Sunday, November 03, 2013

Listen Up, "Puppet Up"

Let's get the conversational couplets out of the way at the beginning:

"You don't have a sense of humour!"
"Yes, of course I do."

"Who are you, the language police!?"
"No, I'm someone who reacts to name-calling and bullying."

"They didn't mean anything by it!"
"Words have meanings, you can't change that fact."

"You just want to control others!!"
"You just want those who disagree to be silent."

"Well, it's just comedy!!"
" If I hit you in the face with a pie, you wouldn't think that was comic. That's what name calling does."

Joe and I had been looking forward to going to see Puppet Up! which advertises itself as an 'adult' puppet show. The ads along with the website let us know that we'd see puppets talking dirty. I have no difficultly with adult language and, ahem, use it myself on occasion. We've been to this theatre before, they have two disabled seats, right at the very, very, back of the theatre. It's a small theatre which means that even back there we get a good view and there's exactly enough room for my wheelchair to park comfortably.

It begins well, for the first maybe five minutes. A puppet usher comes out and introduces a show and shows a brief, and hilarious video, about the history of puppetry. Then it begins. The director of the show explains that it's an improv show and he'll be calling out for suggestions for scenes and settings and titles and the performers would have to perform. The first scene was called out, I'm sorry I don't remember what the setting was, but it was a fairly innocuous setting and then the two actors started. The woman puppet, operated and voiced by one of the women in the cast. Screams out, as part of her dialogue, "RET#RD" and "RET#RDED," not being satisfied she makes up one of those words where "ret#rd" is combined with another world. Hilarious stuff.

I'm stunned at what I'm hearing. I expected and adult show - I expected "Sh#t" and "F#ck" and "a$$hole." Words like that, used to comic effect don't bother me. But an adult show, in my mind, should have an understanding of adult responsibilities. The only two words that were used to describe groups of people were "ret#rd" and "f#g" - the playground taunts used to demean kids with disabilities and kids who might be gay. The only two. They scrupulously stayed away, as well they might, from language that demeans any group by race, or creed, or gender. In a remarkable show of restraint, they never even used the B-word for women - all of which I congratulate them for.

But showing restraint means that they can show restraint. But clearly they thought restraint was unnecessary when it came to gay people or people with disabilities. Now the Director made it clear that he was gay, all through the show, even he remarked "f#g?" when the performer - the same who'd used the r-word - finished the set. He showed no similar concern for the r-word.

So, right off, at the beginning of the show, we have to decide if we're going to leave. I wonder what effect two people, at the back of the house, leaving will make. None. They won't notice us going and they will never know why. I decided I'd stay on to see the rest of the show. How often is the word used, what other kinds of negative words are used for which other groups? If nothing else, I will have full information which I can use to contact them, and to write a public blog about the experience.

Much of the show is very, very, funny. Both Joe and I can't relax and get into it because we're always waiting for it to come up again. It doesn't but it doesn't matter - the anticipation ruined the experience. When the same performer used derogatory language about gay people, I wondered at her lack of linguistic skill. Why could all the others in the show be funny without resorting to name calling or bullying.

Let's go back to the moment she used the 'r word' repeatedly in a skit. Something interesting happened. There were a group of people who laughed really loudly at this. It wasn't like the laughter for all the rest of the show. It was kind of an aggressive laugh. One that said, "SEE THEY USE IT!! SEE IT'S FUNNY!!! HEAR ME LAUGHING!!! I'M SHOWING EVERYONE THAT I THINK THAT USING RET#RD IS OK!! THIS SHOW HAS GIVEN ME PERMISSION." But in the rest of the theatre, most people didn't laugh. Or more precisely most stopped laughing, many got embarrassed, lots were uncomfortable. Other than the group that was laughing with purpose, no one was laughing with mirth. At least that's how I perceived it. I wonder if that's why it wasn't used again.

Maybe I'm scrambling to find something positive here, but I really think that there were few who laughed and hundreds who didn't. They didn't laugh around where I was sitting. It, in my mind, was more poorly received skit in the show.

We stayed. I now feel that I have a right to write about the show - I'd seen the whole thing. But beyond this blog I've written a letter to the show through their email address as well as through their Facebook page. I don't expect a response. I expect to be dismissed. But, even so, in dismissing my complaint they have to sit around and justify what they did - to themselves or each other. And I'm guessing they'll do it with some versions of the couplets above.

 Let me add one more:

"You need to just lighten up!!"
"You need to listen up."


GirlWithTheCane said...

There goes any chance that I'll buy tickets to the subscription series. I won't support them if they're going to bring in shows like that.

GirlWithTheCane said...

My mistake, thought they were at another theatre...hate that the TO theatre scene has come to this, though.

Bill said...

We as supporters of individuals with intellectual disabilities have seen a lot of change over the past 30-40 years. But then you hear something like this and reality hits, that there is more that needs to be done. Keep up the good fight Dave, you inspire other to keep speaking up for those who might be looked at different. Keep on keeping on.

Kris S. said...

"Showing restraint means they can show restraint." EXACTLY.

Anonymous said...

Here, here!
This piece makes me reflect...
I think it *is* important, when we have the strength and resources to sit through the event that contains the offence, to do so, so that we can critique from a position of familiarity with the material.
I think there is a place for walking out, boycotting, and there is also a place for observing and critiquing and this can be empowering when it's not wiped out by the damaging effects of being present.

Susan said...

Thanks for saying this, Dave.

Rachel in Idaho said...

I once walked out of a comedy show because of midget humor. Couldn't do it. I'm sure they went on to other things that might have been hilarious but when the entire audience laughed at the midget jokes? Nope. If it had been a few, maybe, but it wasn't.

And it was a first date, too. Poor guy. We did stay together for a couple of years after that, so at least he didn't think I was being oversensitive or lacked a sense of humor. I most definitely have one!

On a mostly unrelated note: I just had a woman come by handing out flyers related to the election we're having on Tuesday. I opened the door a few inches but not more because of the cat. "Is your mother at home?" she asked. "This is my place." "Ohhhh...well, you look young!" Not that young, not hanging around in grubby PJs, I promise you! I assured her I was registered to vote and knew about the election and she left. That hasn't happened to me in a solid decade! I still can't figure out whether to be amused or offended. Maybe both.

Shan said...

Wow, what a disappointment. Talk about being behind the times! It always amazes me that people still say that word.

Paul Richards said...

That's sad to hear. Thought you might want to see a video we made about the 'R' word and other words around disability hate crime commonly used in the UK.

Thanks too for sharing your experience in your blog.

Moose said...

Sad and disappointing, made worse by seeing that Brian Hensen created this.

jisun said...

Dave, have you seen what Sephora is doing? They are promoting a lipstick made by Kat Von D called "celebutard". From the looks of what Kat says on Twitter, she doesn't give a rat's behind, and Sephora refuses to pull the product. I wish they could understand what you are saying in this post.