'Lewd' vs. 'mainstream:' Whadaya think?

Posted on 13 Jan 2009 at 11:55am

The DMN’s arts blog has a post from Joy Tipping in which she laments that Uptown Players’ “Broadway Our Way” fundraiser was, if not too “gay,” at least not “mainstream” enough. Tipping attacks the show, calling it “lewd” and bemoaning the skin showed by John de los Santos, above. “I’m pretty liberal,” she says, then wonders why Uptown would not aim for a “broader audience” and get rid of the gay cliches.

Uh. Huh.

I have a rule of thumb that has served me well: Whenever someone begins a sentence with a statement such as “I consider myself pretty liberal…” what he really means is, “I am, deep down, a prude, but ashamed to admit it.” (I saw it during the run-up to the election, when in a week I heard two people — one on TV, one on the radio — say exactly the same thing: “I’m not a racist, but there’s no way I would ever vote for a black man.” Um, pardon me for pointing out the obvious, but I think that is the definition of a racist.)

DMN theater critic  Lawson Taitte added a comment in which he defended Uptown for doing some shows that do appeal to “wider audiences.” One of his examples: “Hair.” Let’s see… isn’t that the hippie musical with nudity that was a scandal in 1968? How, then, is it evidence of “mainstream” in 2009?

Because that’s how culture works, especially the theater: Prudes cluck their tongues one year, complaining about “lewdness” … then whine five years later that no one does anything daring, once “lewd” has become “edgy.” In the case of “BOW,” the gay jokes (and the flesh) were not only fun, funny and sexy — and, I’ll add, the product of writer-director Andi Allen, a straight middle-aged woman and anything but a prude — but they got terrific reactions from the opening night audience.

What do you think? Are sex toys in a comic song “gay cliches” and “lewd” or a savvy way to target a younger, hipper audience that appreciates entertainment that doesn’t bend over backward not to offend? 

There’s no accounting for taste, of course, and I’m not saying Tipping should like the show if she didn’t. But to chastise Uptown for not appealing to a “broader audience” seems to miss the point. While most theater companies struggle to maintain (not to say grow) their subscriber base, and find their audiences graying into their graves, Uptown has nearly 1,000 subscribers. On opening night, fully half the audience was made up of first-timers to “BOW” and many of them probably were born since I graduated high school. In fact, “Broadway Our Way” has virtually sold out every seat for the entire run already.

So let Tipping wonder why no one does enough Neil Simon anymore; Uptown Players will be too busy selling tickets to care.

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