...When You Pry My Sondheim Libretto From My Cold, Dead Hands...

Insider Higher Ed has a sad-sack story about censorious college administrators shutting down a musical production:

A student production of Assassins, the award-winning musical, was to have premiered Thursday night at Arkansas Tech University, but the administration banned it - and permitted a final dress rehearsal Wednesday night (so the cast could experience the play on which students have worked long hours) only on the condition that wooden stage guns were cut in half prior to the event and not used. Assassins is a musical in which the characters are the historic figures who have tried to kill a U.S. president.

More here.

The winner here? Honestly, the potential audience for the play, which was godawful in its original conception and execution back in 1990 (and naturally, retardedly well-received in its 2004 Broadway revival). Assassins features ditties about various successful and unsuccessful attempts to kill various successful and unsuccessful American presidents. It's just one man's opinion, of course, but I dare anyone to listen to, say, the Leon Czolgosz number without wanting to put a bullet in his own head and then exhume the corpse of the Michigan-born killer and re-electrify it. Assassins is SCTV-style deep parody at its best and actual musical theater at just about its worst.

The loser here? Freedom of expression on college campuses, which has been taking it on the chin like Gerry Cooney in the first round.

Another sad tale of repression on the campus here.

reason on campus speech here.

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  • ||

    Huh. I actually really liked the montage bit one school did at a competition when I was in high school. I never saw the whole play, but always wanted to. I still do, despite Gillespie telling me it sucks.

  • ||

    Let's start by establishing that Arkansas Tech University is a public institution, and is therefore different wrt complaints about freedom of expression than private institutions.

  • ||

    I would also like to see the whole play again. I saw a production at the local college while I was in high school and remember liking it, but I don't remember if I fell asleep or not. All I remember from it, really, is a bunch of swearing and the opening number with a shooting gallery and the song "everybody has the right to be happy," or something.

  • Chris Howell||

    Loved the Gerry Cooney reference!

    Gerry Cooney (born August 4, 1956) is a former boxer from Huntington, NY best known for his loss to Larry Holmes in one of the largest boxing spectacles in history.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerry_Cooney

  • Nicholas||

    I agree with Nick . . . I enjoyed the performance I saw in Toronto in the mid-90's. The administration's reaction is just lame.

  • Fluffy||

    Nicholson said that the decision did not limit artistic expression, noting that the president's statement included his support for artistic freedom.

    That someone could issue a statement of this kind is proof to me of exactly how loathsome human beings can be.

    [Before you regale me with lists of actual atrocities, please note that I didn't say "evil" here. I know other things people do are more "evil" than this. I used the word "loathsome" for a reason.]

    You have to have immense contempt for your fellow human beings, for honesty, for free expression, for the intelligence of the listener, for logic, and for your own dignity to stand there and say that a decision to shut down an artistic production doesn't restrict artistic freedom if you include in your shutdown notice the words "artistic freedom is good".

  • Episiarch||

    Assassins is SCTV-style deep parody at its best

    When Caballero comes out on stage in his wheelchair and gets assassinated then I will agree.

  • ||

    Reinmoose, it is very possible that the group that staged the Assassins bit I saw cherry-picked the best of the play for our competition. The whole thing could suck.

    I thought they were by far the best performance that day and they didn't win, so chances are good the judges have seen the whole play and knew it to be shitty, so they judged not on the merits of the staged portion, but on prior knowledge of the play's alleged shittyness (sp?). I could be wrong, but they gave us third place and we were horrible. Maybe they were on crack.

    (I wouldn't travel all the way to Arkansas to watch it, but it sucks that the school is censoring it. That ain't right.)

  • ||

    ...permitted a final dress rehearsal Wednesday night (so the cast could experience the play on which students have worked long hours) only on the condition that wooden stage guns were cut in half prior to the event and not used.

    WTF? What does it mean to "use" a wooden stage gun? What exactly has the administrations pubes in a knot? Please tell me this isn't their idea of "doing something" in reaction to Northern Illinois.

  • ||

    Warren, I was just thinking the same thing. I bet they are trying to be "sensitive."

  • ||

    When they ban wooden stage guns, only the criminals will have wooden stage guns.....

  • the innominate one||

    can we classify this as an example of right-wing political correctness run rampant, or is it some other specific form of stupidity?

    (admittedly, I didn't RTFA)

  • ||

    Hey, I -liked- that musical! =)

  • ||

    I'm trying to think of a more idiotic measure than requiring that wooden stage guns be cut in half. Just can't do it.

    The pathologies on display literally leave you speechless (double entendre intended).

  • ||

    When I think of controversial artists, Sondheim doesn't really come to mind. I have, actually, thought of this musical though in recent years as something I would expect to be arrested for performing/going to see.

  • emmajane||

    I've seen a production of Assassins, and I thought it was dark and funny and a bit creepy. Liked it a lot. It's not particularly melodic, but then given then subject matter, it shouldn't be. Nick might want to expand his notion of what good musical theater is. Fie on the administrators of the college!

  • ||

    I just RTFA. OMFG! It's all about the guns, and it's an order of magnitude lamer than it first appears.

    As lame as this move is, it's ten times lamer to ban this production while screening American Gangster. In addition, it seems the campus has actual problems with gun violence. But that's from the football team, and the administration doesn't want to fuck with them.

    Fully's right, these are the most loathsome asshats in a suit.

    can we classify this as an example of right-wing political correctness run rampant, or is it some other specific form of stupidity?
    It's as left-wing as it is right-wing. I don't know if it can be specified. It's more like general stupidity, running rampant.

  • Bryan||

    I loved it.

    It was much better than Cats.

    I'm going to see it again and again.

    /The Amazing Alexander fan

  • The Democratic Republican||

    I am sick of the lame assed excuse that public universities are public institutions so somehow that means that the standards of rights and free inquiry are somehow different. If that's really true, then there should be a revolution to stop funding these bastions of government servitude NOW!

  • The It Girl||

    Coming a month or so ago (I know, the events hadn't yet occurred) this would have been a clever move on Nick's part; peeling himself off from the cosmo crowd by mauling Sondheim, a notorious cosmo idol. While any attack on Sondheim is always welcome, this is too little too late.
    We all know what the real libertarian musical is.

  • ||

    BUZZZZZ!
    Oh, I'm Sorry, The It Girl.
    The actual answer to the question "What is the real libertarian musical?" was Reefer Madness: The (Movie) Musical

    You didn't win the hideous furniture and appliances.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    I would expect this at an elementary school. Like when the House Blond brought a plastic rifle with a tip the size and color of Ted Kennedy's schnoz to school. It was a prop for Daniel Boone's character to carry in the play. While it was predictable good fun to watch everybody have a Hershey hemorrhage, it sickened me to see the reality of modern American education.

    And no, Danny Boy didn't get to carry his rifle.

  • The It Girl||

    Sorry Reinmoose, Reefer Madness: The (Movie) Musical is just too campy. There's nothing ironic about freedom.

  • LarryA||

    Adding to the anger of many on the campus is that the film American Gangster, featuring plenty of blood and violence - and none from singing historical figures - was screened on campus this week.

    Further frustrating faculty members, there have been reports of gun shots - and a recent shooting injury - at parties organized by Arkansas Tech students, but the students organizing those parties were reportedly football players, not thespians.

    Nicholson said that the decision did not limit artistic expression, noting that the president's statement included his support for artistic freedom.

    Not even Onion could make this [expletive deleted] stuff up.

    can we classify this as an example of right-wing political correctness run rampant, or is it some other specific form of stupidity?

    Cutting wooden guns in half is pretty much a left-wing thing.

    I'm trying to think of a more idiotic measure than requiring that wooden stage guns be cut in half.

    They could always register them, and limit you to buying one a month.

  • Jesse Walker||

    So the administration prefers sawed-off fake guns? Who's the dean there, Al Capone?

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    but I dare anyone to listen to, say, the Leon Czolgosz number without wanting to put a bullet in his own head and then exhume the corpse of the Michigan-born killer and re-electrify it.

    See, that's why I love the Man In Black.

    Good job, son.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Got dam it! Try that again.

    but I dare anyone to listen to, say, the Leon Czolgosz number without wanting to put a bullet in his own head and then exhume the corpse of the Michigan-born killer and re-electrify it.



    See, that's why I love the Man In Black.

    Good job, son.

  • ||

    I believe the words you were looking for, TIG, were satirical and hilarious. What's more characteristically libertarian than using wit to show the stupidity of things like the drug war, especially in parodying an actual movie that was released in the early 1900s regarding the dangers of marijuana?

  • ||

    Football players getting likkered up and cranking off a few rounds into the night sky is not a big deal; "hate crimes" against important figures of authority is much too scawwy for educators (who consider themselves to be important figures of authority) to allow.

    Some maniac could get an idea....

  • Fluffy||

    I think it's both left-wing and right-wing.

    I imagine that the anti-gun folks lit the torches, and as soon as the right wingers heard that the play was about presidential assassination they decided this was probably just anti-Bush incitement in some way that they were too parochial to understand, so they decided to help the anti-gun folks light the book bonfire.

  • ed||

    I'm guessing Annie Get Your Gun is also out.

  • ||

    Finally... an issue in the gun control debate that the Manhattanite crowd can get behind. :)

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    I think it's both left-wing and right-wing

    Sorry Fluff, this is a college campus there is only one wing.

    And those guys are usually babies. Once upon a time at Menifee Valley College, Mrs TWC ended up being the instructor to officially put her name on the paperwork to bring the Hemp Festival to campus because every one of those tenured, trendy, lefty, free-speechers that taught there was too chicken to do it. Every one.

    Now I'm going back to work, gotta get my people some refunds out of Uncle Sugar's back pocket.

  • Abdul||

    I think Arkansas Tech went too far when they made everyone in the audience for the Vagina Monologues wear rubbers.

  • Zeb||

    Shouldn't that fact that they are a public institution mean that they are less able to censor things?

  • LarryA||

    I'm guessing Annie Get Your Gun is also out.

    I don't have my little theater musical resume handy, but I'd say that, out of the couple of dozen musicals I've been in, well over half had guns or swords. Off the top of my head the "guns" list includes The Sound of Music, Carousel, Guys and Dolls, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Diamond Studs, Little Shop of Horrors, Oklahoma, Chicago, South Pacific, Brigadoon, and the aforementioned Annie Get Your Gun.

  • ||

    LarryA,
    I don't like your list. I'd go with something like... everything by Andrew Loyd Webber.

    It's got nothing to do with guns, I just sick of semi cultured flocking to his predictable, more pretentious than Al Gore, schlock.

  • thoreau||

    First, Nick Gillespie won the thread with this:

    The winner here? Honestly, the potential audience for the play, which was godawful in its original conception and execution back in 1990 (and naturally, retardedly well-received in its 2004 Broadway revival).



    Second, I've been the guy who says that you need to look for the backstory and read between the lines because there's often more to these campus incidents than meets the eye, so let me attempt to read between some lines here:

    This is a seriously batshit insane University President. I honestly cannot figure out who the fuck he's bending over backwards for. This is a school in Arkansas, so I bet the student body is probably not all that anti-gun. There might be a contingent of students who would actually support this thing, but aggrieved squeaky wheels looking to be appeased usually go after high profile and unsympathetic targets. A group of students doing a play would not fit the bill.

    Faculty? Maybe a few seriously squeaky wheels would go to the University President and demand immediate action, but canceling a significant class project (I assume that most of the theater students involved are getting course credit) is generally not something that a University President would want to do. Way too many Faculty Senators will be on his ass over academic freedom issues. (Say what you will about campus liberals and free speech, but even the leftiest professors absolutely HATE administrators telling them how to run their classes.)

    If this University President had an ounce of sense, he would have said to the squeaky wheel "Look, this is certainly something that we as a campus community need to explore in our diverse ways, and I will form a committee to review policies on future stage productions, but out of respect for the hard work of the theater students and the academic freedom of the theater faculty we have to let this project go to completion."

    The fact that he didn't pass this one off to a committee tells me that he's just seriously fucked in the head.

  • ||

    Abdul FTW.

  • ||

    "I'm trying to think of a more idiotic measure than requiring that wooden stage guns be cut in half. Just can't do it."

    Or the students could point fingers and say bang, bang or pkchew, pkchew.

  • ||

    Has anyone considered that the Secret Service didn't like the idea of this play and although very late to the party, decided to crash it, but of course they went through the University President and "asked" for it to not be seen by impressionable audiences? It does, in a strange way, glorify presidential assassination. I may be speculating too far but this place always makes me think conspiratorially.

  • ed||

    First they came for our wooden guns...

  • ||

    I laughed, I cried. It made me think. Better than Cats. If you can only see one Assassination of American Presidents this summer, make it this one.

  • ||

    I line from the opening song:
    "Don't be scared
    You won't prevail,
    Everybody's
    Free to fail,
    No one can be put in jail
    For their dreams.
    "

    Ummm... Yeah. Wanna bet?

  • ||

    *A line, "A" line

  • ||

    """I think Arkansas Tech went too far when they made everyone in the audience for the Vagina Monologues wear rubbers."""

    Certainly sounds like Arkansas.

  • ||

    You're not likely to have much luck reanimating Czolgosz. Apparently they dissolved him.
    http://www.craigbrandon.com/sparkyvictims.html

  • LarryA||

    I don't like your list. I'd go with something like... everything by Andrew Loyd Webber. It's got nothing to do with guns,

    Excuse me? How does "a list of major Broadway musicals that have guns in them" have "nothing to do with guns?" I wasn't commenting on the quality or style. These are plays selected by the small-town little theaters that I had a chance to act in. Now they're all apparently on some higher education PC hit list because of the firearms involved.

    Has anyone considered that the Secret Service didn't like the idea of this play and although very late to the party, decided to crash it, but of course they went through the University President and "asked" for it to not be seen by impressionable audiences?

    This presumes:
    1. The Secret Service keeps track of college theater projects.
    2. They consider a college class project where the guns are wooden and the audience will likely not break three figures more harmful than any of the far more violent and graphic Hollywood productions.
    3. College presidents listen to law enforcement and do what they say.

    Not.

  • ||

    Assassins is my favorite musical of all time. I fucking love the piece and I own both recordings, the script, and a poster from the show.

  • ||

    If you want truly bad Sondheim, watch that shitty revival of Company that is playing on PBS.
    Letting the actors play their own instruments in which they have no training with, what could possibly go wrong?

  • ||

    Who couldn't love a musical featuring an acoustic '70s-style duet between John Hinckley and Squeaky Fromme?

  • ||

    I'm an Alumni of Arkansas Tech. I've been keeping track of what's been going on and sending out info to the Press the best I can.

    This is a good article, but it's missing one thing: the students were originally using starter pistols, but Dr. Brown told them they couldn't fire them when he told them the final dress was their only performance. THEN the students found out that Sondheim's wishes are that if guns are in the play they MUST be fired. THAT was when they decided to build the wooden pistols.

    The day of the final dress Dr. Brown received a GREAT DEAL of communication from other theatre departments and Tech Alumni, requesting he rescind his decision and let the play go on. In response, Dr. Brown demanded the play have no firearm iconography whatsoever, and the students were forced to cut their wooden guns into pieces. Campus Police searched the building to make sure, and a Campus Cop was present at the rehearsal. He watched the play instead of the front door.

    All of this is true. I kid you not.

  • B||

    "can we classify this as an example of right-wing political correctness run rampant, or is it some other specific form of stupidity"

    Wrong wing, you ignorant fuck, unless you think college administrations are dominated by right-wingers. Get your head out of your ass and study the political landscape in this country long enough to realize which side would have an objection to wooden guns.

  • ||

    For the dress rehearsal, the actors really did have to say "BANG BANG" and other noises in abscence of the guns. Keep in mind that this was a senior project for many of the actors, and it had to be filmed for their submissions to graduate schools. Dr. Brown could care less whether he endangered their academic career. That is the real tragedy of this.

    As for the Faculty Senate, I seriously doubt they will do anything as they have done nothing. They accepted the "Free Speech Zone" that Brown created without any resistance.

    Dr. Brown also oversees the ArkaTech, the student newspaper, so it does not cause any controversy. The man is a dictator, pure and simple.

    There is also a huge fear of the administration among the faculty. They are in fear of losing their jobs if they openly criticize the administration in any manner. This included tenured faculty. Students are also afraid of being suspended or expelled if they circulate any petitions on campus.

    Arkansas Tech is a public institution, yet it is run like a third world country. Everyone should contact Dr. Brown's office and demand that the musical be put on and that he not censor the faculty and the student newspaper.

    Dr. Robert Brown's e-mail is rcbrown@atu.edu. His phone number is 479-968-0237.

    Give him your opinion as the faculty cannot.

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