On Free Speech, Social Justice & Identity


“Nobody has the right to not be offended. That right doesn't exist in any declaration I have ever read. If you are offended, it is your problem, and frankly lots of things offend lots of people. I can walk into a bookshop and point out a number of books that I find very unattractive in what they say. But it doesn't occur to me to burn the bookshop down. If you don't like a book, read another book. If you start reading a book and you decide you don't like it, nobody is telling you to finish it. To read a 600-page novel and then say that it has deeply offended you: well, you have done a lot of work to be offended.”

― Sir Salman Rushdie (author)

“The theater is not a place for propaganda or where one seeks consolation. What we should seek is an aesthetic experience.”

— Murray Schisgal (playwright)

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The Beverly Hills Playhouse is an old-school free speech, free expression outfit.

Everyone who walks into this theatre walks in as an artist of equal potential to any other, and the circumstances of your past shall be left outside on the sidewalk. There are, without doubt, many injustices in the world. You may believe yourself to have been on the losing end of some of those. The BHP’s contribution towards redressing those injustices will be through our diligent work in training you to be a highly professional, competent storyteller who can tell the stories that change the world. Our contribution will not be through censorship, modern re-interpretations of Orwell’s “thoughtcrime,” or any contribution to in-vogue “cancel culture,” which we passionately reject in all its manifestations.

On this stage, anything goes. Any writer goes. Anything any writer wants to say — they get to say it, the actors get to act it. We may have our opinions about the validity of a writer’s POV, or the skill with which they delivered it. All of that may be the subject of teacher critiques or respectful class discussion. We reject all notions of both prohibited or coerced speech. We reject the application of progressive speech codes to extemporaneous critiques by the teachers, to social conversation around the theatre, to dramatic writing, or to any component parts of grammar and language in any of those areas. Our teachers are free to talk about anything on their minds, and will not apologize for doing so. While we will never purposefully seek to offend, we will not be cowed from expressing our thoughts on any subject for fear of students taking offense.

We reject any notion that artists, by virtue of their race / ethnicity / orientation / politics, are forbidden from addressing any particular issue, whether while teaching, in social conversation around the theatre, or artistic expression on stage. We reject the notion that anyone, by mere virtue of their race / ethnicity / orientation / politics, is inherently either a victim or oppressor. We believe black can write about white, white can write about black, and that a pink director can direct a green actor in a purple play written by an orange playwright. We believe in complete DE-segregation of the theatre along lines of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or political viewpoints, and are against the current sensibility towards RE-segregation along those lines via quotas or other so-called ‘intersectional’ analysis.

We really could not care less who you vote for in the election, and don’t think you, in turn, should care who your teachers or classmates vote for. We believe art is stronger than politics. We believe that most social media is a cacophonous cesspool of intolerance and addictive noise. The BHP will not contribute to endless battles over politics, language, social justice, or symbolic gestures regarding those topics on social media. We’d rather enjoy your next scene in class, and assist you in nailing it.

We’re about developing your talent to its fullest. Period. We are blind to any ‘identity’ beyond your potential to be a superior actor, writer, or director. We believe excessive sensitivity to cultural infernos regarding language, politics and identity is killing honest conversation, punishing freedom of thought and expression, and crushing the potential reward of personal relationships that exist across the lines of identity or politics. If you consider yourself sensitive to any/all these issues, we ask that you leave your sensitivities outside. Just for a night or two each week. Let’s act. Let’s get to storytelling, and forget about the other noise, for a moment.

As someone once said, “For those of you who were offended yesterday, please go fuck yourself again today.” If this makes you laugh, we’re probably your joint. If you’re horrified, it’s possible you’re in the wrong place. Let’s get that sorted out early and save ourselves some time.

On Cancellation & Mandated Enlightenment

So…

That person who has been determined to be irredeemable, and you’d like us to announce our public repudiation of them? We’re not gonna do that. 

That organization, which did that thing that everyone is up in arms about, and now the mob is demanding that it be boycotted? We’re not gonna do that, either.  

The sentence you want us to say officially, the proclamation, the slogan, whatever it is you insist will “prove” we’re on the enlightened side of some incendiary social issue or historical grievance? Nope.

The policy you’d like us to implement to solve a problem we don’t believe actually exists in our organization? Your racial quotas? Your lists of approved and disapproved “identities”? Nope, nope, nope.

Is there someone here whose political viewpoints are in opposition to your own? Welcome to America. Deal with it. 

In summer 2020, the BHP had its own ‘cancellation’ moment because it was determined by a small number of people that we were insufficiently vocal about the events of that summer. You know what happened? The BHP didn’t change. The people who run the BHP didn’t change. The people who work for the BHP didn’t change. The students who continued to study at the BHP despite all the noise — they didn’t change. The students who were angry at the BHP didn’t change. Nothing changed. No one moved an inch. The only concrete, measurable, experiential result of all that unpleasantness? Dozens of personal relationships were wrecked. People who had gotten along for years, had no big problems, who had collaborated on any number of plays and films over time, who voted differently yet still had been friends (gasp!) — they were now at each other’s throats, canceling, boycotting, puking their resentments up in public and on social media, forcing others into impossible conflicts of loyalty, and it all ended up with with zero change, except for the end of those relationships. Well played, everyone!

This shit has to end. If you have a problem with someone or some organization and it leads you to want to deny them your support, that is absolutely your right. And your business. If we make similar determinations, it is our right. And our business. But this nauseating compulsion to publicly announce these decisions, and to demand other people and organizations make the same decisions you make, to look at the world the way you look at the world, to be outraged about injustice the way you’re outraged about injustice — it’s bullshit. It’s narcissism. It’s nothing more than the cult of virtue signaling. And it’s tearing us all apart. 

The BHP will not contribute to this madness. So cancel away if you must. Boycott if you think it might change the world. Go on, make your lists. We’ll still be here, continuing to teach actors, directors and storytellers who are serious about that pursuit. We’re open to all races, creeds, religions, orientations, and political affiliations. We abhor censorship, and we loath ‘cancel culture.’ If you’re as sick of it all as we are, we look forward to seeing you in class, and talking about acting.