Print pagePDF pageEmail page

This is a revised and updated version of a prior post from earlier today, which has been withdrawn, because it suggested, based upon news accounts, that the UW theatre department had been singularly targeted. This incorporates additional information provided by Todd London, executive director of the UW Department of Drama.

At a time in the life of America when The New York Times has been compelled to create a column called “This Week in Hate,” some localized instances of actions that are overtly oppositional to a culture that embraces all people, regardless of race, religion, sexuality, gender identity or disability, can still run the risk of being seen as too small bore for widespread attention and revulsion. But if they are not called out, if the public is not made aware, then there is the ever-present risk of such actions becoming normalized, simply a part of modern life with which we must live.

Given that neo-Nazi signage was plastered on theatre doors at the University of Washington on Wednesday night, while a performance of Shakespeare’s As You Like It was underway inside, it cannot be permitted to be treated as merely some ill-judged prank, but as a threat – made under the cover of anonymity. That it is not the first such incident on the campus makes it no less ugly or upsetting. In fact, as executive director of the UW Department of Drama Todd London made clear in a conversation with Arts Integrity, the postings on the doors that gave access to the Glenn Hughes Penthouse Theatre, were seemingly “entirely random and happening all over campus that night.”

The surreptitious postering came to light through a Facebook posting by student Tamsen Glaser, who plays Jaques in As You Like it. As a public message, it began to be widely shared on social media by Thursday morning.  Glaser’s message read, in part:

In the middle of the first act of “As You Like It”, we smell spray adhesive from outside. Our stage manager looks outside, and these posters are being attached to the doors. Of our theatre. With spray adhesive. 8 of these posters, all on the doors. Residue is still there, though the posters are not thanks to our team.

The local accounts make clear that university police officers responded quickly upon report of the incident, and The Stranger reported that Todd London has asked for additional campus police presence for the rest of the run of the show. London told Arts Integrity that support is being provided. The Stranger quotes London as follows:

“We want them to feel safe so they’re not spending their deepest energies worrying when they should be focusing that on performing,” he said. “It’s pretty simple: We want them to be protected and for them to feel free.”

Speaking with Arts Integrity, London countered earlier reports which indicated that the theatre had been specifically targeted, saying, “Everything about it, everything we have learned, everything the police have learned, while terrible, hateful, was apparently random, from everything we can tell.”

All of these responses appear admirable, appropriate and necessary. However, the account from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, specifically in regard to comments by the campus police, suggests a diminishment of the incident.

“It was the latest in a string of incidents in which pro-Nazi fliers have been posted throughout the campus, UW police say,” wrote reporter Lynsi Burton. She concluded her account as follows:

UW Police Cmdr. Steve Rittereiser told seattlepi.com that posters of that kind have been displayed throughout campus, but that their appearances seem to have increased since Inauguration Day.

They’re “not all that unusual” to see, he said.

They’ve been spotted in Red Square and other areas of campus, as well as on numerous campuses across the country.

On-campus posters are supposed to be approved by a school body, but there’s no real enforcement of the rule, Rittereiser said.

He said police pay attention to posters people find objectionable and that people are welcome to report them to police, but that people are also welcome to simply remove them as they see them.

Is it merely “objectionable” that anonymous posters seek to direct those who see them to a website that proclaims, among other viciousness, “Gas the kikes”? Isn’t “not all that unusual” another way of saying typical, average or standard?

To remove posters like those that appeared on the theatre doors, and elsewhere on campus, on Wednesday night in Seattle is not censorship, it is not a denial of freedom of speech. Rather it is an appropriate response to an act of targeted vandalism, an act of intimidation, part of a seemingly ongoing campaign focused on the University of Washington, by a group that claims a national bootprint.

How do the arts respond in these situations, how can they? When the adhesive is not fixed, while the paint is still wet, the people who are part of the production can react in the moment to eradicate the hate (and god bless inventive stage crew and technicians, who can surely do so even when messages have had the time to set). But each and every incident must be called out, loudly, as a form of warning and opposition.

Even if the weapons of the arts are rubber knives, as Kate Fodor has suggested in her new monologue, they can still be wielded with purpose and effect, and need to be, on stage and off. The show, all shows, must and will, go on. The arts (which are by no means alone in this targeting) cannot allow themselves be intimidated or silenced, or actions against them normalized, on stage and off.