A Call from the Vatican

I haven't blogged in a while because life has been pretty hellish. We were supposed to move into our new finished Ivory Theatre on Sept. 9. But construction delays moved us back to Sept. 16. And even then, the place wasn't even close to finished. We rehearsed for a week and a half in a theatre under major construction. It was pretty awful, but God Bless This Cast for working hard, continuing to polish and deepen the show, and never allowing the obstacles and hardships to deter them in the slightest. Without their astonishing dedication to this project, I would've lost my mind two weeks ago. And now that the theatre is (nearly) finished, it really is a very nice space and our audiences seem to love it.

But then...

Thursday -- the day of our preview for the world premiere revue, Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll -- at about 5:30 p.m., Judy Newmark, critic for the Post Dispatch calls me. "Are you going to be able to do your show tonight?" she asks. I chuckle. "Sure." A pause. "You don't know what I'm talking about, do you?"


Seems the St. Louis Catholic Archdiocese had gotten a court injunction against our show and we would not be performing our preview that night. As the media circus unfolded in the following 24 hours, the press misreported the basic facts of the story -- it was never about the archdiocese "approving" of our show; it was about whether or not a contract had been violated (it had not). The real facts are as follows:

When Rothschild/Allen bought the church from the archdiocese, they agreed to some of the Church's demands that the building not be used for massages (darn it!), abortions (I'm not kidding), human sterilization (which totally ruined all our plans!), or performances "directed to an adult audience rather than the general public." In our lease with Rothschild, we agreed to the same provisions. Since all New Line's shows have always been open to the general public, since parents bring kids to most of our shows (and why the fuck shouldn't they?), we didn't see any problem with that.

But the archdiocese -- without having seen our show and without having even asked anyone any questions about the show -- went to court and got an injunction against us just hours before our opening, claiming Rothschild had violated the terms of their contract. Their reasoning? "We knew nothing about the play," explained Monsignor Vernon Gardin, Vicar General in charge of Real Estate for the Archdiocese (is that a kick-ass title or what?) in the Post Dispatch. Yes, he actually admitted that to the press. I guess he thinks complete and willful ignorance is the best defense.

So on Friday, we all met at the Rothschild offices with the Vicar General, his multiple lawyers, and his media consultant (I'm still not kidding). We gave them our score to look at and we had videotaped 30 minutes of the show for them to watch... after which, they sheepishly admitted that we had not in fact violated any of the terms of the agreement. And from that point on, the meeting was all about how to spin it to the media so that the Church wouldn't look like willfully ignorant censors beating up on a small nonprofit theatre with their multiple lawyers and media consultant. I'm not kidding.

Unfortunately, that was spin even Fox News couldn't have spun. The whole city was outraged over it. On the KMOV website, there was a poll -- 84% thought the archdiocese was wrong.

So for 24 hours, we were all in the midst of a crazy media circus, TV news vans outside the theatre, cameras in our faces, reporters everywhere, my cell phone ringing off the hook.

And I kept wondering -- could all this have happened simply because certain self-appointed moral arbiters can't even conceive that intelligent discussion or serious art could ever come from as foul a well as the triplet demons of Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll? And could it be that their assumptions say far more about them than about us or our show? Here's the crux of the whole drama -- in their world view these aren't cultural forces worthy of exploration; no, sex is dirty, drugs are evil, and rock & roll is the devil's music. Of course they would assume a show about these naughty things must ipso facto be a naughty show! And of course, they would assume that everyone else would assume their assumptions were entirely reasonable. Quod erat demonstrandum.

Friday night, we opened as planned, and though the show was good, it wasn't as focused as it should be. There was just too much shit going on. But I couldn't blame the actors -- they gave it their best...

Saturday night, though, with all the outsiders gone, with all the bad vibes dissipated and Fox 2 News gone back to their hole, our cast gave an energized, outstanding performance, the performance I had been waiting for. The show was so terrific -- funny, sad, psychedelic, and as fierce as shit! And the audience loved it. The media circus hadn't translated into ticket sales yet because the Metrotix computer at the theatre still isn't hooked up, so tickets for the weekend had to go off sale at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, before most of the news had covered the Win for the Good Guys. But we expect that all this coverage (front page of the Post Dispatch, above the fold, two days in a row) will boost sales for the rest of the run.

It was hell, but we got through it together, as a team. And I could not be prouder of this cast of mine. I owe them everything. They kept me sane. They kept me from jumping off the bell tower. And I owe a special thanks to A-ron, Tripp, and Korinko -- you boys are my Rocks and I love you all very much.

Saturday night as I watched the show, my shoulders finally dropped back down to their natural position and I exhaled for what seemed like the first time in two days. It was my first day Pepto-free in two weeks. I watched this wonderful show being exactly what it should be, this cast finally giving the performance they were capable of, and I smiled a big goofy grin. I would never want to go through any of this again, but it's all okay now. Things are back in balance.

And at long last, it's all about theatre once again. Thank God.

Long Live the Musical!

P.S. For the entire Ivory Theatre saga, you can read the Ivory Theatre Horror Show blog. Among the companies that had agreed to work there, we all shared our horror stories with each other through email as they occurred, and someone (still unidentified) used those emails and press reports to compile a blog chronicling the whole awful story.