April 27, 2007
SVSU president defends controversial production
by Justin Engel
Saginaw Valley State University officials say a student play is attracting a lot of fire from a small number of people.
“Angels In America: Part One” began production last week to the chagrin of protesters who oppose the play’s strong content dealing with AIDS, male nudity and homosexuality.
SVSU spokesman J.J. Boehm said he’s received “fewer than a dozen calls” concerning the matter over the last two weeks.
The heaviest barrage of protests have come in the form of e-mails — “hundreds of them” — that he believes originate from an auto-generating e-mail spammer based on the messages’ similarities.
“A few people have given this increasing attention,” said Eric Gilbertson, SVSU’s president. “I don’t think the public at large has.”
Rather than respond to all of the protesting e-mails, Gilbertson last week posted an online note on the college’s home page, www.svsu.edu. The letter defends both the institution’s decision to feature the play and the public’s right to disagree with its content.
“A final word to those of you who would consign me to an eternity in Hades as a result of this matter,” he wrote to finish the letter. “I hope you’re wrong.”
As cast members prepare for the show’s final weekend — two 8 p.m. showings today and Saturday and a 3 p.m. Sunday production remain — Gilbertson hasn’t changed his tune.
“They’re entitled to disagree with (the play),” he said. “They’re not entitled to censor it.”
He pointed out “Angels In America: Part One” is a Pulitzer Prize-winning work. “It was performed at religious (colleges) like Notre Dame,” he said. Boehm said he’s not sure if the controversy has affected ticket sales. He said Director Richard B. Roberts Jr. told him the added attention has “galvanized the cast.” “They believe it’s an important play with a very relevant message,” Boehm said.
He wasn’t sure if or how the controversy might affect donor dollars. “You hope that people recognize that universities do a whole host of things within the context of trying to educate people,” Boehm said. “Some of that might involve making people uncomfortable, but if you never leave your comfort zone, you’re never going to have the exceptional learning opportunities. We hope people understand that’s what universities are here to do.”