With the academic year coming to a close, many eagerly await end-of-the-year performances of the arts. However, controversy surrounds ASU’s Lyric Opera Theater as a recent performance leaves the community offended and a director to take the fall.
During the Arizona All-State High School Music Festival, high school students were deeply offended by the racy performance of a scene from the popular musical “Rent.” Bombarded with community backlash, music professor William Reber quickly stepped down as the director of the Lyric Opera Theatre. Reber still works for the University.
Audience members felt the performance, laced with risqué dialogue and sexual innuendoes, was uncalled for, and the University should have provided a warning of the explicit content. Many feel Reber has “taken the fall” for the University, using his resignation as an apology for those who may have been offended.
“This incident was important enough to the school and its relationship with the Arizona community that Dr. Reber felt he needed to accept responsibility, and he has chosen to use this as a teaching opportunity for his students about the role and responsibility of an arts leader, not just to the organization he leads but also to the community at large,” the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts released in a statement.
While the performance may not have been suitable for all ages and the University should take in to consideration the sensitivity of some audience members, Reber’s resignation doesn’t seem justified nor does it mend the community’s wounds of discomfort.
A petition was created on change.org in response to Reber’s resignation, as many feel the sensitivity of the audience members should not affect the workplace of the former-theater director.
“Live theatre in a contemporary musical theatre setting can (and should) be raw, thrilling, and edgy,” the petition states. “An artists’ job is to deliver truth to their art and push the boundaries, creating new works and destroying the rules that hinder their freedom of expression.”
Yes, the University probably should have given a short description of the acts on schedule or a warning of possible offensive content. Yet, how could an entire group of high school students blindly walk into a theater without the slightest idea of the performance to come? What if someone would have just asked about the line-up, could this situation have been avoided?
Regardless, performance art shouldn’t be ruled by the individual pieces of the show. The script must work with the costumes that must compliment the actors, all providing a cohesive message to the audience. These students were so focused on word choice they failed to appreciate the performance for its worth.
Those involved in the world of theater know it is a very sensitive realm. Shows that tackle large social conflicts, such as “Rent,” push boundaries in order to shock audiences with messages.
Both sides of the fight seem to heat up with each headline that is released. As blood continues to boil, I think it’s important the community takes a step back to really see what is causing such a stir.
“If in fact the University had caved to a few cranky parents, I would sign the petition in capital letters,” professor of choral music David Schildkret said. “But people were legitimately and justifiably offended at an occasion that was meant to be anything but offensive. That is their right.”
ASU, just like every other university in the nation, isn’t 100 percent perfect all of the time. Owning up to its mistake was definitely a step in the right direction, however Reber’s resignation almost added more fire to the burning flame of University scrutiny.
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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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