-positive story that features a kiss between two men.
Clark ensured that ample warnings were given about the play containing nudity, adult language and themes. The play was a success at the box office as well as critically, and there were no complaints from students, parents, audiences or critics. The only complaints came from two Board members who took issue with the nudity in the context of a children's theater.
Children see artistic representations of nudes in every museum, as well as in public spaces. The nude has historically been one of the central subjects of art and the beauty of the human body has inspired painters, photographers, sculptors and choreographers for many centuries. For hundreds of years there have been sculptures of nudes in many public spaces from Washington, D.C. to the capitals of Europe. Adults, possibly shamed about their own thoughts and fantasies, may occasionally be embarrassed, but if anyone
can look at a nude and not see an issue, it is a child. Nevertheless, there are frequent calls to censor artwork containing nudity so as to "protect children" from what some claim is "indecent," or simply to avoid controversy.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court has stated multiple times that simple nudity (i.e., representations of the nude body in a non-sexualizEd Manner) is constitutionally protected expression. Schad v. Mount Ephraim (1981), Jenkins v. Georgia (1974), Osborne v. Ohio (1990).
BCT is the oldest children's Theatre in the country and the oldest theatre in New England. It has a long legacy, and it would be a shame to see it impose a misplaced sense of "morality" and "decency" on the entire community. We urge you to re-instate its Artistic Director so that he can continue to produce plays with creative rigor and not bend to the moral beliefs and values of a few members of the community at the expense of presenting artistically valuable work.
NCAC has resources for cultural institutions that find themselves in the position where they need to negotiate controversy. Some of these resources can be found on our online resource, Artist Rights: http://www.artistrights.info
Please let us know if we can be of further assistance.
Svetlana Mintcheva, Director of Programs National Coalition Against Censorship"
The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) is an alliance of 56 national non-profit organizations dedicated to defending freedom of thought, inquiry and expression.