Steve Martin funds controversial high school production of his play

Steve Martin feels so strongly about a play he penned in 1993, about Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstien meeting in a bar, that he is willing to fund a high school production of the play after it was nearly banned.

“Rent” isn’t the only show proving to be too provocative for some parents of high school students. A month after controversy over a production of “Rent” at a high school in Newport Beach, Calif., the comedian Steve Martin, left, has offered to pay for an off-campus production of one of his plays because its performance was banned by an Oregon school, The Associated Press reported. Parents at La Grande High School objected to what they called adult content in Mr. Martin’s 1993 play, “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” about an imagined meeting between Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso in a Paris bar. The school board halted rehearsals after receiving a petition signed by 137 people. In a letter published on Friday in The La Grande Observer, Mr. Martin offered to pay for the production because, he wrote, he wanted to keep the play “from acquiring a reputation it does not deserve.”

New York Times

Wiki says the play features Picasso and Einstien meeting in 1904, before their achievements of painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and publishing the theory of relativity. They are joined by various characters and discuss the shaping of the 20th century through art, science and commercialism. It also has an un-named but obvious Elvis coming in and explaining that genius isn’t just academic or the result of ‘brains’.

This seems a lighthearted, fun way of discussing the 20th century and giving students at the school, as well as the actors in the school production, a way to be introduced to historical characters outside of a textbook. The school has around 700 students, so 135 signatures in protest against the play is not a very broad representation of the school, if there was outrage I’m guessing numbers would be higher. This is not the first time a high school has taken on this production, but the newly funded production will be held off campus.

Steve Martin addressed the play and the school in The Observer.

Focusing on Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity and Picasso’s master painting, “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” the play attempts to explain, in a light-hearted way, the similarity of the creative process involved in great leaps of imagination in art and science. Pablo Picasso, as a historical figure, does not come gift-wrapped for the sensitive. He lived as he painted, fully sexual and fully daring, and in the play he is chastised by a sage bartendress for his cavalier behavior toward women.

Because of the controversy, I recently reread the play, and, frankly, I could understand how some parents might object to certain lines if they were to be delivered by a 16- or 17-year-old. Yet I do believe that the spirit of the play and its endorsement of the arts and sciences are appropriate for young eyes and minds.

So while the question of whether students should perform the play at their high school remains something to be determined by the community, I firmly believe that seeing the play will bring no harm to them and might well uplift them — and acting in the play, if they are permitted by their parents, would also bring them no harm, and may help them to understand the potency, power and beauty of the arts and sciences.

I suspect that the signers of the petition against the production read excerpts only, and were not shown the more delicate and inspirational parts of the script.

To prevent the play from acquiring a reputation it does not deserve, I would like to offer this proposal: I will finance a non-profit, off-high school campus production (low-budget, I hope!), supervised and/or directed by Mr. Cahill and cast at his discretion, so that individuals, outside the jurisdiction of the school board but within the guarantees of freedom of expression provided by the Constitution of the United States, can determine whether they will or will not see the play, even if they are under 18.

I predict that the experience will not be damaging, but meaningful.

The Observer of La Grande- read the full statement here

It shows a real passion to put yourself on the firing line in this way, particularly for a play that was written 16 years ago. I think the part of the play parents might object to is the character of Gaston who has no interest beyond sex and drinking.

Unused funds from Steve Martin’s donation will go to acting scholarships for students.

Steve Martin is shown at a photocall for The Pink Panther 2 in Spain on 2/11/09. Credit: PRPhotos

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10 Responses to “Steve Martin funds controversial high school production of his play”

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  1. Babs says:

    Many plays much older than Mr. Martins are performed all the time. Plays do not have a sell by date.

  2. RAN says:

    They must be living in the dark ages if they signed this petition. Please… Grease was a very popular high school play at one time too… and I highly doubt it was much less controversial.

  3. Ling says:

    RAN: Actually, if I had a teenaged boy or girl, I’d be a lot more worried if he/she took the content of Grease as gospel than the content of Martin’s play. I mean, really: a pile of geniuses in a setting unfamiliar to high school kids who acknowledge their work as controversial, or a pile of teenagers in a setting intimately familiar to these kids who champion conformity?

    (Not that I don’t adore Grease. [The movie, that is… all stage productions get under my skin.] You understand.)

  4. buenavissta says:

    It’s a great play, and he’s a classy guy.

  5. GimmeABreak says:

    While I agree the spirit of the play is harmless and intelligent, but parents have every right to decide what they want their children to watch/see. They will all be adults soon and can decide for themselves when the time comes.

  6. Tassi says:

    I saw this play in Victoria about 10 years ago – it was very funny. Steve Martin a brilliant comedian and I hope that the kids get to see the play.
    Censorship has never made sense to me.
    What’s wrong with generating discussion about two of the brilliant minds of our Western history?

  7. what is ever. says:

    RAN: you make a more than excellent point with the Grease comparison, the song Grease Lightning can’t be any less offensive, if not greatly more than Gaston. In fact, Gaston sounds like every male character in Grease.

  8. Feebee says:

    Good for him.

    God some parents are morons.

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