Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Yale University Responds to Virginia Tech Shootings by Banning Stage Weapons

Yeah, I couldn't believe it either. From the Yale Daily News, "Weapons to Go Offstage."


In the wake of Monday’s massacre at Virginia Tech in which a student killed 32 people, Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg has limited the use of stage weapons in theatrical productions.

Students involved in this weekend’s production of “Red Noses” said they first learned of the new rules on Thursday morning, the same day the show was slated to open. They were subsequently forced to alter many of the scenes by swapping more realistic-looking stage swords for wooden ones, a change that many students said was neither a necessary nor a useful response to the tragedy at Virginia Tech.

According to students involved in the production, Trachtenberg has banned the use of some stage weapons in all of the University’s theatrical productions. While shows will be permitted to use obviously fake plastic weapons, students said, those that hoped to stage more realistic scenes of stage violence have had to make changes to their props.

Yeah, that's the answer. Ban realistic props in university theatre departments. Because, you know, there's a long-established link between violent plays and violence in society. Everyone remembers how the Columbine killers spent every available weekend watching violent plays together and memorizing violent monologues. Remember how the Unabomber's manifesto threatened to "go all Richard III" if his demands weren't met? That was scary. And I'm sure in the next few days NBC will release pictures the Virginia Tech killer took of himself dressed as Thyestes, Iago, and Medea.

Fake-looking weapons are the answer, you see, because the audience is incapable of realizing for themselves that those people on the stage in front of them, separated by seating, lighting, costumes, makeup, set and props, are actually only pretending to engage in violent behavior. The solution: wooden swords, of course.

Congratulations, Dean Trachtenberg. For at least a day or two, you have made all other idiots in America a little bit smarter in comparison with you. "Knee-jerk," "overreaching," and "ignorant" are only the first three words that spring to mind. "Censorship" is another.

Red Noses director Sarah Holdren announced before the show, "Calling for an end to violence onstage does not solve the world’s suffering: It merely sweeps it under the rug, turning theater — in the words of this very play — into 'creamy bon-bons' instead of 'solid fare' for a thinking, feeling audience. Here at Yale, sensitivity and political correctness have become censorship in this time of vital need for serious artistic expression." Holdren is a junior (class of '08), and Red Noses is an extremely challenging play. Big ups to her for her ability to handle this ridiculous situation.

The cast of Twelfth Night learned of this story in the van after a performance late last night (thanks to Grant Mudge's father for emailing it to him). Some of us were surprised that they even performed at all. Some of us were surprised that they caved.

Personally, I think they should have performed the show, as rehearsed, with stage weapons, until the administration had the lights turned out--then they should have kept performing by candle- or flashlight.

I'm very interested in hearing the thoughts of my fellow performing artists.

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  • At 4/21/2007 3:16 PM , Blogger Joey Fanelli said...

    I don't think that I could possibaly agree with one Sarah Holdren more than I do already.

    It's like Hamlet said, although I can't remember the exact quote, it was something along the lines of, "Plays serve the purpose of holding the mirror up to nature."

    We shouldn't be removing stage weapons from the theatre. We should be using them to illustrate how tragic and useless violence really is.

  • At 4/21/2007 3:17 PM , Blogger Joey Fanelli said...

    Expessialy at a time like this.

  • At 4/21/2007 6:33 PM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    I suppose the news of this week has been so mind-numbingly shocking that it's hard to muster an intelligent response to such a moronic act as Dean Trachtenbergs' theatre weapons ban. With a wound so deep and so raw, pouring salt on it can have only so much additional effect.

    However, I do think George Orwell could not have foreseen how the "Thought Police" would prove themselves to be inventions of social constructs rather than government tyranny. The latter has the enforcement of law; the former has the power of market forces in the economy and the stigma of negative public perception. Which is worse? It's hard to weight it given the gravity of this week's tragedy. But the Dean couldn't have made a more stupid choice at a worse time, and that calls into question our whole notion of what laughingly passes for "higher education" in America today.

  • At 4/21/2007 7:51 PM , Blogger Joey Fanelli said...

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • At 4/21/2007 7:51 PM , Blogger Joey Fanelli said...

    I do agree that it's a pretty stupid thing to do, but if nothing else, he had the best intentions in mind, I just think he didn't take the time to think it clearly through before making the choice to do so.

  • At 4/21/2007 11:31 PM , Blogger Paperboy said...

    We can say the dean had good intentions, but that is something that we can never really know. Very often people in charge want to be seen taking action, ANY action, in the face of a situation that has no answer.
    The week after Columbine, schools around the country banned the wearing of trench coats. Of course we all know that it was the trench coats that made those two boys shoot up their classmates.
    I think it is likely that this situation at Yale came from one of two situations. Either the Dean knows nothing about theatre and saw the situation as a way that he could show that he was dealing with the situation, or he caved to pressure from someone who found out about the weapons in the show and went to the dean with a misplaced sence of moral outrage. Either way, it is a stupid thing to do.


  • At 4/21/2007 11:33 PM , Blogger Paperboy said...

    please for4give my poor spelling.

  • At 4/22/2007 1:49 AM , Blogger Joey Fanelli said...

    This comment has been removed by the author.


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