Artist: Topher Payne
Date of Action: September 27, 2022
Region: North America
Location: Quinnipiac University, Hamden, CT
Subject: Sexual/Gender Orientation
Confronting Bodies: Fourth Wall Theater, Quinnipiac University
Description of Artwork: "Perfect Arrangement" written by Topher Payne takes place in the 1950s. Payne, a queer playwright, intended to examine the history of homophobia, as it relates to the Lavender Scare, a period in which a widespread moral panic about homosexuality occurred corresponding with anxiety around communism, also known as the Second Red Scare. The Fourth Wall Theater executive board, a student-run theater organization, chose the sitcom-style play "Perfect Arrangement" for their Fall 2022 performance.
The Incident: Fourth Wall Theater emailed all members on September 27, 2022 that they would be cancelling the production of "Perfect Arrangement" citing "unforeseen circumstances." Instead, the executive board chose "Alice in Wonderland" for the performance a week later.
Later, the organization's publicity coordinator explained that several members of the cast were uncomfortable with the dialogue from a scene. Student actors took issue with the play over a homophobic slur that the playwright included to help illustrate the dehumanizing nature of homophobia. Although the president of Fourth Wall Theater admitted the language was appropriate for the 1950s context, it was nevertheless demeaning and derogatory, justifying the cancellation of the production.
Results of Incident: Payne has since supported Fourth Wall Theater's decision to cancel the production of his play. He stated, "I fully support the autonomy of any artist who is not comfortable portraying a character who says things that they are not comfortable expressing as an artist."
Payne also included that he was disappointed that Fourth Wall Theater did not explore the option of presenting the play in another way that resolve the concerns of its members. The students responded by saying they did not reach out to the playwright to explore different ways of presenting the play due to time constraints and the belief that it would have been rude to do so. To remove or protest the homophobic slurs, as they are applied to illustrate a particular historical moment, whitewashes history and sanitizes the atrocities which essentially led up to the gay rights moment.