“Gary Glenn, head of the Michigan unit of the American Family Association, a national group championing ‘family values,’ says he’s hired a cameraman to tape (a play presented by Saginaw Valley State University’s theater department) ‘so legislative budget-writers and taxpayers alike can see what SVSU is paying for with our tax dollars.’ The play features male nudity, and Glenn of Midland said he wants the images on tape to convince lawmakers that SVSU is breaking indecent exposure laws. …Glenn said he was spurred to hire a cameraman in part by the decision of 43 members of the Michigan House of Representatives who sent a signed letter to SVSU President Eric Gilbertson protesting the college’s decision to sponsor the play.”
April 28, 2007
Play’s nudity stirs ‘values’ group
by Justin Engel
The curtain hasn’t closed on the “Angels In America: Part One” controversy. Tonight, Saginaw Valley State University’s drama about people dealing with AIDS could feature some action. Gary Glenn, head of the Michigan unit of the American Family Association, a national group championing “family values,” says he’s hired a cameraman to tape the 8 p.m. production “so legislative budget-writers and taxpayers alike can see what SVSU is paying for with our tax dollars.” The play features male nudity, and Glenn of Midland said he wants the images on tape to convince lawmakers that SVSU is breaking indecent exposure laws. University officials say they don’t allow recording devices into the theater, but Glenn promises the cameraman — he won’t say who — will pursue the effort unless law officers deny him entry. “We will not be intimidated by the theater staff or the director,” he said.
SVSU spokesman J.J. Boehm said he couldn’t say whether Glenn’s effort will affect the play’s security. Typically, SVSU staff and students sell tickets and admit showgoers into the Curtiss Hall theater. Boehm said recording “Angels In America” would violate the college’s agreement with the company that licenses performance rights for Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play. “We can’t even record it for our (theater) students to critique themselves with,” Boehm said. The president of the licensing company, Christopher Gould of New York City-based Broadway Play Publishing Inc., said recording the production would break laws.
“Anybody making an audio or videotape would be doing so in violation of federal copyright laws,” Gould said. His company owns rights to its content, he said.
Glenn said copyright laws only pertain to individuals selling recordings for cash. Instead, Glenn said he intends to use the tape as evidence. He said a 2005 Michigan Court of Appeals ruling held that application of the state’s indecent exposure law does not infringe on any First Amendment right to artistic expression. Glenn said he was spurred to hire a cameraman in part by the decision of 43 members of the Michigan House of Representatives who sent a signed letter to SVSU President Eric Gilbertson, protesting the college’s decision to sponsor the play. Republican Reps. Kenneth B. Horn of Frankenmuth and John Moolenaar of Midland signed the April 19 letter, which Boehm said he hadn’t seen. He did not know if it’s reached the college.
Horn said it’s unlikely state legislators will withhold appropriation funds in protest, despite the recent threats from Harrison Township Republican Rep. Jack Brandenburg to stall money. “In no way will it affect that funding,” Horn said. “(SVSU) is a big player for us.” Rockford Republican Rep. Tom Pearce began the letter-signing campaign. Gilbertson — he answered the controversy with a letter posted last week on SVSU’s Web site, www.svsu.edu — had a brief response to news of the letter or Glenn’s threats. “I’ve said all I have to say,” he said Friday. He has defended the college’s rights to show the play and the rights of protesters to oppose it.
Glenn also said some community members against the production would attend weekend showings to — in effect — expose themselves to the alleged acts of indecent exposure. “I am aware there will be people attending the play who are capable of filing complaints,” Glenn said. He wouldn’t disclose names. Glenn called “Angels In America’s” use of homosexual themes “a threat to public health.” He said another factor spurring his protest is director Richard B. Roberts Jr.’s “bragging” about the play’s strong themes to The Saginaw News. “We are the only theater in mid-Michigan that can get away with it, because while we want people to come see this show, we’re not tied to ticket sales to survive,” he said in an April 14 report. “I relish doing this.”
Glenn said his protest is aimed at protecting “public morality and order.” Roberts said the fire has forged a close cast. “They absolutely are galvanized by this,” Roberts said. “From a standpoint of a teaching experience, this has been great. It shows that theater can and does make a difference.” Roberts said the public commentary sparked by the production is invaluable.
“(A theater group) is obligated to show all parts of society,” said Roberts, who pointed out that other schools have produced the play since it became available in 1996, including Michigan State University in 1998 and the University of Michigan in 2001. Roberts said all the productions feature the nude scene and its accompanying themes, per the licensing rights.
The play’s final showing is at 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets still were available Friday night.