|Posted on November 22, 2015 at 10:45 AM|
This letter was written in response to an email I received this week.
November 21, 2015
Dear Anonymous Theatre Patron,
The Artistic Director at your local theatre contacted me this week with disturbing news. He has selected my play, A Good Old Fashioned Redneck Country Christmas: The Musical for his 2015 holiday show, and it seems you disapprove of the term ‘Redneck’ in the title. You disapprove so much, in fact, you convinced the Artistic Director to change the title of my play. In the spirit of Christmas, brotherhood and goodwill, I’d like address your concerns.
First and foremost, I am the creator of the play in question. I labored long and hard to get that play to the form it’s in today. As the playwright, it is my right to name my creation anything I wish. You wouldn’t find it acceptable for the delivery room nurse in the maternity ward to tell you she disapproves of the name you’ve selected for your child, would you? You have a right to name your creation anything you deem appropriate. So do I. Moreover, my publisher and I have entered into a legal and binding agreement whereby my play is ONLY ever produced using the correct title. What you convinced your local Artistic Director to do is against the law! It infringes on my rights as an author. Fortunately, the publisher in this instance is Samuel French, and they have a long history of protecting the rights of their authors.
Second, the term ‘Redneck’ is widely used in comedy the world over. Jeff Foxworthy, who made the term a mainstream staple with his tremendously popular, “You might be a redneck if…” routine, has actually sold more comedy albums than any other artist in the world. A strong indicator that there are a fair few people who don’t see anything wrong with the use of this word.
You may think that because I’m a playwright, I live in NYC and look down on ordinary, hard-working, country folk. Nothing could be further from the truth! I actually live in the south, and I was raised in one of the redneckiest parts of the good old USA – Southwest Michigan. My cousins live for the start of deer season – not just regular deer season. No, they are bow hunters, sitting for hours at a time in deer blinds high up in sturdy Oak trees. My father traveled many times to shoot deer and elk in the Rocky Mountains, and I was raised fishing for Coho and Chinook on Lake Michigan and shooting squirrels and rabbits. (An aside for those who care, I am an avid animal lover, and I no longer shoot at any living thing, but I’m pretty darn good with targets. )
Comedian Richard Pryor made liberal use of another racial term in his memorable comedy routines. He referred to himself as ‘The N Word’, and he often used the term to speak of others as he shared hilarious glimpses into his life and upbringing. And you know what? I was never offended by that word, because Richard Pryor was making a statement about his experiences, and he had a right to use that word.
We regularly see racial commentary in comedy. Jeff Dunham has made millions traveling the world with a puppet that’s supposed to be a Muslim suicide bomber – Achmed the Dead Terrorist. Comedy allows artists to make a commentary on society and where we are and where the artist feels we should be, and most of all, comedy reminds us not to take the world too seriously.
Dear Theatre Patron, I would ask you to give my comedy a fair chance – see the play and hear the message – before you start putting pressure on the Artistic Director to change the title. Unless you’re willing to write a play, get it produced, get it published, and share your work with the world, you can never know the incredible commitment and dedication of a playwright. You can never know how much of ourselves we invest in our work, and you can’t begin to understand how it pains us to hear about a negative response from a patron who’s never bothered to see the show. If you’re a true patron of the arts, trust the Artistic Director at your local theatre, and please, give the play a chance. If you want to criticize it after you’ve seen it, I’m here, and I’m listening.
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Hoping you had a terrific holiday!