Wednesday, April 2, 2008

'It's Never Boring' & Director's Notes for The Little Dog Laughed

It's been a busy few weeks here at Barksdale and Theatre IV. We just opened Greater Tuna at Hanover Tavern (great review in the TD!), closed Doubt: A Parable at Willow Lawn and had a successful Virginia Arts and Letters Live event at the Empire Theatre.

On the Theatre IV side, Peter Pan and the Fairy Tale Ball preparations are in full swing. You can see more about both on the TIV blog. Amidst the chaos at the Empire Theatre today, our new touring show, The Air We Share, commissioned by GRTC and written by Scott Wichmann, finished its last rehearsal before heading off to schools tomorrow morning. And of course the move-out of our storage/shop space at Tom Perry's.

That's the Cliff Notes version of the last few weeks. Now our marketing/PR/box office focus shifts more towards The Little Dog Laughed. And now, we realize this show may be more controversial than we previously expected. I personally have been very excited about this show and consider it a great addition to the season, but it does contain some language and content that may not be for everyone. Since everyone may not have a chance to read Bruce Miller's director's notes that we will publish in the program, we thought it would be nice to post them here and perhaps answer some questions.

-Sara Marsden

"Why The Little Dog Laughed"
by Bruce Miller

In November of 2006, Virginia passed the Marshall-Newman Amendment, also referred to as the Virginia Marriage Amendment, by a 57% majority. In so doing, voters amended the Virginia Constitution to define marriage as “solely between one man and one woman,” and to ban recognition of any status "approximat[ing] the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage.”

This was the first time in Virginia history that our constitution was amended to deny the rights of certain individuals. Virginia is now the only state in the nation to ban marriage-like contracts between unmarried partners. In The Washington Post, Jonathan Rauch wrote, “Virginia appears to abridge gay individuals’ right to enter into private contracts with each other. On its face, the law could interfere with wills, medical directives, powers of attorney, child custody and property arrangements, even perhaps joint bank accounts.”

In March of 1924, Virginia’s legislature passed the Racial Integrity Act. It required that a racial description of every person be recorded at birth, and made marriage between “white persons” and “non-white persons” a felony. Just like the Marshall-Newman Amendment, the Racial Integrity Act gave Virginia the dubious honor of having the nation’s strictest laws on who could and could not fall in love, be married, or recognized as legal partners within the state’s borders.

In 1958, Mildred Jeter (a woman of white, African-American and Native American heritage) and Richard Loving (a white man) fell in love in the racially mixed, low income farmland of Caroline County, Virginia. Because of Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, they travelled to Washington, D. C. to get married. Shortly after their return to Virginia, police burst into their bedroom at 3 a.m., arrested man and wife, and carried them away to jail. The Lovings pleaded guilty to being married; they were sentenced to one year in prison. I welcome you to visit the Barksdale blog to read more about this couple. Type Loving Virginia theatre into Google, and it will take you right there.

In 1967, Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act was declared unconstitutional by the U. S. Supreme Court, ending misogenation laws nationwide. Today, virtually all those who objected vigorously to interracial marriage in the first half of the 20th Century (major political parties, churches, general public) have changed their minds.

It may take another generation, it may take longer, but I hope, pray and believe that during my children’s lifetimes, our state’s and our nation’s prejudice toward gay couples will go the way of yesteryear’s opposition to interracial marriage. I think the more we see gay characters loving each other on our TV screens, in our cineplexes, and on our stages, the quicker that day will come.

I’m reminded of President Kennedy when he made his historic, world-uniting speech in 1963. “Ich bin ein Berliner.” I am a Berliner. Set aside for a moment the urban myth that purports that “Berliner” in German vernacular means “jelly doughnut” rather than “citizen of Berlin.” John Kennedy’s clear intention was to take his stand beside, with and among West Germans shortly after the Communist state of East Germany erected the Berlin Wall as a barrier to restrict the freedom of its citizens.

I love The Little Dog Laughed because, as freedoms are being restricted here at home, it proudly seeks to establish solidarity with gay men and women who are feeling increasingly isolated and ostracized by the so-called Defense of Marriage agenda. The play suggests that love between two consenting adults is more vital, powerful and sacred than any credo or code. It shows that building barriers to limit love is hypocritical for societies, industries and individuals who pretend to salute freedom and embrace equality. It does so with a sense of humor. If we can laugh at this hypocracy, then perhaps we can also get beyond it.

-Bruce Miller


Sparky said...

Sara: thanks for posting Bruce's comments and Bravo! for having the initiative to "set the stage" (pardon the pun) for the conversation this work is bound to begin.

To add to Bruce's thoughts, consider this: the Commonwealth of Virginia is among the wealthiest in the nation, and yet is one of the most "frugal" in expenditures for public services (health care, social services, mental health, etc.). For too many generations Virginians have allowed our elected representatives in the General Assembly (and Governors) to busy themselves with such debates of personal freedom. One can't be anymore Jeffersonian than to be be a native Virginian, so how sadly ironic that the birthplace of the man who penned The Declaration of Independence is also known for such gross departures from its letter and spirit. Allow me to be more to the point: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men...

Anonymous said...

For those who are asking "what's the big deal," remember that Keith Fowler was fired as Artistic Director of TheatreVirginia after he staged a single man-to-man kiss at the end of "Childe Byron," his final show.

Sam H. said...

Hopefully, we have come a little further in our thinking than needing to fire someone over a man-to-man kiss in the year 2008. Obviously a taboo subject, homosexuality in today's world and culture is an unavoidable topic, and one that should be handled with grace, intelligence and class. Now - full frontal nudity, and simulated (even if briefly) acts of sexual passion between two men on the stage? That's a different story. I wouldn't be so concerned about losing your artistic director over this show; I would, however, be concerned about losing some audience members and/or patrons. I'm all for daring, brave, and edgy theater that makes you think - but regardless, we still live in conservative Richmond, VA, home of the confederacy, and home to much fear, ignorance, and intollerance. All this being said, I hope "The Little Dog Laughed" is a huge success, and opens the doorway to more theatrical conversation on subjects that challenge the mind and heart.

Chuck said...

I don't wish to go into a long discourse over the theme of "Little Dog Laughed." I understand that Bruce Miller has "had the privilege to be so personally involved with so many wonderful same-sex couples." Well, I'm sure that many same-sex couples are nice to be around, but my wife and I consider those that practice homosexuality to be living immoral lives. We will not knowingly support activities for or about homosexuality or promote or sanction such lifestyles. Nor do we think nudity is necessary or that frank public discussion or portrayal of sexual practices is necessary in public entertainment. Accordingly, we will not support Barksdale or other theaters who present such material. We do not believe that this type of material should be offered to the young people as if they have a different code of morals than older patrons or a willingness to spend their money for questionable material. And, especially material of low moral quality should not be offered to titillate the young or the old. Sexual practices and off-color language are not meant for public discussion and exposition. They are NOT "positive images" as indicated by Bruce Miller, and if he feels it necessary to bring such "edgy" material to Barksdale offerings, my wife and I will find it necessary to find other venues for our entertainment dollar.

Bruce Miller said...


In one way you and I agree. We both believe it is our responsibility to stand up and be counted with regard to issues of morality.

In two ways we disagree. You consider homosexuality to be immoral. I do not. And I consider it arrogant and, I'll say misguided rather than immoral, for any one man to assign himself the authority and/or right to determine which love to "sanction" and which to condemn. You do not.

There is a second way, I suspect in which you and I are the same. Please forgive me if I'm wrong, but I suspect that both of us have views on morality that are rooted in our religious faith.

I've read and studied each of the Bible passages that concern homosexuality, and there aren't many. I've referred back to the original Greek and Aramaic texts, and I've read as many scholarly interpretations as I can put my hands on.

I come away siding with the many theological scholars who believe that what the Bible condemns is not homosexuality in general, but two particular forms of sexual transgression: temple prostitution (much of which was homosexual), and homosexual activity that is coerced and goes against a heterosexual man or woman's innate orientation. I believe that much of what Christians read in English versions of the Bible is mistranslated.

Homosexuality was far more "normal" and "accepted" in the Greco-Roman culture of Jesus's lifetime than it is today. And so I can't help but notice that the Bible never quotes Jesus as uttering a single word about homosexuality.

Of course, I would be foolish to say that something is right simply because Jesus never specifically said it was wrong. But for those who believe that every word of the Bible is inspired by God and literally true (I admit that I am not among the literalists), it must be at least a point of interest that Jesus never chooses to address this sexual activity that was so prevalent in his time. Jesus is certainly not shy about addressing many, many other "sins."

Mainly I know what is in my heart, and I believe that the "still, small voice" I prayerfully attend to IS inspired by God. At the end of the day, I don't believe that God is some magic man in the sky passing judgement on men and women who are trying their best to live in love. I believe God IS Love, just as the Bible tells me. I don't consider it my right, or within my limited powers, to judge which love I should "sanction" and which lovers I should condemn as "living immoral lives."

With all my heart, I believe such considerations should be left to a higher power, and that we on earth should spend our energies embracing every man and woman and welcoming them into God's family. I believe that we judge and exclude at our own peril.

When I study and pray for guidance, I'm convinced that God desires me to act in a Christ-like manner, to seek solidarity with gay men and women who have been cast out by the so called Marriage Amendment. When I read my New Testament, particularly the woman at the well, I can't feel any other way.

That's just me. I'm not trying to judge or change anyone's mind. I'm standing up for what I believe is right. If you choose to condemn Barksdale Theatre because of that, there's little I can do.

Thanks for writing.

--Bruce Miller

debra said...

That was beautifully written. Thank you.

Chuck said...

Bruce, I cannot condemn you for your belief. It does not happen to be mine which comes from my religious upbringing and with maturation. I offered a comment to your latest recognition of those who found the subject matter in bad taste. As I said "men and women with homosexual tendencies must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitiviy." I will try to do so, but I wish they and the rest of society would keep their sexual preferences to themselves and quit forcing them on me, in effect forcing me to make a decision about the morality of the issue. If I have to choose, then I chose not to condone homosexuality.

Chuck also said...

Just want to compliment all the talent both on-stage and backstage on Greater Tuna. This is truly the kind of play I like to see- one that keeps me laughing from start to finish. It is rare we find such a performance, and Greater Tuna is that rare bit of brilliance. Well done! And once again, I appreciate the opportunity to opt out of the scheduled play at Willow Lawn and to substitute another play. Greater Tuna was worth the long drive from Powhatan to Hanover. The theater is cozy and we will definitely return. Maybe Barksdale could offer an opportunity to select a package of selections from either/both Willow Lawn or Hanover. That way we could avoid those "edgy" plays that make us uneasy when we watch.
We like to see more of the Tuna series also.

Nmylife said...

Why we continue to have the same conversation about this topic in 2008 is beyond mind boggling. I support Bruce Miller and Barksdale Theatre 100%. I have always belived that theatre must not only entertain, but must also enlighten, and educate as well. Throughout the history of theatre plays have been used to push the envelope of what soceity may deem as acceptable. For those people choosing to walk out on Little Dog Laughed..or any show that you find offensive I say bravo for exercising your right to choose what is right for you. However I must also condemn you for trying to force your opinions on everyone else. This particular show was offered as a subscribers option with abundant disclaimers concerning the language , and the topic. If you chose not to educate yourself on the play you have no defense. Ignorance is not bliss. So go ahead and run off to the safety of Greater Tuna which does do a wonderful job of entertaining and audience and the actos are wonderfully talented. In others words you should feel safe...however my belief is simple. If you are looking to be offended. You will always be able to find a reason.