Protested play to open

“The Pope and the Witch,” opening tonight, prompted thousands of polemic e-mails.

Karlee Weinmann

In allowing the show to go on, the University has received continued criticism from the Catholic community, and play organizers are not quite sure what to expect when the curtain goes up.

The University Department of Theatre Arts and Dance will present Dario Fo’s “The Pope and the Witch,” a satire of the Catholic faith featuring a heroin-addicted pope, beginning tonight.

The University administration’s refusal to halt production has coordinators preparing for potential protests throughout the run, which ends March 9.

During each of the seven performances, a uniformed police officer will be on hand in case of disruption. Officials will check bags at random as patrons file in, similar to sporting event security protocol.

Justin Christy, communications manager for theatre arts and dance, said those working with the play haven’t heard of any planned protests, though an area outside will be set aside for any demonstrations.

He said the protesting area near the front steps of Rarig Center will not interfere with ticket-buyers’ entrance to the play.

For last year’s production of “The Laramie Project,” which centered on homophobia, a similar measure was put in place, but no protestors came.

where to go

The Pope and the Witch
What: Tickets are still available for performances of “The Pope and the Witch”
When:
7:30 p.m. today
8 p.m. Friday
8 p.m. Saturday
2 p.m. Sunday
7:30 p.m. March 7
7:30 p.m. March 8 (post show discussion)
8 p.m. March 9
Where: Rarig Center, Stoll Thrust Theatre
Pricing: Tickets are $8-12 when purchased in advance and $10-14 at the door For more information, call the university arts ticket office at (612) 624-2345 or vist theatre.umn.edu

For more information about the play, view this article.

“We are being careful to put the right things in place just to protect our students and ensure the safety and enjoyability of the show for our patrons,” Christy said.

Those affiliated with the play and University administration received thousands of e-mails and letters from across the nation, according to Christy. Many of them are similar, part of a mass e-mail petition started by the Christian-based American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property.

John Ritchie, the organization’s director of student action, said the aim of the anti-play campaign was to encourage the University to stop production altogether.

“It offends everything Catholics hold as sacred and holy, what’s safe and true and all the tenets of our faith,” he said. “For some reason, that’s considered academic freedom at the University of Minnesota.”

Some e-mails apart from this large-scale protest have been more threatening in nature, but don’t warn of a specific attack.

Director Robert Rosen said the language in some of the e-mails mirrored phrases like “you’ll be sorry,” but he hasn’t felt endangered.

“I don’t take anything as a personal threat,” he said. “People are really passionate about the issues and I have to understand the great passion that this all stirs up.”

Although the unexpected is common in orchestrating theatrical productions, the controversy shrouding this production didn’t get in the way of the play’s preparation, Rosen said.

Architecture senior Nic Nett, president of the Catholic College Student Group, said a play poking fun at his faith doesn’t bother him and he plans to see it.

“The most important thing about controversial art is not the art,” he said. “It’s the conversations that art evokes.”

Amid the criticisms from other Catholics, Nett said there is value in being able to recognize satirical representations as humorous and fictitious.

“More often than not, it strengthens people in their faith,” he said.

Supporters of Fo, a Nobel prize winner, said his messages are not malicious, and Catholic practices are not condemned. Instead the institution as a whole is satirized to spark thoughtful contemplation.

Following the March 8 performance, there will be a panel discussion with three experts.

Cultural studies and history professors from the University will be present, alongside a University of Washington professor who is an expert in controversial plays.

Kiera McCaffrey, director of communications for the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said the lack of a Catholic presence in the panel is further evidence of the University’s deficiency of sympathy to those bothered by the show.

“There’s really absolutely no deference to the offended Catholics,” she said.

Michal Kobialka, department of theatre arts and dance chairman, said if it was appropriate, there would be faith-based representatives.

“The play is not necessarily only about religion,” he said. “Had the play been specifically about spirituality and faith, the composition of the session would be completely different.”