Sharing Steve :: New Stuff
Monday, March 16, 2009

Steve subsidizing high school production of his play

This controversy has a background:
The Observer (Union and Wallowa Counties, Oregon)
Board denies appeal to bring back LHS play
Written by Dick Mason, The Observer
February 26, 2009 02:10 pm

The La Grande School Board, following a spirited, contentious but civil hearing before about 300 people, voted 4-3 Wednesday to uphold a decision by Superintendent Larry Glaze to cancel the LHS play “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” by Steve Martin.

“I am disappointed but not surprised,’’ said LHS sophomore Madison Young, a student involved with the play’s production.
Glaze, in one of the most controversial decisions of his three-decade career in school administration, canceled the production Friday after a complaint was filed by parent Melissa Jackman because of the play’s adult themes and content. Her complaint was accompanied by a petition signed by 137 community members.

An appeal of Glaze’s decision was filed Monday by LHS Principal Doug Potter and the play’s director, high school French and English teacher Kevin Cahill.

Potter spoke out against censorship during a presentation to the board Wednesday. He said that everyone agrees that public “K-12’’ schools should be held to a higher standard.

“But I submit that censorship is not the higher standard,’’ Potter said.

The principal said that standard should encourage, “in this democratic society,’’ an expression of the diversity of options and a tolerance of the views of other people.

“Our standards should show some faith and trust in the intelligence of our students. Censorship doesn’t do that,’’ Potter said.

Cahill stressed that the play is a comedy and that people should not lose sight of this when addressing its adult content, which include sexual references.

“Comedy makes us laugh first, reflect later. Steve Martin invites us to do both. Laughing at sex isn’t the same as endorsing it,’’ Cahill said.

Following presentations by Cahill and Potter, the public weighed in during a comment session that extended for more than hour. Steve Donnell of La Grande is among those who spoke in support of canceling the play.

“Whenever a play that is performed in the school environment and is a school-sanctioned function mocks these standards and encourages counterproductive conduct, that play should not be an official function of the school,’’ Donnell said.

John Sprenger, a retired LHS teacher, also spoke out against the play. He emphasized, though, that he was not speaking against those connected to the production, such as Cahill, who selected the play.

“I would be appalled if anyone attacked Kevin personally. I’m attacking the play.’’

Sprenger said that it is clear to him that the play’s adult content violates school district policy.

“I see no alternative but for the board to follow its own policy,’’ Sprenger said.

Dr. Joel Rice, a La Grande psychiatrist, told the board that studies show that plays like the one in question do not have a negative influence on youths. He also said he believes censorship is dangerous.

“I strongly believe censorship erodes the human soul,’’ Rice said.

Stacy Shown, a La Grande parent, said she objected to the profanity in the play.

“As parents we need to set a standard,’’ Shown said.

She also said that if the play were allowed to go forward at LHS, many conservative families would move their children out of the La Grande School District and into charter or online schools or begin home schooling.

Greg Monahan, an EOU history professor, told the board that Cahill went through all of the right channels to get the play approved. He said that to ban the play after all the rules had been followed “would be a gross miscarriage of justice.’’

A number of people said they were upset with the play’s content because it would exclude them from attending.

Cahill noted, though, that the number of people at the meeting was greater than the number who attend plays.

“Let’s be honest here. You have not been coming (to the plays),’’ Cahill said.

Board members Merle Comfort, Reed Waite, Glen Herman and Keith Walker voted against the appeal and to uphold Glaze’s decision. Michael Frasier, John McKinnon and Randy Tweten voted in support of the appeal.

Herman said that he had received 50 e-mails on the subject, and 45 were in support of Glaze’s decision. This input and Herman’s faith in Glaze’s ability had a big impact on his decision.

“I have a great deal of respect for Larry. He is so connected to the pulse of the community,’’ Herman said.

Waite said he was influenced by a survey he did at work. He showed the passages of the play to 20 people, and all 20 said it is not appropriate.

Frasier, prior to voting, said it is unfortunate that issues concerning the play were not addressed before a boiling point was reached. He said people need to be aware of possible controversy and take steps to head this off.

“They need to be proactive before there is a firestorm of controversy.’’

He noted that the play was successfully produced last year at West Linn High School. Frasier said he called there and learned from an administrator that West Linn is known for putting on cutting-edge productions. He also was told that the play had been edited.

Frasier said editing is always an option, and that as music teacher at LHS he often edited musical productions. The board member said he believes that a better play could have been selected at LHS.

“It was the wrong play to do. Adults were in error,’’ Frasier said. “The kids did not do anything wrong.’’

Still, Frasier endorsed having “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” performed at LHS.

“My solution, “If you don’t like it, don’t go. If you don’t want your kids in it, don’t let them be in it,’’ Frasier said before his vote.

“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” was written by Steve Martin, the well known comedian and actor, in 1993.

The play would have been performed at LHS April 23-25. Auditions for the play were conducted in mid-January, and rehearsals started Feb. 2.

The play features the characters of Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso, who meet in a bar called the Lapin Agile in Paris in 1904, when both men are on the verge of creating their landmark works.

Einstein published his theory of relatively in 1905, and Picasso painted the Les Demoiselles d’Avignon in 1907.

Rehearsals for the play ended at LHS after the play was canceled. Rehearsals are now being conducted in the homes of students involved with the production.

LHS senior Richie Scott, who has a lead role in the play, is hopeful that the play can be performed off campus at a site such as EOU.

“I want to let the community know that we will do the play regardless of what it takes. They have not silenced us.’’


Written by Dick Mason
The Observer
March 13, 2009 03:51 pm

The continuing debate involving “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,’’ the play banned at La Grande High School because of its adult content, has a new twist.

Entertainer Steve Martin, the play’s author, is stepping into the picture.

Martin is offering to pay the cost of producing the play off La Grande High School’s campus. He is making his offer in a letter to the La Grande community, which appears on Page 4A of today’s Observer. Martin’s offer would cover the cost of producing “Picasso at the Lapin Agile’’ at EOU’s McKenzie Theatre. Eastern recently granted permission for the EOU Student Democrats to host the play at Loso Hall’s McKenzie Theatre. The play is set to run May 16-18.

Martin stands up for his work in his letter.

“He is trying to defend the reputation of his play,’’ said Kevin Cahill, the play’s director and a French and English teacher at LHS. “The letter expresses his interest in seeing the production go on. He simply wants the play fairly represented.’’

“Picasso at the Lapin Agile’’ was banned from the LHS campus Feb. 20 by La Grande School District Superintendent Larry Glaze because of its adult content. Glaze made his decision after receiving a written complaint from a La Grande parent that was accompanied by a petition signed by 137 community members.

An appeal of Glaze’s decision was denied by the La Grande School Board, which upheld the superintendent’s ruling at a Feb. 25 school board meeting attended by about 300.

Martin, who wrote “Picasso at the Lapin Agile’’ in 1993, learned about the controversy online, said Alan Nierob of Los Angeles, Martin’s publicist. Nierob said Martin does not know of any other place his play has been banned.

Martin was not available to be interviewed.

“Picasso at the Lapin Agile’’ is about a meeting between Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso in 1904 at a bar in France, just before each produced their greatest works.

Martin has attended some productions of his play. The entertainer will not be able to attend any of the the May productions in La Grande, though, Nierob said.

Cahill said he believes Martin is stepping forward to ensure his play’s production in La Grande because he wants people to see it in its full context, one he says would lay to rest misconceptions.

“He believes it is being unfairly characterized and stereotyped,’’ said Cahill, who has not communicated with Martin but has read the letter.

The money Martin donates for the production of his play in La Grande will be an addition to the funds the EOU Student Democrats are raising for it. If more money is donated than what is needed for the production, the additional money will go to a scholarship fund the EOU Democrats have started for thespian students at Eastern from La Grande High School.

Steve's Letter:

Of arts and sciences
Written by Steve Martin March 13, 2009 04:07 pm

To the citizens of La Grande:

It has come to my attention that there is a controversy regarding my play, “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” which was to be produced at your local high school.

First let me compliment Mr. Kevin Cahill, the teacher who selected the play, on his excellent taste! The play has been performed, without incident, all over the world by professional and amateur companies, including many high schools.
Because I don’t know the standards of your community or the life experience of your students, it is impossible for me to address whether my play is appropriate to be performed on campus, although in the limited web exchanges I have read, the students, and the eloquent Mr. Cahill, seem to understand the play and can discern that the questionable behavior sometimes evident in the play is not endorsed.

I have heard that some in your community have characterized the play as “people drinking in bars, and treating women as sex objects.” With apologies to William Shakespeare, this is like calling Hamlet a play about a castle. This play is set in an actual bar in Paris that was frequented by Picasso, a historical site that still exists today.

Focusing on Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity and Picasso’s master painting, “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” the play attempts to explain, in a light-hearted way, the similarity of the creative process involved in great leaps of imagination in art and science. Pablo Picasso, as a historical figure, does not come gift-wrapped for the sensitive. He lived as he painted, fully sexual and fully daring, and in the play he is chastised by a sage bartendress for his cavalier behavior toward women.

Because of the controversy, I recently reread the play, and, frankly, I could understand how some parents might object to certain lines if they were to be delivered by a 16- or 17-year-old. Yet I do believe that the spirit of the play and its endorsement of the arts and sciences are appropriate for young eyes and minds.

So while the question of whether students should perform the play at their high school remains something to be determined by the community, I firmly believe that seeing the play will bring no harm to them and might well uplift them — and acting in the play, if they are permitted by their parents, would also bring them no harm, and may help them to understand the potency, power and beauty of the arts and sciences.

I suspect that the signers of the petition against the production read excerpts only, and were not shown the more delicate and inspirational parts of the script.

To prevent the play from acquiring a reputation it does not deserve, I would like to offer this proposal: I will finance a non-profit, off-high school campus production (low-budget, I hope!), supervised and/or directed by Mr. Cahill and cast at his discretion, so that individuals, outside the jurisdiction of the school board but within the guarantees of freedom of expression provided by the Constitution of the United States, can determine whether they will or will not see the play, even if they are under 18.

I predict that the experience will not be damaging, but meaningful.

Steve Martin wrote the play “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.’’ He is an actor and comedian.

Steve Martin backing banned play

Comic actor Steve Martin has stepped in to support a school production of his play that was banned after parents objected to its adult themes.

Students at La Grande High School in Oregon were stopped from staging Picasso at the Lapin Agile.

Martin has offered to help pay for the play to be performed off-campus.

He said he was supporting the production because he did not want his play "acquiring a reputation it does not deserve".

Written in 1993, the play depicts a meeting between a young Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein in a Parisian bar in which they get into a discussions on the superior merits of art or science.

Wrong impression

In a letter to the La Grande Observer, Martin said although there were lines in the play he understood parents may feel uncomfortable letting their children say, the students knew the "questionable behaviour sometimes evident in the play is not endorsed".

He also wrote that, contrary to the protests, the play was not about "people drinking in bars and treating women as sex objects".

"The play has been performed, without incident, all over the world by professional and amateur companies, including many high schools," Martin added.

Rehearsals for the play were stopped after the headteacher received a letter from a parent which contained a petition signed by 137 people against the staging of the play.

Teacher and director Kevin Cahill told La Grande Observer that funds were now being raised to put the play on at the nearby Eastern Oregon University.

Any money left over from Martin's donation will be put towards acting scholarships for students.

And a note from the blogger:

Go see the play. I saw it in about 1995 on a trip to San Francisco. I was surprised (sorry Steve) at just how witty, literate, sly, thoughtful, and downright funny it was. I had just started getting into Steve's writing and everything else (the start of the Compleat Steve and the blog), and seeing the play only increased my opinion of Steve's mind and creativity.


Many of us here in La Grande are grateful to Steve for his support. I must add that none of the citizens who supported censoring the play cared whether women were treated as sex objects in the play. They did seem deeply concerned, however, about the play's reference to premature ejaculation, since 3 of them got up during the community meeting to recite that particular passage, even though high school students were in attendance. Shocking!
-rebecca Hartman

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