Springtime for Hitler, but IRL and about sexual abuse
July 2, 2016 8:39 AM   Subscribe

Almost a year ago, there was a very public humiliation for myself and 50+ other people, mostly women, in our medium-sized town. It was sexual in nature. Now someone, unrelated, is literally making a musical comedy about it. Auditions were last week and the playwright is not responding to our very vocal opposition. What's the most effective way to stop, or thwart this?

I was open for it to be the "empowering catharsis" the playwright promised, but the script was leaked and it is appallingly bad. Objectively bad, full of cliches, poorly researched, and mocking the victims. It's a nightmare of a nightmare. I want it to stop, and I want the playwright to stop speaking publicly about the validity and necessity of her work.

I've corresponded with her, first in a nice conversational way, then in a thorough (and undeniably civil) explanation of how this event is re-traumatizing and re-victimizing (especially since the original offense was public in nature). No response to me personally, but she did make a video of herself explaining herself and posted it publicly to Facebook.

I accept that I can't change her actions or opinions. But is it possible to ensure that the play is a failure? Or re-claim the narrative otherwise? Or just let the whole thing die once and for all?
posted by witchen to Human Relations (48 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If the story is pretty outrageous you could try to get media attention that would shame the play.
posted by k8t at 8:44 AM on July 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

Oh! One obstacle I keep thinking of: the people behind it seem to believe that any publicity is good publicity.

A) Is that always true?

B) How to make media attention effective and not gin up curiosity (aka sell tickets) for the stage production?
posted by witchen at 8:46 AM on July 2, 2016

I went back into your previous questions. Maybe contact the journalists that covered the original story and notify them?
posted by k8t at 8:46 AM on July 2, 2016 [7 favorites]

The more controversial a piece of media is, the more interest and curiosity it generates.

This sounds terrible and stressful for you. I would probably do my best to ignore it and wait to see what happens. If the play is a failure and everyone forgets about it in a few months, then it's not a problem. If the play is a success and becomes a big thing, then you could contact a journalist (or write your own piece and publicize it) about why this artist is an asshole and an idiot. But the more vocal you are, the more attention you draw to yourself and the play. You'll have to decide if that's worth the stress and trauma.
posted by a strong female character at 8:51 AM on July 2, 2016 [14 favorites]

I also feel like this is something the tumblr feminist community (of which I am a part) would be very good at spreading an online campaign to protest. I think most feminists would be horrified at the idea of a musical comedy about sexual abuse. You could do this anonymously as well since there were so many victims involved.
posted by a strong female character at 8:57 AM on July 2, 2016 [15 favorites]

I think trying to get media coverage of your objections now, before the play opens, would be most effective at shifting the conversation. Yes, it might increase publicity, and possibly ticket sales, for the play, but it would change (for the better!) how many people approached the work and the critical conversation about the play and its director/creator. (And no, not all publicity is good publicity.) Contacting the journalists who covered the story is a great idea; writing letters to the editor of your local paper or starting internet petitions is another.

Basically, I think publicizing the fact that there is serious opposition from the victims before any local coverage of the play happens is your best bet, because it will help inform the tone of that coverage.
posted by lazuli at 9:02 AM on July 2, 2016 [21 favorites]

I don't believe that any publicity is good publicity. I'd be looking for someone who *knows* how to do publicity and is willing to help. And your aims are:

- getting female actors to reconsider helping re-victimize the victims.

- getting sponsors/donors/the venue/whoever to reconsider being a part of this.

If you can stop the play getting off the ground, then they don't get to sell tickets to it. Even if the show goes on, I would think at least giving them some additional problems to work with would be a step in the right direction. And boy howdy, a picket line could be effective if it does go off.

Seems to have worked with the Will Ferrell/Reagan movie situation.

I agree with k8t - the journalists who covered the original story should be interested. ANY journalists should be interested.

The idea of doing a play about a real life, recent event seems so outrageously bad that I wouldn't think you'll have problems getting widespread attention on it.
posted by randomkeystrike at 9:03 AM on July 2, 2016 [17 favorites]

Ignore it. Pretend it does not exist.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:04 AM on July 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Controversy sells tickets. Mediocrity does not. Stand back and let the play's crappiness be its own doom.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:15 AM on July 2, 2016 [17 favorites]

I think you should organize and fight back, if for no other reason than to ensure that everyone who participates in this knows that they are doing a Bad Thing and are supporting a Bad Thing.
posted by snickerdoodle at 9:23 AM on July 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think keeping up your own narrative is very important - in whatever forums you feel comfortable with. The answer to "free speech" you don't like - is more speech. Better speech. You can't shut them down, but you can tell a truer story. Talk to journalists. Write a blog post.

Do you have any connections with the theater community in your town? I have some friends in the Chicago theater community from college and this story has been galvanizing for many of them - men and women. I think there is a growing urgency of the need to SPEAK UP when women and under less-powerful voices are being hurt in the name of "art." Can you find a way to articulate that with some of your local community?

(FWIW I think I know the story you're referring to. As I remember, public perception as the time saw that the guys at the center of it were incredible jerks. Any narrative that mocks *the victims* seems insane.)
posted by pantarei70 at 9:23 AM on July 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

I mostly agree with Sys Rq. Complaining often brings criticism on the complainer more than the complained-about. However, I see little harm in sending a polite note to any journalist or reviewer pointing out the insensitivity of the production.
posted by SemiSalt at 9:24 AM on July 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

My guess is that your medium sized town has a fairly limited number of venues that this show could go in. If you could put pressure on those, especially behind the scenes, that might be effective. (Pressure could be on the venues themselves or whoever is funding the venues)
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:25 AM on July 2, 2016 [25 favorites]

Stage a protest at the venue where the play is to appear. Make it clear that a large segment of the city is not ok with dramatic recreation of what happened, especially one that's a comedy. Talk directly to the venue owners and refuse to support other things that are going on there if this play goes through.

Do prepare yourself for the possibility of the play going through anyway, just in case.

Also know that it's fairly easy to figure out the event you're talking about it and Googling it reveals several deleted links about the play, so things may already be happening.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:27 AM on July 2, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'm pretty sure I know what incident you're referring to, and if I'm right, this seems like a job for Jezebel. One staff writer there covered the situation a couple of times, and she's still on staff. I'd contact her, and see if you could get her to write about it. Because Jezebel has both the reach, and the right mindset to stir up shit about something like this.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:30 AM on July 2, 2016 [39 favorites]

I know what you're referring to, and I was horrified by the crassness of this.

Remember the wave of public support and solidarity that surrounded the original events. Get those people involved. Talk quietly and firmly to the local stage community and also the people who routinely sponsor the venue. There doesn't need to be a big response to what seems like a terrible troll; there just needs to be a very clear understanding that it exploits victims, that it really ought to play to an empty room, and that medium-sized town has a long collective memory.

(I'm not a fan of the "counter free speech with more speech" argument in this instance, because medium-sized town's arts establishment ought to know better than be associated with this shite.)
posted by holgate at 9:31 AM on July 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

The play, which is meant to be satire (helpfully, the playwright posted the Webster's definition of "satire" in response to some criticism), is ostensibly anti- the men involved. It also mocks the victims by portraying the women who fell for the manipulation as unintelligent and indiscriminately slutty.

As far as I can tell, the supporters of the play are within the local arts/writing/theater scene, I think, and have all been mislead about the sincerity of this effort. The script of the play is only 37 pages long and damningly bad. I want to disseminate it. Reasonable?

I sent the tip to Jezebel the first time around and my only reservation about doing it again is that the other women really, really don't want to be dragged back into the spotlight. I don't mind speaking because I came out relatively unscathed. But some of us have suffered really severe trauma and don't want the publicity at all.
posted by witchen at 9:33 AM on July 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

my only reservation about doing it again is that the other women really, really don't want to be dragged back into the spotlight.

I mean, please respect this, as much as you can.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:35 AM on July 2, 2016 [11 favorites]

The script of the play is only 37 pages long and damningly bad. I want to disseminate it. Reasonable?

At the very least, pass it to the supporters of the play and the owners of the venue.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:36 AM on July 2, 2016 [10 favorites]

Maybe find a way to leak the script if you have a copy. No one is going to go see the play once they've read the very bad script. Find a way to make the play & the playwriter the joke not the victims.
posted by wwax at 9:43 AM on July 2, 2016 [6 favorites]

One last question (sorry, I am officially threadsitting now):

Should I create a pseudonym or disseminate the script anonymously? Can the playwright take legal action if the leak has been traced back to an individual?
posted by witchen at 9:55 AM on July 2, 2016

Does the local paper have an arts writer? They might be a useful lever to exert some pressure.

Good luck, this is grotesque.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:55 AM on July 2, 2016

Is there a crisis communication firm near there? They cost a lot but a few hundred dollars of advice can give you a workable game-plan. It sounds like you want to be ahead of the story to control the narrative as much as possible. Good luck, this sounds dreadful.
posted by saucysault at 10:06 AM on July 2, 2016

I think this may be an example of the Streisand Effect.

If you do nothing, how many people would ever be likely to see this play? I mean, perhaps it could explode and wind up on Broadway, but realistically, this will show for a week or a month with maybe 40 people in the audience, many of whom know the people in the production. Even if it's a "success," it's going to have a very limited audience (seriously, what's the theater-going population in your town?), and if it's as bad as you say it is, it will have a more limited audience. But the more you put it in the public eye, the more curiosity it will get.

If you need to do something, maybe contact the theater critics at the local papers and make yourself available as a resource if they plan to review it. Have a few bullet points ready to emphasize. Do not give the impression of having a vendetta against the playwright. Be dispassionate, stick to the facts, and frame your statements in ways that are hard to misquote. But don't try to make this into a general news item that will appear under the headline "Local woman steamed at local playwright."

I can see how a playwright would want to mine that incident for ideas. But I will also say that it's lazy and sensationalistic to depict the incident itself without regard for the people who lived through it, recently, in the same town.

I realize this probably sounds unsatisfactory. I sympathize. It's a shitty situation.
posted by adamrice at 10:08 AM on July 2, 2016 [10 favorites]

I know the specific incident you refer to and this seems triggering and re-traumatizing and like the playwright is trying to make a point that both the misogynists and their victims are equally at fault, which is most certainly not the case.

I'm a journalist, and I agree with others that feminist media like Jezebel would love to pick up this story. I also agree that you should leak the script so it can be dissected mercilessly and mocked with a collective hate-read.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 10:21 AM on July 2, 2016 [7 favorites]

Organize the aggrieved parties, and hire a lawyer to write a letter to the playwright and the venue. I am not a lawyer, but the words sue and defamation and protest might be in the letter.

Keep your hands clean with regard to the script. It's copyrighted material. More proactively, write your own book on the topic. Tell your own story, or as you've seen, someone else will do it for you.
posted by the Real Dan at 10:32 AM on July 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

What makes this more tricky is that this kind of controversy could spur a backlash from the "Freedom of Speech!! Liberal fascists!! Fuck the SJWs!!" internet echo chamber. It's exactly the kind of clickbaity one-liner (Tumblr activists attempt to stifle a small-town satirical theater production...) that could get a few thousand upvotes on Reddit and take your situation from "really bad" to "living hell."

For that reason, I would be cautious about generating publicity over this. It might spur the kind of action you want, but it could just as easily backfire and make things a lot thornier.
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 10:35 AM on July 2, 2016 [15 favorites]

Should I create a pseudonym or disseminate the script anonymously? Can the playwright take legal action if the leak has been traced back to an individual?

IANAL but have dealt with legal issues related to copyright; take this with the usual grain of internet law advice salt.

Legally, yes, they could take legal action. There is quite possibly fair use defenses that would cover it, but you'd have to deal with mounting a defense and a lot of nonsense as a result. It would be better to send it off to journalists from an anonymous account just to provide yourself a layer of protection from having to deal with the bullshit. If it's going clear from the fact you've already corresponded with the author that it was you that leaked it, you might not release it. Even if she can't give you legal issues, having a crazy person that hates you for ruining their art can lead to all kinds of harassment that's difficult to get rid of.

I do think there is some risk of causing more issues by making a big deal out of the play than just letting it slip by. If it is bad, it will likely be panned by critics and word of mouth and sink fairly unnoticed into oblivion. If it hits Jezebel, it'll become a national blip again. Maybe it'll get cancelled, but maybe it won't, and it'll restart more widespread conversation.

Various people made terrible "art" with both good and bad intentions about a really horrible thing in my life. I preferred to just ignore them - after little pops of notice from the public, the fact that they were terrible made them go away.
posted by Candleman at 10:42 AM on July 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I do think there is some risk of causing more issues by making a big deal out of the play than just letting it slip by. If it is bad, it will likely be panned by critics and word of mouth and sink fairly unnoticed into oblivion. If it hits Jezebel, it'll become a national blip again. Maybe it'll get cancelled, but maybe it won't, and it'll restart more widespread conversation.

I agree with this. Talk to a lawyer; a lawyer can possibly get this thing killed quietly. Publicity is an unruly beast.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:45 AM on July 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Where is it being mounted? You want to use any resources available to get access to the donors (private, corporate if you can) of that venue. That's probably the most effective pressure point and unless it's successful, it's unlikely to generate any publicity. Google Valentina Lisitsa TSO.

I agree though that if it's awful, it will probably vanish on its own.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:46 AM on July 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I do advocacy communications for a living, and if someone I worked with came to me with a situation like this, my first question would be "what is your goal?" If your goal were to make what happened a big story again (say, to continue a conversation about misogyny), or to provoke a conversation about slut-shaming, then I would say to make a big stink about this, with picket lines outside the theater and letters to the editor and a full social media campaign.

But it doesn't sound at all like that's your goal, right? Your goal is to do what you can to keep this play from being produced. I feel pretty strongly that the "big public stink" method would actually make it more likely to get produced, as it would create a natural audience.

In this case, I would go for a more behind the scenes approach as some have suggested. Meet with the people who run local theaters, and/or local arts reporters who might be sympathetic. Show them the laughably bad script. Get the word out to local actors and other people involved with the theater community. If you can actually find someone already in the local theater community to do a lot of this work, even better. Make it less about "this is an outrageously offensive thing!" and more about "this is a bad play and you will all look stupid if you get involved in this and also hurt some people in the process." Basically, facilitate a slow, quiet death for this play.

Feel free to memail me if you want to talk through any of this more. I'm really sorry you're dealing with this, but thank you for taking the responsibility for doing something about it.
posted by lunasol at 10:49 AM on July 2, 2016 [47 favorites]

Contact a lawyer. If the playwright did not get permission from you and the other victims, you at least have a reasonable, arguable claim based on rights to privacy and publicity. These sorts of cases are notoriously difficult to win, but I'm betting a few letters in clear legalese explaining the harm this is doing and the lawsuits you will attempt if it goes forward scares the shit out of any venues/producers, even if the author is too stupid or arrogant to care.

If you are where I think you are, you're also in one of the few states that allows lawsuits for negligent infliction of emotional distress (a lower bar than intentional infliction) with punitive damages, which will make your scary lawyer letters very very scary to whomever has the deep pockets. It's worth at least talking to a lawyer to go over the specifics of the script with him or her and see what your options may be.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:52 AM on July 2, 2016 [23 favorites]

I think you have a public interest defense for distributing the script without worrying about a lawsuit, but I agree strongly with Mr. Morrow. You might picture the Web supporting you in a satisfying MST3K hate read but it could just as easily turn into abuse victims being harassed by trolls.

Also if I were that playwright I would love to take a gamble on widespread publicity. Even if not all bad publicity is good publicity, a lot of it is.
posted by johngoren at 10:52 AM on July 2, 2016

Talk to the venues. Talk to the donors of those venues. Get a number of them to commit that they will pull funding if this is produced there.

I am so sorry this is happening to you.
posted by corb at 11:25 AM on July 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

What about reaching out to the rape crisis center that was involved during the original events? I would think a public statement from them re: how this re-traumatizes the victims would carry some weight in terms of discouraging local venues from producing it. That could help sidestep the issue of generating publicity via a public protest, as well as protect you and other individuals from being harassed for speaking out.

I'm so sorry this is happening, too.
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 11:32 AM on July 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

Everyone saying this can be ignored because it's a medium-sized town please note the incident was huge and the town has an outsized cultural footprint. It will be much bigger than the initial description would indicate.

I would see if you can find some way to leak the script that wouldn't point back to you and possible anonymize this question. I'm so sorry this is happening, OP.
posted by winna at 11:47 AM on July 2, 2016 [7 favorites]

I think the way to handle this is a quiet and sincere "you'll never work in this town again" to everyone involved: playwrights, actors, crew and director. Obviously you can't do that yourself but there are 50 women- does anyone have a strong connection to the local arts community, arts funding or the larger arts world? The playwright chose this for attention, more attention will just make a crappy stupid play more famous than it should be so I agree that it would be counter productive.

If you don't have an in with the arts scene I suggest you get a group of women together, have a quick chat with a lawyer, and schedule meetings with the owner of all the venues in town and whoever is funding this crapfest. I mean this in the nicest most inclusive way but pick women from the group who know how to conduct a meeting, not just anyone you can get. Explain to them that you absolutely do not want this play to happen and while you realize there is nothing you can do to legally prevent them you will spend the rest of your life campaigning against their venue should they host rehearsals or performances. Then get people on the board of every arts group in town to show you're not kidding. If no one in the group is that assertive find someone who is, I'd happily do this for friends and I'm very assertive and am on lots of boards and know people on most other local boards too. Maybe one of the victim's relatives or friends? Stay legal naturally, don't go around threatening people and do talk to a lawyer, but there is a lot you can influence in the non-profit and arts worlds by simply a few well placed people withdrawing support or vocally speaking against something.

If you work together I think you can kill this quietly and also run that playwright and anyone else involved right out of town.
posted by fshgrl at 12:12 PM on July 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

Basically, facilitate a slow, quiet death for this play.

Yes, this. The wrong kind of attention could make this grow. Instead, softly suffocate it. If the local theatrical community won't even get behind having this show happen, then either the show won't go on, or it will be so full of second-stringers and amateurs that it'll wind up being a wet fart.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:55 PM on July 2, 2016 [6 favorites]

Nthing contacting the donors...and make it clear that they will no longer get business from the survivors and their allies if this is staged.
posted by brujita at 2:39 PM on July 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

This sounds like horrible crap art that will be excoriated. Sometimes the thing to do is to wait and let others point out something is crap. I would strongly recommend against doing anything, anything, to draw attention to this. People love a trainwreck, they love outrage--the best thing that can happen here is for this thing to be noted quietly as garbage and disappearing.

Do not put yourself in any position where someone can make 'a name' for themselves from this or develop a history of notoriety or name recognition on the internet. Do not make it easy to find this person on Google or for others to write about it. Publicizing this is in the writer's favor.

My advice is totally different if people's real names are being used, in which case my advice would be 'find a lawyer'.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:47 PM on July 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

Do you know any key people in the scene who you could contact with a brief "I got a leaked script and I need your eyes to tell me if this is as excruciatingly bad, retraumatising, and offensive as it seems to me". In other words go to the donors/backers as the experts and ask them to weigh in on it as well - chances are they will be able to critique it much more effectively and with a lot more heft than you are currently wielding.

I would leave the internet way the fuck away from this for now.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:36 PM on July 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

There is a band called Good English whose name is now dirt after one of their members sided with rapist Brock Turner. They'll never get booked now under that name, they're completely blacklisted. This would be a perfect example to use when you make your argument for why this play should not see the light of day. I'm assuming these people would like to work again after this? I'm so sorry you're having to go through this nightmare.
posted by Jubey at 9:07 PM on July 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

Nth-ing contacting Jezebel. Send them the script. Totally disagree with the idea of ignoring it, in hopes that it won't get any attention. Things don't work that way any more. The Internet loves this shit, and everything gets attention. What you want to do is direct the focus (that this is both gross and really lame) and the timing of the story (ie, get it out before the play is produced).

Jezebel would be delighted to shame these assholes. I wouldn't be surprised if someone from there is reading this thread now, so they may be reaching out to you. But if not, contact them ASAP.
posted by neroli at 9:33 PM on July 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Does the play use the real names of any of these women? If not, I don't think there's much you can do. Trying to fight it will just get this show attention. An article on Jezebel is going to get lots of people talking about the show, and even if there's a lot of negative attention it will also probably sell more tickets. By itself, it's probably some cheapo local theater deal that will be forgotten in a week. If people are standing outside with picket signs, that controversy makes the whole thing more edgy and glamorous.

Don't leak the script. That's morally questionable, and you don't want to give them any excuse to play the victims here. ("These people act so pious, but do you know what they did..?")

Just ignore it. If it's as bad as you say, it will quickly fade into well-deserved obscurity.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 10:25 PM on July 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

I don't have any productive ideas for how to handle this, but would warn that legal action is likely to blow up. If this was in the news then it is not just very difficult to win such a case, it is completely impossible. For the most part this is true even if real names are used or if real names are obvious due to the context of the situation. You will almost certainly be asked to prove actual malice, which is going to be a hard sell over a musical comedy. Launching such a quixotic suit will make you look bad, will make the play producers look good, will generate publicity you don't want them to have, and it's quite possible you will end up on the hook for their legal expenses as well as your own.
posted by Bringer Tom at 5:41 AM on July 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you want to forward the script anonymously, Tails may be useful.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:20 AM on July 3, 2016

Both community and professional theaters in towns the size of yours always have some sort of board of directors filled with connected people who can bring in donations from local businesses and community minded people. These well-connected people end up being able to wield a lot more influence over the direction of these theaters than the professionals involved would like, particularly when they're angry, and if you don't know one of them then someone you know almost undoubtedly does.

If you do directly know one of them, they could be an invaluable resource if only for figuring what the social context is of who is pushing the play forward in the venue and how you can attack it. However, even if you don't know any of them, you can still look each up on facebook and linked-in to find mutual acquaintances who do and who might be able to intercede on your behalf.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:18 AM on July 3, 2016 [6 favorites]

An update, for anyone who's curious: Opening night is tonight. It's going on. Last month I attended a mediation session with the playwright, artistic director of the theater company, head of our local rape crisis center (seriously, they are amazing and they do great work, if you're in the market for a small nonprofit to support). We negotiated for several hours and they agreed to drop the one-to-one mentions of specific people, places, and dialogue taken directly from the original hateful incident. I'm not thrilled with the outcome, because local media is still calling it a play about the thing (rather than misogyny/internet manosphere stuff in general, like we agreed) but that's up to them. I'm just waiting for it to quietly run its course.

Thank you all for your support and suggestions here--it got me to the point where we could sit for mediation, voice our concerns, and make meaningful edits to the script. Even though it's still not ideal, that was kind of a victory. So thank you.
posted by witchen at 10:21 AM on August 18, 2016 [8 favorites]

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