Rumours of censorship and sexual harassment are circulating in the Department of Drama after the cancellation of "The Beard," a play slated for this semester's Nickle and Dime series. The script, calling for strong language, partial nudity and simulated sexual acts, had already been approved by Nickle and Dime administrators before questions regarding the audition process were raised.
Graduate student and director David Clark acknowledges that the content of the play made the interview process a delicate one.
"Originally, I had planned to cast two of my graduate student peers," he said. "The reason that I planned to cast my peers was that I didn't want to put myself into the position where I might be seen to be asking undergraduate students who might be intimidated to carry out scenes of graphic sexuality. So when Dawn Ford, who had planned to be in the piece, couldn't be in it, I tried to think of ways I could do this as ethically as possible and to ensure that no sexual harassment of any kind occurred."
Clark therefore conducted first auditions as interviews, directly addressing the issue of sexuality in the script in order to assess both the actor's willingness to participate and their apparent maturity regarding the subject.
"The next day, I had a meeting with our department head and he told me that, in his view, talking with people about the play and the expectations of possible nudity and graphically sexual scenes constituted sexual harassment in itself," said Clark. "By warning them of what might be expected so that they could make up their mind to do it or not I had already sexually harassed them."
Head of the Department of Drama, Douglas McCullough, refused comment.
"I feel very strongly that the position that I am in, being head of the department, that I do not engage in dialogue about students in any media, mostly for the protection of the student," said McCullough.
Dylan Thomas, another graduate student in the Drama Department, was one of the actors originally approached for a role in the play.
"What was different about the audition from other auditions I've had as an actor is that it was an interview," he explained. "It was the director asking questions moreso than having to perform. That was stage one. There was to be a performance-based audition, but the show was cancelled before the performance-based audition had the chance to take place."
Though Thomas cannot vouch for what took place in the auditions for the female role, he does not think they could have been very different.
"The artistic director of Nickle and Dime was present for the auditions," said Thomas. "I've heard nothing from the actresses who also auditioned that would indicate anything abnormal."
In a notice posted Thursday, Oct. 12, the official reason given for the show cancellation was "unintentional irregularities in the audition process." Clark received a letter on the same day in which McCullough stated two regulations were violated in the audition process. The first cited regulation is from the Actor's Equity Handbook and deals with issues of nudity at auditions. According to McCullough, notice must be given of the nature of the nudity and the simulated sexual acts required for the production in writing, one week in advance of the audition.
Clark argues that this regulation deals only with a situation in which nudity was required during an audition.
"It's crystal clear if you read the whole section on nudity from the Actor's Equity Handbook that there is no expectation of notice two weeks prior to auditions that nudity will be involved in the show because the final subsection clearly stipulates the situation under which a requirement for nudity can be added to a show while it's in rehearsal," he said. "There was no nudity at my audition. My audition was intended to inform people of the risks so that they could make choices and I could exercise my judgment about them as to whether or not they were able to take these kinds of risks."
The other regulation cited comes from university regulations stating that a student must make informed consent to questionable material before he or she registers for a course, an action McCullough states is parallel to auditioning for a show.
"He's implied that when one auditions for a show, one has done something the equivalent of registering for a course," explained Clark. "I really find that a strange claim given the fact that the Drama Department typically doesn't recognize that a person has committed to participating in a show until they have signed a cast list, and no cast list is ever available until after auditions."
Both Clark and Thomas feel these reasons are somewhat flimsy and are concerned about the implications of a decision like this on their artistic freedoms.
"This cancellation seems like a wholesale act of authority," claimed Thomas. "As an artist working in this department, I work on subject matter that could be considered controversial. I worry about the future of other research at the university level."