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Safe Spaces or Free Expression? A New Toolkit for College Theatre

The Dramatists Guild Legal Defense Fund’s new toolkit is designed to help students and educators to both responsibly and freely produce theatre in academic settings.

NEW YORK: The Dramatists Guild Legal Defense Fund (DLDF) has published a new toolkit, Dramatic Changes: A Guide to Producing Live Stage Works on College Campuses in Turbulent Times. The toolkit is aimed at students, educators, and administrators, and is intended to prepare those involved in producing theatrical work in academic settings to address potential conflicts between free expression and the values of diversity, equity, inclusion, and access.

In a statement, DLDF president John Weidman said the creation of the toolkit was catalyzed by “an increase in attempts to shut down stage productions on college campuses. These attempts differed from such incidents in the past, not only in number, but in kind—in the complex and nuanced issues which they raised.” Weidman continued to explain that the goal of the toolkit is “to make a useful, balanced, and informed contribution to what are certain to be the ongoing debates around these college cancelations going forward.”

The toolkit was developed by a working group of educators, activists, nonprofit organizations, and dramatists to study and address the many compelling concerns raised by the issue of school theatre cancellations. The group spent more than two years examining a series of case studies to see how and why these cancellations occurred, the key moments in the process that caused the cancellations, and the similarities among the cases. The working group also conducted interviews to provide the legal context in which productions are produced and canceled and to offer guidance at every step of the theatrical production process.

“It has long been assumed that theatre functions differently in the culture than other elements of the entertainment industrial complex, that theatre at its best could, and even should, make people uncomfortable, if only briefly, before they return to their comfort zones and usual routines,” reads the opening of the toolkit. “That assumption may be in danger of becoming obsolete for educational institutions today.” Among the issues the toolkit seeks to address are the meaning of “safe space,” what to do when there are “potential conflict between safe spaces and creative/academic freedom,” and how “stakeholders on college campuses resolve the tensions that have arisen between the values of free expression and the overdue imperative to advance values of diversity, equity, inclusion, and access.”

The Dramatists Guild Legal Defense Fund advocates and educates on behalf of the right of free speech on stages across America. In light of dwindling public funding for the arts, the DLDF advocates for writers, theatres, audiences, and schools confronting censorship and other related issues of public import, including the assault of on copyright and the diminishment of the public domain.

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