“But we don’t have all the facts yet.” In nearly every conversation I had during Fringe about the Sean Neely incident, this was the inevitable conclusion. We often segued into debates about censorship in a more general or hypothetical sense, but as to whether Sean Neely’s eviction from the 2016 Minnesota Fringe qualified as censorship, most of us were withholding judgment “until the Fringe files its brief and we have both sides of the story.”
I was on board with this until I read the actual court documents.
It turns out, the Fringe has responded! Neely filed his initial complaint against the Fringe on March 16, 2016, and the Fringe filed its answer on April 19. The Fringe has not yet responded to a later Motion for Judgment, but that’s a separate step of the process; the answer is generally where the defendant lays out its defense and tells its side of the story. And the Fringe’s answer makes it abundantly clear that the festival is defending its right to censor.
Since I’m going to be writing about this, I thought I should provide an overview for any outsiders who happen to stumble across my site.
In its original form, the Minnesota Fringe’s response to Sean Neely’s lawsuit is difficult to follow because it’s mostly a list of “We agree with paragraph X but we disagree with paragraph Y,” so you have to cross-reference it with the complaint to make any sense of it.
Therefore, I have spliced the two documents together in a readable format, which I encourage people to share widely.
Click here for readable PDF compilation
If you prefer, you can see the originals as Attachments A and B of Neely’s subsequent Motion for Judgment.
When I first heard the news, I hoped there was some mistake. Perhaps someone in the Fringe office had clicked “block” accidentally, out of sheer clumsiness and without even realizing they’d done it. Surely the Minnesota Fringe would never deliberately block a user on Twitter for voicing criticism.
Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident; my Facebook feed was soon splattered with screenshots of the message, “You are blocked from following @mnfringe and viewing @mnfringe’s Tweets,” all from different people who had expressed doubts about the Fringe’s decision to remove Sean Neely from this year’s festival. Worse, those who then questioned the Fringe’s decision to block people on Twitter, were themselves promptly blocked.
This is unacceptable. It shows a profound disrespect for the Twin Cities independent theater community — and a complete lack of understanding of social media.
Like it or not, the Fringe is part of a community — a passionate, opinionated community of artists and audience members without whom the festival literally could not exist. Decisions about the festival affect all of us, and we are going to talk about these decisions. Obviously we don’t get a vote on festival policy, but similarly, the Fringe does not get to control our conversations.
Pat Harrigan reads an Antonin Scalia dissent about the meaning of golf. Photo by Fringe photographer Alex Wohlheuter.
It is So Ordered, produced by American Civic Forum
, featured different people standing in front of a music stand and reading excerpts from notable Supreme Court decisions and dissents, with a bit of context and comedy provided by emcee Matt Kessen. I think it’s a great idea, and important, but I did not expect it to draw more than a modest group of exceptionally civic-minded people.
Instead, we sold out the majority of our shows and wound up getting the sixth extra “Encore” slot that goes to the show in each venue that sells the most tickets.
I read Sonia Sotomayor’s recent bad-ass dissent in Utah v. Strieff (PDF). It includes the line “No one can breathe in this atmosphere,” which gave me chills every time I read it. I’m very proud of this show and looking forward to more projects with American Civic Forum in the future.
Minnesota Fringe audiences gave us an average rating of FIVE STARS!!!! (Click on “Read the Reviews.”) They called us “hilarious,” “marvelous,” “wonderful,” and all sorts of other great things, and one patron said, “I laughed through the entire thing.”
My favorite audience review came from Andrew Troth, who wrote:
A taut, surprising script that uses a whimsical premise to delve into real emotion… underneath the many laughs lies a very worthwhile, non-cliché exploration of relationships.
There was only one negative review, and it addressed my own biggest concern with the script. [NOTE: spoilers ahead.] After praising the actors and director, user Kippler Donovan asked:
…Did Xander Lucas rape Mark? He brought him up to his hotel room even though they were going out for drinks, Mark seemed uncomfortable the whole time until they were liquored up, then gave in. I see some reviews mention “flexible sexuality” but that came at a price. I don’t remember Mark ever saying “no” outright, so maybe consent was there, but it was very murky. All played for laughs? Sexual assault prevails
I have had real concerns about this moment and tried to make Mark’s consent very clear and explicit. The level of drunkenness and the way the scene plays out physically can make a difference, and I do think the script provides enough evidence that Mark is willing, but Xander’s behavior, while I wouldn’t call it assault, is definitely manipulative and predatory.
And more good news: It is So Ordered was proclaimed “A Must See” by infamous theater critic Dominic Papatola…
Must See: Don’t let the fact that this is an hour-long oral interpretation of a half-dozen Supreme Court opinions dissuade you. Some of the cases are mundane (such as Antonin Scalia’s snarky meditation on golf). Some are landmark (John Harlan’s sole, heartfelt dissent in the Plessy versus Ferguson case that blighted the nation with its “separate but equal” doctrine). But the writings show the pulse and the passion of the law as interpreted by the nation’s highest court over more than a century. You’ll walk out a little smarter… and a little more appreciative of our maddening and magnificent system.
Of course, I wasn’t in the opening night performance, but I will be in all of the others. (It’s the same show, just with different performers reading the material.)
Mpls St. Paul Magazine included Celebrity Exception as #3 on its preview list, Minnesota Fringe: Picks of the Pack.
Up-and-coming local playwright Katherine Glover has paid her dues on the Fringe circuit, playing more than thirty shows in the U.S. and Canada. Solo storytelling is her strength, but this time out she’s written a four-hander about a couple who are negotiating the idea of getting a free pass to sleep with the celebrity of their choice. The X factor: Who does the celebrity want to sleep with? Hint: The LGBT crowd will love this one.
We also got pre-Fringe shout-outs in City Pages and The Colu.mn.
The show opens tonight at 10pm at HUGE Theater.
You get one, Kaya insists: one celebrity you can have sex with and it isn’t cheating. Her boyfriend disagrees. But when Kayla’s pick, movie star Xander Lucas, comes to town, Kayla isn’t the one he’s after…
Written by Katherine Glover
Directed by Callie Meiners
Corey DiNardo as Mark
Lizi Shea as Kayla
Emily Rose Duea as Steph/Liza Janneson
Daniel Flohr as Xander Lucas
At HUGE Theater
3037 Lyndale Ave S.
Friday 8/5 at 10pm
Sunday 8/7 at 7pm
Tuesday 8/9 at 8:30pm
Thursday 8/11 at 5:30pm
Sunday 8/14 at 5:30pm
Tickets and info available at fringefestival.org
I’m performing in the last four shows, reading excerpts from eloquent and monumental Supreme Court decisions. More info/tickets at fringefestival.org