Last night, I was extremely flattered and honored to receive the second annual Dramatists Legal Defense Fund’s “Defender” Award, for my work on behalf of artists’ rights and against censorship. My remarks were fairly brief (I know a little something about brevity and awards presentations, even when there isn’t an orchestra to “play you off”), so for those who have expressed interest, or may be interested, here’s what I had to say, following a terrific and humbling introduction by playwright J.T. Rogers, my newest friend.
I feel as if this evening is a classic Sesame Street segment, because as I see my name alongside those of such great talents as Annie Baker, Jeanine Tesori, Chisa Hutchinson, Charles Fuller and my longtime friend Pete Gurney, I can’t help feeling that one of these things is not like the others, one of these things doesn’t belong, namely me.
That said: I am honored more than you can possibly know to receive this recognition from the Dramatists Legal Defense Fund and the Dramatists Guild, because I have spent the better part of my life in the dark with your stories, your characters, your words and your music, and my life is so much better for it.
My efforts on behalf of artists rights and against censorship began, four years ago, in what I merely thought was one blog post among many. My awareness and understanding has evolved significantly over that time. I am asked sometimes why I think there is so much more censorship of theatre now, and I’m quick to say that I know this has been happening for years, for decades; all I have done is, perhaps, to make some people more aware of some of the incidents, and to try to address them in greater depth than they might have otherwise received.
I think the same is true of unauthorized alteration of your work, sad to say. All I’ve been able to do is call more attention to it, in the hope of warning people off from trying it ever again. It is an uphill battle.
I want to thank John Weidman, Ralph Sevush and everyone who is part of creating the DLDF for giving me this honor, and to thank the Guild for being my partner and for welcoming me as your partner in these efforts. I want to thank Sharon Jensen and the staff and board of the Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts for allowing me the latitude to address these situations as they have arisen in the 18 months I have been part of that essential organization. I want to thank David van Zandt, Richard Kessler and especially Pippin Parker for making it possible for me to professionalize this work as the Arts Integrity Initiative at the New School for Drama; I look forward to working with all of you through that new platform. And I especially want to thank my wife, Lauren Doll, for so many things, not least of which has been tolerating the late night and early morning calls with strangers around the country, often high school students, and the furious typing at all hours, whenever someone reaches out to me about censorship or the abrogation of authors rights.
I accept this award less for myself than for the students, teachers and parents who stand up for creative rights, in places like Maiden, North Carolina; South Williamsport, Pennsylvania; Plaistow, New Hampshire; Wichita, Kansas; and Trumbull, Connecticut, among others. If they didn’t sound the alarm, we might otherwise never know.
I should tell you that when I’ve visited some of these communities, I have had people come up to me repeatedly and tell me that I am brave for doing this work. ‘But I’m not brave,’ I tell them, ‘You’re the brave ones. I have nothing at stake here. You do.’
Indeed, I am not brave. What I am is loud. I will shout on behalf of theatre, on behalf of arts education, on behalf of creative challenge, on behalf of all of you here and all of those artists who aren’t here for as long I have a voice. And those of you who know me are fully aware that it’s very hard to shut me up.
My congratulations to tonight’s other honorees and thank you again for this award.