Guest Editorial: Intention vs. impact


From: Great River Shakespeare Festival
Artistic Director Doug Scholz-Carlson
Managing Director Aaron Young
Marketing Director Eileen Moeller
Associate Artistic Director Tarah Flanagan

Last week in this paper, a largely positive and thoughtful review by Frances Edstrom of Great River Shakespeare Festival’s production of “Macbeth” concluded with a comment suggesting that a particular performer was unsuitable for the role in which they were cast by making a specific reference to this performer’s body type. We found the comment offensive and hurtful on many levels. While we do not believe either the writer or the Post intended to cause harm, intention is different from impact, and those words did cause harm.

We are grateful to the Winona Post for immediately taking down the review online, for apologizing to our company members for the harm caused, and for offering us this public forum to respond. We are also grateful to the writer of the review for listening thoughtfully to our concerns. These are the actions of the community we know and love — a brave community that is willing to own past mistakes and engage in difficult conversations as we all seek to learn and grow into a more accepting, inclusive, diverse community that reflects our world. We will all make mistakes, and we all need someone to point out those mistakes to help us grow.

Great River Shakespeare Festival expects that every member of our community will be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve, and we want to use the festival’s voice in the community to help expand the conversation and, when necessary, insist that people of every body type, color, gender, sexual orientation, belief, origin or other implied division are able to bring their full selves to this company and to be given a respected place in our community. We also believe that Great River Shakespeare Festival has a mission to promote nuanced civic discourse that embraces all the voices in our community. In that spirit, we would like to take this opportunity to explain why we found offense and why it is important to us that we speak about it.

The comment suggested that a particular female performer was unsuitable to portray a warrior because of her body type. This perpetuates a stereotype that is both offensive and inaccurate. The way a person looks does not define who they are or who they can become. Commenting positively or negatively about a performer’s skill in a review is completely legitimate. Commenting on their body is demeaning and hurtful as it highlights traits over which individuals have no control. Suggesting that only women that look a certain way can be warriors does not reflect or honor the many women who serve us in the military and police — not to mention the women who are fierce leaders in all walks of life. Warriors and leaders are not limited to women who fit a particular body type. The writer of the review is herself a strong and outspoken voice. Over decades, she has blazed a trail and redefined what a woman can be in this community, and we respect and honor her leadership and her bravery. Throughout history, women of all types have been fierce leaders and warriors. With regard to “Macbeth,” Scotland did have female warriors at the time of the play, and our production reflects that historical truth.

The review does not name the performer, but for anyone who has seen the production, it is clear that the reference singles out an African American actress. While most people understand why this is particularly offensive and hurtful, it bears publicly facing and owning the truth of our shared history. The bodies of black people have been abused and tortured to build this country by a society dominated by white people. Demeaning, negative stereotypes and hurtful comments about the bodies of black people are still pervasive. Black women especially have not been given the respect they deserve from a white-dominated society that silences their voices. We join with all people of good will who take deep offense when these demeaning, hurtful stereotypes are perpetuated in any way.

At Great River Shakespeare Festival, we tell stories. We believe these stories help us see ourselves and our world more clearly. We seek actors, designers, and technicians with the highest level of skill and professionalism because their artistry will reveal the humanity of every character on stage in the deepest, most profound way to our audience. We are blessed that artists from a wide range of backgrounds bring their voices to the company and we seek to create a community where every person can bring themselves and their full humanity to the creation of works of art. The diversity of voices we embrace creates deeper, more nuanced stories, and only in that diversity can we discover together our shared humanity.


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