Arts’ Watch: I stand with Shakespeare
Published 1:00 pm Friday, March 17, 2023
By Bill McCann
In Winchester, the Leeds Center for the Arts will host Ms. Niagara Presents “That’s Entertainment” on Saturday, March 18, 2023. Produced by lifelong Clark County resident Brett Cheuvront, the show is a family-friendly stylized drag show composed of men dressing as women. The show is sold out. All 400 seats—floor and balcony—have been sold!
Email newsletter signup
All of the proceeds from the event will be donated to Leeds. Still, suppose the Kentucky legislature passes SB 115, quite possibly. In that case, this is the last drag show ever to be held to benefit one of this town’s outstanding community theatre programs for children, teens, and adults.
During the 16th century, no less a playwright than William Shakespeare (1564- 1616) faced a similar situation; only in that case, the intention was to protect women from the dangers of theatre. So the world’s most appreciated and produced playwright, and often the producer of his plays, had to cast men in women’s roles.
Lindsey Tichenor, who represents Jefferson, Oldham, and Trimble counties in the Kentucky State Senate, has introduced Senate Bill 115, which could prohibit future drag show performances in Winchester or Clark County—whether as a fundraiser for the Leeds or for any other purpose.
Specifically, SB 115 is titled “An act relating to adult-oriented businesses.” “Adult performance” means “a sexually explicit performance” and includes a live performance involving “male or female impersonators, who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest,” regardless of whether or not admission is charged. Further, the bill specifies that a person is guilty of engaging in an adult performance if the performance takes place on “publicly owned property” or “in a location where the person knows or should know that the adult performance could be viewed by a person under the age of eighteen (18) years.”
Penalties for violating this proposed law include denial, suspension, revocation, or non-renewal of any business license, certificate of occupancy, or “any other” penalty “deemed appropriate” by the court.
At best, the law will prohibit adult drag show performances that arouse a prurient interest in sex. According to Merriam-Webster.com, such an interest is “marked by, arousing, or appealing to sexual desire.”
Who is to say what that is? How many offended people does it take to get a case to court? How will judges decide the penalties of such cases? Will they simply say, “Go and sin no more?” Or might they revoke the business license of, for instance, the Leeds, depriving this community of one of its most important cultural assets?
Beyond the adults, what of the children? What of the school theatre programs — where often, girls are cast instead due to a lack of boys? My sister Laura was cast as a pirate in “Peter Pan” in the early 1970s and trod the Guignol Stage complete with shirt, trousers, sword, and beard. Locally, Leeds has produced the recently closed “Peter and the Star Catcher”; and a few years ago, “Hairspray,” the film version of which featured John Travolta playing the role of Edna Turnblad.
On television, in films, and on Broadway, cross-dressing characters have been common. Television brought us both “Bosom Buddies” (1980-82), featuring Peter Scolari and Tom Hanks as cross-dressing stars of the prime-time television show. And Jamie Farr starred as Corporal Max Klinger on “MASH” for eleven seasons (1972-1983).
Films with cross-dressing characters include “Some Like it Hot (1959), which featured Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon performing in drag. And the film “Tootsie” (1982) featured Dustin Hoffman getting ahead in the theatre world by playing a soap opera actress.
Broadway productions (not performances) of Shakespeare’s cross-dressing plays have been numerous. Between July 14, 1786, and May 31, 1987, 23 productions of “As You Like It” were performed. “The Merchant of Venice” had 50 productions between January 28, 1786, and February 20, 2011. And “Twelfth Night” had 31 productions between July 11, 1804, and February 16, 2014.
Still, if drag was good enough for Shakespeare and it is good enough for television, film and Broadway, why not Kentucky?
Yet the most challenging question may be, how will some Kentucky pastor tell his four-year-old daughter that she can’t play the angel Gabriel because only little boys can play boys on stage?
I can hear it now, SB 115 wouldn’t apply to schools or churches or any drag show that is “family oriented.” The intention is to get rid of “adult entertainment” — not family entertainment. Yes, but that’s a slippery slope that police and prosecutors will monitor and judges will pass judgement on.
Forewarned is forearmed.