Saturday, September 21, 2013

OPINION: Clark's H. Gene Biby Responds

Dear Mr. Zschomler,

I read with great interest your August 29th blog posting entitled "OPINION: It is a Dark Time for SW Washington Theater" (, in which you criticize Serendipity Players and Clark College Theater for our production offerings that are "darker, [more] deviant and dirtier" than you would otherwise prefer and in which you insinuate that Tony Broom and I are pushing an agenda that Vancouver residents should find offensive.

I find the sentiment expressed in your opinion piece curious for several reasons. First, while I certainly understand your concern over the marketability of particular works, I would remind you that Clark College Theatre has an educational mission beyond appealing to largest possible paying audience in the community. Its principal mission is to prepare students aspiring to careers in the performing arts, and it would be an egregious omission to shrink from the type of material that is presented regularly in the popular venues of most major American cities. It also has a mission to expose the general student population to contemporary cultural and political issues, to initiate dialog about these topics, and to acknowledge the diversity of our student population.

Second, while I whole-heartedly agree that family-friendly theater should constitute a substantial portion of the theater offerings in any community, it would seem that even by your own recognition, the Vancouver area has a healthy assortment of such offerings. In the opening paragraph of your essay, you congratulate Love Street Playhouse, Magenta Theater, CYT, MPAA and Journey for their family-friendly productions. This leaves the impression that you are troubled not so much by the unavailability of family-friendly shows, but rather the availability of challenging works that are appropriate for mature audiences. It therefore seems that your true desire is a form of censorship. This impression is reinforced by your choice of words -- "deviant" and "agenda", for example – which seem designed to provoke outrage against certain elements of the community that you personally find offensive.

Third, the pieces that Clark College Theater has produced under my direction have been principally award-winning works or works nominated for prestigious awards. Rent, based on Puccini's opera La bohème, won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and the original Broadway production won four Tony awards and was nominated for several others. Rabbit Hole won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The Broadway production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee won two Tony awards and was nominated for three others. The original Broadway production of Reasons to be Pretty was nominated for three Tony awards. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf is one of the most influential modern American plays, winning a Tony Award for Best Play, and considered for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Both Rent andWho's Afraid of Virginia Woolf have been made into extremely successful films. Thus, the selections made by Clark College Theater under my direction consist primarily of well-known and well-respected works, "deviant" only the estimation of an ideologue with an "agenda".

Finally, I note with some bemusement that you wish that I would "go away" and are therefore disappointed that my tenure case is approaching. If I were a less generous soul, I would view this statement as somewhat of a veiled threat; but I trust that you are aware of the general support I have from the Clark College administration, and that you offer your criticism only in the most Christian open-hearted spirit.

I can’t prevent you from attending our productions and continuing to review our work, but I would ask you whether it serves either one of us if you cannot conduct your reviews in a frame of mind that is free from bias and preconceived notions about what cultural offerings are appropriate for southwest Washington. Consequently, I would hope that the next time you sit in our theater, you do so only with an open mind and willingness to grapple with the serious questions we intend our productions to provoke.


H. Gene Biby
Clark College
Theater Program Director

1 comment:

  1. Touche and ouch. But, oh so well said and kind Mr. Biby. And don't think I haven't enjoyed the talent and quality of your productions. I have seen many of them and given them good reviews. Some, which I prefer not to see, I have assigned another reviewer to, which he has also given high marks.

    You points are well made and I can see their validity, of course. Sorry, I was a bit hard you particularly. I see you are a good sport and I ask your forgiveness and appreciate your graciousness and sincere response. However, I stand by the fact that I (and others)want some "fluff" stuff from those (Clark) who can present it so well. You don't have to foist stuff on us because it's good for us (at least all the time); give us some Capt. Crunch sometimes, Cheerios gets tiresome. I understand that with students, but, hey, you know the saying: You can lead a horse to water... ~Greg

    PS: Have you considered: 2 contemporary, award-winning, "out-there" (need to experience for students), 1 classic (Shakespeare, Miller, Wilde, etc.), 1 favorite (an occasional musical perhaps) as a seasonal formula? That would round out what students need and keep the ticket-paying public happy.