Directed by Margarett Perry
at 59E59 Theaters NOW through April 8th
When I wrote a play in which a student gets censored by a principal for using a flag in an art project, I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise when someone attempts to censor my play.
In “Education" there is the burning of a small American Flag. When we asked the FDNY to come and look at the effect in order to get an open flame permit (an event that has never been denied at the theatre in question) the fire department representative on the phone asked our representative what kind of flag was being burned. When told it was an American Flag he cited his veteran status and answered, “I won’t let you do that.”
Forgetting the hypocrisy of citing military veteran status as a reason to deny artistic expression and Freedom of Speech to a U.S. Citizen – values that I think are self-evident in why an individual might choose to serve in the first place, it seems to me that these are mutually cancelling values. If you can’t defend our right to speech, to protest, to assemble, then your service is meaningless. I have to imagine, that upon reflection and realization that the burning of the American flag is actually specifically cited by the Supreme Court as an example of protected free speech, the Fire Department representative reconsidered and agreed to come look at the effect. He instructed us to “alter” the flag in some way so that it wasn’t an “actual” American Flag that would be burned. Which seems at least odd. At no time did he request a copy of the play, nor did he ever come see it or ask for the context of the burning. I suppose, for him, there is no credible artistic reason for anyone to burn the flag. Ever.
He had delayed his visit so that we weren’t able to work with the effect in previews, nor were we able to present the show to critics the way we had intended. Finally, one week after the original requested appointment he sent someone under him to look at the effect. This individual signed off on the permit but we were informed that we would have to hire and have on site a Licensed Pyro-Technician at every performance.
I’m sure the FDNY representative will cite “regulation” if asked about this decision.
All we can do is answer with “precedent.”
This fire effect is a virtual duplicate of other effects in the theatre in which we’re performing. Pyro-Technicians are hired for things like indoor fireworks at Madison Square Garden, or if say, Kiss were performing and there are columns of flame shooting up off the stage. That’s when a pyro-technician would be employed. No one can point to any effect of this size whereby the pyro-tech hasn’t been waived by the NYFD in the recent past. This is clearly either an attempt to starve out a theatre company that cannot afford the added burden of paying a licensed pyro-technician to be present for a 45 second effect, or it’s a punitive action taken by a representative of the government because a citizen had the audacity to dare to exercise their guaranteed First Amendment Right to Free Speech.
Well, we’re keeping the fucking effect.
And we’re not altering the fucking flag.
But we do need help.
A licensed pyro-technician (of which we were informed there are about 20 in NYC) does not work cheap. Although we are fortunate to have found one who is sensitive to our cause and has agreed to work for less than her normal fee, we still don’t have this line item in the budget. Right now, it’s coming out of the Director and Playwrights personal funds.
Because WE WILL NOT BE SILENCED!
ANY donation you can make to this Go-Fund-Me Campaign will offset the cost of making art in a time when this particular President has railed against this exact form of free speech when he was campaigning. We have confused kneeling for justice during the National Anthem with disrespectful behavior. These issues are argued in my play. And to not burn the flag is to give away some of the point of the argument. I’m asking for a few dollars from a bunch of people who believe artistic expression and free speech are sacrosanct in order to publically protest this shameful abuse of power.
Thank you in advance.
Brian Dykstra & Margarett Perry
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