Questionably Fabulous

Oklahoma House Rep. Dan Fisher (R-Yukon) wants to block the comedy from being presented Dec. 5-22 at CitySpace Theatre, a spot that seats less than 100 in the basement of Civic Center Music Hall.

Described as an alternative to Oklahoma City’s usual holiday-themed productions, Fabulous’ first half spoofs some of the Old Testament’s major stories, including replacing Adam and Eve with Adam and Steve.

The theater company’s website recommends the production “for adults only” because of sexual themes and adult language.

Fisher, a senior pastor at Yukon’s Trinity Baptist Church and a leading member of the Patriot Pastors, a politically active conservative clergy group, provided a written statement to Oklahoma Gazette. He said he is personally disappointed that Oklahoma Arts Council and the Oklahoma City Council have approved the play’s production.

Fisher alleges that the play intentionally mocks the Bible, is extremely offensive to Christians and, according to the script, calls for total nudity and simulated sexual acts onstage.

“Adding insult to injury, this play will be presented during the Christmas season,” he said. “I find it ironic that in this day, when Christians are constantly being lectured about tolerance, the arts council and the city council consider it acceptable to allow the presentation of a play in a public facility that denigrates the Christian faith during the time when Christians are celebrating the birth of their savior, Jesus Christ.”

Fisher stated that he understands the legal right for a private entity to use private funding to host such an “X-rated” event on private property for adults aged 18 years or older. He also believes any amount of public funds used to underwrite a theater company presenting a play that includes “nudity and/or the simulation of ‘vigorous’ oral and anal sodomy and bestiality on stage on public property to children 14 years of age and above is not an inalienable right.”

“I respectfully request that the Oklahoma Arts Council, the Oklahoma City Civic Center and the Oklahoma
City [theater] group change their direction and produce a play that
would be more reflective of the Christmas season and the traditional
themes that surround it,” he wrote.

‘Simulated sex’
OKC
Theatre Company’s artistic director, Rachel Irick, said she learned of
Fisher’s objections when she was contacted by a reporter from The Oklahoman; she was not contacted by the legislator.

“Whether
or not he or any organization intends to follow through with threats to
shut our production down or publicly protest it, I think it’s horrible
that members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community
have to read things like this in the paper,” Irick said.

Addressing
the allegations, Irick said nudity isn’t against the law in a
theatrical production and that some past productions have featured nude
actors.

“Nudity is not the point of
the scene in question,” she said. “Expressing the innocence, love and
freedom of the two characters in their first moments of existence is the
focus of the scene. We plan to deal with the fact that Adam and Steve
are naked in the garden of Eden in a more creative way.”

As
for Fisher’s allegations of “vigorous” simulated sex acts and
bestiality, Irick said the satirical farce does include bawdy jokes and
broad sexual themes, but that “an actor clowning around in a piggy
costume doesn’t qualify as bestiality in my book.”

“Let
me be clear: The play does not contain simulated sex,” she said. “When I
hear the words ‘simulated sex,’ I think of people onstage attempting to
make the audience believe they are actually engaged in a sex act. To my
way of thinking, the purpose of something like that is to arouse the
watcher. Our purpose is laughter and empathy, not arousal.

“This
play is just that: a play. And no one in the audience will be under any
illusions that actual intercourse is being performed, because it
obviously isn’t. When a murder occurs in a play, no one in the audience
actually believes someone has died. It’s called ‘willing suspension of
disbelief.’”

Holiday spirit
OKCTC chose Fabulous to build on the momentum it started reaching out to the LGBT community and its allies with last fall’s production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a musical about a transgendered rock singer.

“It
is our function as artists in society to elicit discussion and change
for the good of our community, so that is what we try to do with every
show and every season,” Irick said.

“This
play has the audacity to suggest that God created homosexuals just as
they are and loves them just as they are, that God is bigger than any
one religion. These are controversial ideas for a large portion of our
population, but our mission is to try to reflect our community as a
whole, not just the majority.

“Like
it or not, LGBT individuals are a vital part of Oklahoma City — at
Christmastime and every other day of the year. I believe that everyone,
regardless of lifestyle, religious belief or nonbelief should have an
opportunity to be represented. To my way of thinking, this freedom
should be a place of common ground that every American should be able to agree upon.”

Irick selected Fabulous because
she felt family audiences in OKC already are well-served this holiday
season. Her troupe has performed many family-oriented shows in the past
and will continue to do so.

“In
the past, we have produced several Christmas shows with a decidedly
Christian worldview, and if that is what people want to see, it’s
definitely available in Oklahoma City this year,” she said.

“Our
company wants to be about inclusion, not exclusion, and the Oklahoma
City community can expect more of the same from us in the future.”

As
for the claim the play is an attack on Christmas or Christians, Irick
said the satire spoofs the agendas promoted by anti-LGBT individuals and
their organizations, not any Bible stories or scripture.

“The
character of Adam spends most of the play searching for God, for the
meaning of existence and love, and trying to get those around him to
believe in something, too, even though he himself is still searching,”
she said.

“This reflects an incredibly relevant human experience, not just for LGBT individuals but for everyone on this planet.”

Finding funding
The Oklahoma Arts Council provided the company with $18,000 to support five other plays this season, but not for The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told. Arts
council spokesman Joel Gavin said the agency followed state guidelines
that prohibit the funding of programs with simulated sex acts.

Such political pressure by conservatives isn’t new to the Oklahoma Arts Council.

Earlier
this year, Oklahoma House Rep. Josh Cockroft (R-Tecumseh) introduced
House Bill 1895, which called for eliminating funding to the Oklahoma
Arts Council over four years.

“There
was a bill drafted during the 2013 session to defund us, but it did not
pass,” Gavin said. “In general, the state Legislature supports our
agency, understanding the impact of our more than 550 grants in more
than 100 communities statewide.”

Irick
said the theater company will fight any action possibly taken by the
city to inhibit the group’s freedom of expression as artists, but she
doubts it will be necessary.

“I
think that in examining the situation, city officials will see that
censoring us would be a violation of our First Amendment rights.”

She was stunned and saddened when she discovered the lack of public funding for Fabulous, but the situation led her to reach out for help from the company’s patrons, friends and the artistic community.

“We have received a lot of vocal support in return, and a few donations,” she said.

“We
are far from our goal of $5,000, but we expect to get there before the
show opens as interested parties are made aware of how important it is,
especially now, for us to move forward with complete funding.”

Robin Dorner, editor-in-chief of The Gayly, stated in an email that Fisher’s attack was aimed not at the play but at the entire LGBT community.

“Because
the controversy caused a withdrawal of some of their funding, we felt
it necessary to step up and show our support,” Dorner said.

Fisher has a right to his opinions, she said, but does not have a right to censor others based upon those opinions.

“The play breaks no law, state or federal, and, in fact, it has been well-received in most major cities,” she said.

Irick said many artists in the community have stepped up to help the company.

“We were so encouraged when the cast of last season’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch and several independent artists in the community wanted to lend their support,” she said.

“They
are taking action to help us move this production forward. Reduxion
Theatre Company will also help by joining in on the presentation, and
CityRep is allowing us to use the Freede on that night even though they
are in final stages of rehearsal for an upcoming production. It’s
wonderful to see our theater community so unified.”

Donations to support OKCTC are also being accepted online at okctheatrecompany.org.

Kevan Goff-Parker

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