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SCR's Commitment to Artistic Freedom Unquestionable

November 24, 1990

Last week, articles in The Times Orange County Edition ("SCR Rejects Offer to Join Panel" by Zan Dubin and "Will No One Represent O.C. at State Arts Forum?" by Randy Lewis, Calendar, Nov. 16) may have led some people to question South Coast Repertory's commitment to the cause of freedom of expression.

These stories had to do with SCR's declining an invitation to join a panel at the California Confederation of Arts statewide meeting--an invitation issued verbally on short notice and outside normal channels. Once we understood the nature and importance of the CCA's invitation, David Emmes agreed to appear on the panel.

Columnist Lewis used this regrettable but honest breakdown in communications as an opportunity to call into doubt South Coast Repertory's commitment to fight challenges to artistic freedom. To draw such a judgment on the basis of one incident, while ignoring SCR's actions over time, is unfair.

There is no cause to doubt SCR's commitment. In this year of attacks on government arts funding and a national campaign to weaken artistic freedom, SCR has not retreated or compromised. In specific support of the National Endowment for the Arts and artistic expression in general, we stuffed our theater programs with a flyer urging our audiences to advocate an unrestricted reauthorization of the NEA. Even after that action had threatened SCR's funding from the city of Costa Mesa, we printed a second message reiterating our stand and inserted that in our programs.

Martin Benson monitored meetings of the Costa Mesa City Council and voiced strong opposition to proposed language for Costa Mesa grant applications (a Times editorial favorably cited his testimony). SCR joined in an amicus brief filed by Theatre Communications Group in support of current suits to strike restrictive language from NEA grant applications. All our concerns regarding threats to artistic expression have been communicated to our audiences through the artistic directors' letter in our programs and in the pages of our subscriber newsletter. One program essay, "Endowing the Nation's Spirit," was part of the local NEA office's report to Chairman John E. Frohnmayer.

We have taken advantage of every media opportunity to speak in support of the endowment and against censorship. Emmes was part of a public radio business feature that ran nationally; SCR literary manager John Glore was a guest on KABC Talkradio; Benson was interviewed for a CNN broadcast; and we were interviewed by Newsweek and have been in numerous articles in the Register, The Times, the Daily Pilot and others. For the Sept. 23 edition (of The Times), Emmes wrote a column at the invitation of the editorial staff in which he strongly supported an unrestricted NEA and defended the right of the Costa Mesa Civic Playhouse, at a time when it was under fire, to produce "Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You."

Finally, the place where SCR has for 26 years supported freedom of expression is on its stages. We have never shied away from confronting controversial issues in the plays we have produced. We have received national recognition for producing challenging plays that colleagues in some other major cities tell us they wish they were able to present for their audiences.

We will continue to serve our audiences with theater that illuminates our world, and we will continue to defend our right to present the artistic truth as we see it.

DAVID EMMES

Producing Artistic Director

MARTIN BENSON

Artistic Director

South Coast Repertory

Costa Mesa

MORE LETTERS: F4

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