I would like to thank South Carolina state representative Garry Smith and his Republican colleagues in the legislature for kicking up such a fuss over the College of Charleston’s choice of Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home for our College Reads! program.
Because if Rep. Smith hadn’t declared Fun Home “pornographic” and threatened the core principles of academic freedom, I wouldn’t have had the chance to see Broadway-caliber talent perform a Pulitzer Prize finalist musical for the low low price of $10.
The first standing ovation came as the Memminger Auditorium lights dimmed and the performers, including Bechdel and the book’s adaptors, Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori moved into position just off the stage. In a semester where the College of Charleston has been kicked around repeatedly by the legislature – not just the Fun Home controversy, but a proposed merger with the medical school by legislative fiat, and a sham presidential search – the moment was clearly cathartic.
The spirit, ironically enough, felt like a tent revival as Todd McNerney, Chair of the CofC theater department took the stage to thank all those who deserved thanking.
The audience whooped and amen’d.
The performance itself, a concert version of the full blown musical, was sublime. There is an excellent review from Kristen Barner at the Charleston City Paper for those interested in more details.
One highlight for me not mentioned by Barner was the song “Ring of Keys” performed by Beth Malone (Alison Bechdel) and Sydney Lucas (Small Alison). It dramatizes a scene from the source material where Bechdel recounts a moment as a young girl sitting with her father in diner when a “truck driving bulldyke” entered, and young Alison instantly recognized her kin. The emotional joy in Lucas’ performance was palpable, a celebration of a claiming of the self.
Would someone like Garry Smith be too squicked out to appreciate the artistry and beauty of the moment? Would he be able to deny the obvious expression of love and humanity happening in front of him?
Only if he is a monster, which I don’t believe to be the case.
If Fun Home does indeed make it to Broadway, I’d like to invite Rep. Smith to join me on a trip to New York to see it. I’m happy to pick up the tab. While Garry Smith watches the musical, I will watch Garry Smith, to see if perhaps spontaneous tears of emotion and appreciation spring to his eyes, as they did to mine several times.
If there is a more traditional value than love, I have yet to meet it.
Additionally, even as the ed-tech edu-preneurs gather in Scottsdale to digitally mediate our educational futures in the name of efficiency and profit, I was reminded why old-fashioned, in-person, face-to-face education matters and is in fact, irreplaceable. Schools like CofC are places of community, and the performance of Fun Home was an opportunity to actually commune and to publicly express and affirm our values.
Rep. Smith would understand it as the exact same phenomenon that happens every Sunday in places of worship across the country. That standing ovation before the first note was sung confirmed that every member of our campus community matters, that we see and value each other.
The threats to the college are real and remain. State Senator Larry Grooms, upon hearing about the plans for the performance remarked, "If lessons weren't learned over there, the Senate may speak a little bit louder than the House. There would be a number of members in the Senate that would have a great interest in fixing the deficiencies at the College of Charleston."
Sen. Grooms sounding like a B-movie villain is purely coincidental, I’m sure.
We have little hope for protection from the legislature. Even democratic representative Leon Stavrinakis, while voting consistently against the cuts on academic freedom grounds said, referring to Fun Home, "I don't approve of the material.” Our incoming president, Glenn McConnell, refused to defend the selection of Fun Home when asked.
But in that auditorium, on that night, we didn’t need defending or approval.
The legislature intends to bully us, but we’re prepared to stand up for ourselves.
And we will win, because we are right.
The hashtag to track the ongoing fight is #fightforcofc.