“Assassins” shot down

February 22, 2008
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"All of us have a healthy respect for the freedom of artistic expression that college theater represents, and all of us agree that out of respect for the families of those victims of the tragedies at Northern Illinois University and Virginia Tech, and from an abundance of caution, it is best at this time not to undertake a campus production that contains the portrayal of graphically violent scenes."

So says Arkansas Tech President Robert C. Brown in an effort to explain why he put the kabosh on a student production of the musical "Assassins" that was scheduled to open this weekend. More details here.

"Assassins"—which was recently staged in Indy by Low Brow Productions at the Hedback Theatre and was presented years back at the Phoenix—looks at all of the people who have attempted to kill U.S. Presidents.

It does not come down in favor of their actions.

So what's your reaction to Brown’s move? If you disagree with it, are there any circumstances in which an administration would be justified in shutting down a student production?
  • That's just plain dumb. The play doesn't have anything to do with school shootings. That's just someone over-reacting. I feel badly for the students who had put in their time and effort.
  • Our Nation's understanding and appreciation of the First Amendment is not passed along genetically. It must be reaffirmed and defended, over and over. Keep fighting and keep winning. ~ Paul Steinle

    Here are the addresses to use when contacting the ATU administration about the cancellation of the Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman play “Assassins. Please get involved.


    Dr. Robert Brown
    c/o Susie Nicholson
    1509 North Boulder Ave.
    Russellville AR 72801
    Administration Building


    rcbrown@atu.edu Dr. Robert Brown, ATU President

    georgena.duncan@atu.edu Dr. Georgina Duncan, ATU Dean of Liberal Arts


    (479) 968-0237 for the president's office


    The Courier (letters to the editor)


    The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (letters to the editor)

  • Just wanted to make clear that the LH above is not Lou Harry.
  • I am a student at ATU, and yes, I completely disagree with the administration's decision. I urge people to get involved and spread the word about this. Brown has claimed he was worried about the sound of gun shots being heard outside and around the theater.

    When they performed on Wednesday, they had to use their hands and say, Bang! Bang! in place of the prop guns. They couldn't even use wooden guns! It truly is a slap in the face to all the hard work and effort put into the production. My heart goes out to all those involved. The only time I've seen people that upset over something was when someone died... and in a way, something did die... their hard work, time, effort, and their chances to perform for an audience.
  • Unless a production poses a potential physical threat to students' safety, I see few justifiable reasons for the administration of a University to get involved in the content of performances on its grounds.

    Universities, more than any other kind of institution, need to be preserved as safe havens for free inquiry of all kinds. When people are grieving and sensitive about violence, what good does it do to suppress their ability to explore those feelings in context? Art gives us an excellent and safe environment with which to respond to life - with questions, fears, celebration, or release.

    Aristotle originally wrote about theatre as a literally cathartic experience, by which viewers could purge their emotions through identification with and/or consideration of the events onstage. A production like Assassins could have offered an opportunity to open up discussion about violence in American culture, and what leads people to engage in sociopathic behavior. Since it happens in front of you, the show provides a more immediate and engaging forum for those discussions than a philosophy or criminal justice class. Couldn't understanding the pathology of someone like John Hinckley offer an outlet for some of the feelings of loss, confusion, and astonishment at the actions of people who shoot up campuses?

    In other words, it seems that President Brown has sacrificed an opportunity for honest exploration of a traumatic event, out of fear that his own students will misinterpret a play and be upset. Doesn't that bespeak a lack of trust in his students' intelligence and judgment?

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