Art and Entertainment

Steve Martin in the Press Room during
the 81st Annual Academy Awards.

Steve Martin Will Pay for His Play

March 17, 2009 01:00 PM
by Rachel Balik
Steve Martin has offered to fund a production of his play “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” after a school board cancelled the show because of its alleged adult content.

It’s Not a Play About Sex, Martin Insists

After parents objected to the adult content of Steve Martin’s play “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” La Grande High School cancelled its planned April production of the play. In response, La Grande students looked for somewhere else to put on the play. The Student Democrats club at nearby Eastern Oregon University (EOU) decided to raise money to rent out space at EOU for the production.

Meanwhile, Martin read about the controversy on the Internet and decided to contribute funds to support the production. In a letter to the community that was published in the La Grande Observer, Martin emphasized that the activities portrayed in the play, specifically drinking in bars and talking about sex, are not endorsed by the play, nor are they integral to play’s themes and messages.

While he respectfully noted that he was unfamiliar with standards of this particular community, he noted that the play had been performed by other high schools, and said he felt that the play’s director and the students understood that the play was not promoting sex or drinking.

Background: Superintendent bans “Picasso” from high school

After one parent at Le Grande High School decided that Martin’s play contained “adult content,” she collected 137 signatures for a petition that demanded that the production be halted. The school board held a hearing before a crowd of 300 described by The Associated Press as “contentious, but civil.” The board voted by a narrow margin of 4–3 to cancel the play.
Both the play’s director, Kevin Cahill, and the school’s principal appealed the decision, but to no avail. Cahill explained that that play does not endorse sexual content or profanity, but rather encourages the audience to contemplate these matters. He also said that the parents who claimed profanity would stop them from seeing the show probably wouldn’t have come to see any play put on by the high school.

When the EOU Student Democrats club stepped in to help find a new venue of the play, EOU President Dixie Lund at first objected to producing the play at the university because she didn’t want to go against the La Grande school district’s decision to cancel the play. However, a state nondiscrimination law requires her to allow the production of “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” on campus.

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Related Topic: Controversy over “Rent” in High Schools

The hit musical “Rent” has finally closed on Broadway, meaning that it can now be legally be performed at high schools all over the country. But many high school administrations feel that the show is too controversial for their students. There is a special “high school” version of “Rent,” and 40 high schools have selected the musical for their spring 2009 production. But for other schools, even the milder version of the show is too much.

Key Player: Steve Martin

Steve Martin began his career in the arts as a stand-up comedian; in an interview with NPR, Martin said that the best part about stand-up was that he “didn’t have any gifts except perseverance.” Martin then had a successful career as an actor, and went on to write plays, films and books. The Kennedy Center honored Martin with a lifetime achievement award for his contributions as an actor and writer.

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