Discourse

Playwright cancelled for gender critical views

Probably Ms. Gage has no problem with trans people at all, and doesn't even remotely understand how any of her posts on her Facebook page could be misconstrued as even remotely hateful.
Libby Emmons
Libby Emmons Brooklyn, NY

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A recent notice in BroadwayWorld announced the cancellation of a Carolyn Gage play called Second Coming of Joan of Arc. The reason behind the cancellation of the play, which was set to run until Oct. 10, was that Richmond Triangle Players had been made aware of transphobic content on Ms. Gage's Facebook page.

With an interest in cancelled playwrights, especially those who were cancelled over expressing gender critical views, since that's what happened to me in 2018, I decided to take a look into the story. I reached out to Ms. Gage to ask what content this was that the theatre company cited. She didn't want to talk about it, and I didn't press.

I contacted the executive director of Richmond Triangle Players, Phillip Crosby, who didn't want to talk about it either. Or at least that's what I can gather from his not having replied to my email at the time of writing.

Richmond Triangle Players released this statement concerning their reversal on Ms. Gage's play, a one-woman show that was intended to run on both virtual and live platforms through Oct. 10.

"After weeks of rehearsals and steady preparation to open our production of The Second Coming of Joan of Arc, we discovered a great number of views and opinions expressed by and endorsed on the playwright's personal Facebook page that, after intense investigation and research, we believe to be transphobic.

"This production had been planned to re-open Richmond Triangle Players after many months of COVID-caused dormancy. We took our responsibility to process this information we found seriously, and to proceed with care to support our artists, our patrons, and the LGBTQ+ community at large.

"We have therefore made the decision to cancel our production of this play in its entirety.

"This decision was not made frivolously or lightly, and comes after days of serious and thorny discussions. Our actor and creative team had put together a beautiful production that was ready to open. But now more than ever before, Richmond Triangle Players must use its leadership voice to stand in solidarity with our trans siblings, especially at a time when marginalized voices must be heard louder than before."

Staging a play is no small undertaking. It is costly, there are a lot of people involved, and a great deal of time consuming prep on the part of actors, director, designers, tech personnel, marketing people, fundraisers. There are meetings that have to be attended, rehearsals scheduled and planned, lines learned, blocking notated. It is a laborious and involved task to put a show together. There's even this old theatrical phrase that says "the show must go on." All of that to say that the cancelling of a show isn't a decision made lightly.

So what could be so bad? As I said, neither the writer nor the theatre wanted to talk about it. And I get it. The theatre doesn't want to talk about it because it's a bit tetchy—they're calling a woman out, saying she said the wrong thing, holds the wrong views, and therefore isn't permitted to have her play performed. The Richmond Triangle Players felt it necessary to punish Ms. Gage, her play, and the artists involved in it, because they believed that she held gender critical views.

Ms. Gage doesn't want to talk about it because, in part, she still doesn't even believe this is really happening—that's my guess. It must seem absolutely insane to her, a progressive, leftist, lesbian-advocating, feminist, that the Richmond Triangle Players should see fit to take down her production because they believe her guilty of transphobia, a thing she probably doesn't even believe she's guilty of.

Probably Ms. Gage has no problem with trans people at all, and doesn't even remotely understand how any of her posts on her Facebook page could be misconstrued as even remotely hateful.

I didn't get to know which posts the Richmond Triangle Players took issue with, but I did have a perusal of Ms. Gage's Facebook page, and I learned two things. One, she speaks out about women's health and their unique biological needs and limitations, and two she advocates for lesbian visibility and acceptance.

Without knowing exactly what the Richmond Triangle Players determined was transphobic, I can only assume that it was the posts that were directly about women, their bodies, and their love of other women, to the exclusion of male bodies in all those cases, that they found problematic.

The Richmond Triangle Players disciplined Carolyn Gage for advocating for women. The Richmond Triangle Players made an example of Ms. Gage by pulling her play, a play about women, telling women's stories. Their goal was not just to teach her a lesson, but to school other women as well, to make sure women artists know just what it is they can, and cannot say, lest they be sanctioned too.

The arts used to be a community that was open, tolerant, and unafraid to have contradictory or heterodox views. In fact, that's half the point of an arts community, to be a place where people can speak their mind and take creative risks. Over and over we're learning that the new realm of arts has no room for women who advocate and stand up for other women. I get why the Richmond Triangle Players doesn't want to talk about it, but it's my sincerest hope that Ms. Gage refuses to be cowed, and speaks up.

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