Costume renderings are rarely controversial. A notable exception was in 2002 when the costume renderings for Lysistrata were put on display in the Great Hall as usual, about a month before opening the show. The male costumes included traditional extra-large dangling phalli, and the women’s costumes were scanty (although not so scant as the 1896 Aubrey Beardsley illustrations upon which they are based). However, the costumes for the two characters that were added by director Thomas Riccio, team “mascots” of a man dressed as a penis, and a woman dressed as a vagina, for each of the two choruses, were the ones that seemed to have caught everyone’s imagination.
Before designing these, I researched examples of theme costumes for these two organs online, and found most penis and vagina costumes to look rather ugly and awkward. I decided to ask myself “how would these costumes look if they were designed to be Disney mascots, or if Jim Henson made them for a Sesame Street special on where babies came from?” Dick (as we dubbed the penis) was smoothed out to the basics in a cheery shade of pink, and Jane (as we came to call the vagina) was stylized to look more like a Georgia O’Keefe flower than an anatomy lesson. I tried to keep them looking like something my mom (an ex-elementary school principal) would think was cute and not gross. I had made far nastier looking costume renderings for Jezebel and The Beast for the previous year’s political satire, Yahoo Nation (2001) and nobody seemed to have even noticed them when they were in the Great Hall. So no one in the Theatre, least of all me, was expecting anyone would blink at the squeaky-cute Dick and Jane images. Indeed, when the first letter objecting to them appeared in the Sun Star I, and a few others, assumed that the letter was a hoax by one of our own students, intended as a joke.
After the Theatre Department began to get harassing calls, however, we worked out that there were folks out there who were actually serious about this, and who were employing various scare tactics, like threats to the CLA Dean’s office demanding that CLA censor the play and the lobby display (which to the everlasting credit of Dr. Morrow and other UAF administrators, had no effect), tearing down the posters (designed by an Art Dept. student), and destroying table tents in Wood Center. At first the only response to all this came from some students who fired back to the first Sun Star letter. This in turn got a reply from the original angry letter writer the following week, who managed to write a statement that seemed to have tee’d off every feminist on campus, gaining us more support without us having to lift a finger.
For the most part, those of us in the Theatre Department were not too bothered by all this, because we were amused at the whole “Degenerate” label, and knew that when people foolishly attack a stage production in this fashion, all they do is provide enormous amounts of free publicity, which means more box office receipts to pay our student assistants. We stuck up a few paper tags that said, “Censored” over some of the “naughty bits” in the display case, and would have likely left it at that.
However, when a second set of our table tents and posters were vandalized and tossed out of Wood Center within 12 hours of their being put up, I actually got angry. In a fury that night I designed 36 bright pink text-only posters, some of which you can see here. They were all designed with a view towards making our free student preview (and hopefully the show as well) the best-attended campus event that season by courting the controversy that had been invented by the would-be-censors. I paid to have them copied out of my own money, and ran around lower campus sticking all of them up myself. A thaw having melted the snow off of Turtle-Sex Park, I chalked invitations to the free preview on the cement for good measure. We then dressed our Dick and Jane in their costumes and visited Wood Center to hand out fliers with me and Lorraine Pettit (my costume shop manager, who incidentally made the mascot costumes) as body guards for the actors and their outfits.
Preview was packed, and the remainder of the 2-week run was the best-attended non-musical show in our history. Which should demonstrate to would-be censors, that when you declare a stage show and it’s producers “Degenerate”, you are handing that show’s producers more free publicity than they could ever hope to buy. Keep attacking, O Guardians of Moral Purity! You are working for OUR side. Your efforts are duly noted, and you helped our students pay their way through college, and our theatre put on Moliere’s classic Don Juan, and the experimental cyber-ritual show Kartasi with the funds you caused to flow into the box office during Lysistrata. Much as Puritan Phillip Stubbes’ lament Of Stage-playes and Enterluds, with their wickedness in his Anato my of Abuses (1583) doubtless helped Mr. Shakespeare and his friends stay solvent, you too are helping in your small way to subsidize the arts, as countless others have done before you:
The learned father Tertullian in his booke of Speculo, saith, that playes, were consecrat to that false ydoll Bacchus, for that he is said to have found out, and invented strong drinke.
Augustinus de civit. Dei, saith, that plaies were ordeined by the Deuill, and consecrat to heathen Gods, to draw us from Christianitie to ydolatrie, and gentilisme. And in an other place: Pecunias, Histrionibus dare, vitium est innane, non virtus. To give money to players, is a greevous sin.
Christostome, calleth those playes, festa Sathani, feasts of the Devill. Lactantius, an ancient learned father, saith, Histrionum, impudissimi gestus, nihil aliud nisi Libidi, nem movent: The shamelesse gestures of plaiers, serve to nothing so much, as to move the [self] to lust, and unclennesee. And therfore, in the. 30. Counsell of Carthage, the Synode of Laodicea, it was decreed, that no Christen man, or woman, should resorte to playes and enterludes, where is nothing but blasphemie, scurrilitie, and whordome maintained. “
——Phillip Stubbes’ Anatomy of Abuses (1583)