New York, NY (November 8, 2017) – The Dramatists Guild of America and The Dramatists Legal Defense Fund object in the strongest possible terms to the decision by Brandeis University to buckle to student pressure by cancelling its scheduled production of Michael Weller’s play, Buyer Beware, due to objections over its content. By capitulating, the University has compromised core principles of academic freedom and abdicated its educational responsibility to offer students a wide range of viewpoints regardless of how controversial they may be.
Playwright Michael Weller’s new work was scheduled to run at Brandeis in November. In the play, Weller considers what would happen if a white student performed a Lenny Bruce-style comedy routine (including racially offensive slurs quoted from Bruce’s performances) on the Brandeis campus today. The play is a critique of recent events where college students have demanded the silencing of controversial or unpopular points of view. In an ironic twist, Brandeis' students have reacted to the planned production of Buyer Beware just as the play suggested they might. And so the university has cancelled the production.
By taking this action, Brandeis has not only failed to meet its obligations to its students and alumni (including Weller himself), but to the legacy of Lenny Bruce as well, whose archives were entrusted to the school in 2014. Bruce’s career served as a landmark in the advancement of free speech in this country and the University’s cancellation of the play is a violation of that trust.
Instead of presenting the production, Brandeis has claimed that it will offer a course in the spring “devoted to the challenging issues Michael’s work evokes.” They have offered no guarantees that the play will be presented in conjunction with the course, but as an educational institution, Brandeis should both present challenging works as well as enable students to discuss the issues they raise.
It is now claimed by some at Brandeis that the school was considering a spring production of the play, but Mr. Weller has received no such offer, and has heard only indirectly about the possibility of doing it at “a 60-seat black box theatre in Watertown that has some lights, and a budget for one or two professional actors.” Under those circumstances, Mr. Weller will no longer allow the play to be presented at the University and is seeking a production elsewhere. In the meantime, Brandeis’ theater arts department has yet to utter a single word directly to the playwright to explain their actions or justify their subsequent silence.
To be clear, no school has an obligation to produce a play. But neither does anyone have a constitutional right to go through life unoffended. To the contrary, it is a university’s duty to expose its students to a range of views that challenge and discomfort them. It is in considering alternate viewpoints that students are encouraged to grow, intellectually and emotionally. So we urge the Theater Arts department to present a clear explanation for their actions in opposition to this basic principle of higher education and to present guidelines, to Mr. Weller and to all other playwrights, as to what viewpoints are permitted to be expressed in a dramatic work produced at Brandeis University.