"This Title Has Been Censored"

The beautiful Oklahoma State University Campus. Photo by Robin Dorner.

by Robin Dorner
Editor in Chief

Last fall semester, Professor Jodi Jinks was envisioning a body of work for her theatre students that was going to be “fantastic!” In fact, exclaimed Jinks, “It was going to be hilarious!” The play Jinks was developing was about transgender issues and the question, “Does gender really matter?”

But rather than give Jinks the trust and the benefit of making something fun with her original idea, “The Department of Theatre faculty voted to move the production from the main stage to the studio season stage,” according to a February statement by Dr. Andrew Kimbrough made to The Gayly. Kimbrough is a Professor and Head of the Department of Theatre at Oklahoma State University (OSU).

Jinks is the Endowed Professor of the Mary Lou Lemon Endowed Professorship for Underrepresented Voices at OSU.

According to Kimbrough, “The Mary Lou Lemon Endowed Professorship in Theatre encourages excellence in teaching, research and scholarship in the Theatre Department in the College of Arts and Sciences at Oklahoma State University. The position focuses on underrepresented voices in perpetuity at OSU, ensuring that the professional interest in subjects that affect underrepresented voices will be held by the individual holding the Mary Lou Lemon Professorship in Theatre.”

Kimbrough said changes were made in the production, “After observing the production move in a direction which was not originally proposed and approved by the faculty Season Selection Committee.”

He said the contents of the body of work, was not originally proposed.

Jinks decided on the title, The Politics of Dancing. The name was coined from the 80’s song by the same name by the band Re-Flex.

She goes on to explain, “In October I gave drafts of three scenes to people in the department who were to be set designers, lights, etc. and one to Professor Kimbrough.”

According to Jinks, Kimbrough came back to her and said he felt the play was in bad taste and the subject would offend “our patrons and donors.” At this point, Jinks said the department head had only seen rough drafts of a couple of scenes.

However, “All other options were removed as to where we could perform and what we could do,” Jinks said. “That’s when Politics of Dancing was put to rest and the students decided to make a piece reflecting their own gender politics. That’s where, This Title Has Been Censored came in.”

“It was only two-to-three scenes of a full length play in infancy with four months of writing yet to be done,” explained Jinks. “He gave us an option of either changing the play’s direction and gearing it toward an ‘older, white, conservative audience which could be presented in the Vivia Locke Theatre as planned, or produce the student devised play in the Davis Studio space saying what the students felt needed to be heard.’”

“The students were crestfallen,” Jinks said with great sadness. “There were members of the class who took the class specifically to perform on the larger Vivia Locke stage.”

Once The Politics of Dancing was censored – they finally said, let’s talk about our own experience with gender identity...they wrote a different piece. This Title Has Been Censored was a totally different workshop performance and was performed with no lights, no sound…no support at all and their only option was to perform during final exam period.

Disputing this lack of justice, Jinks added, “It’s freedom of speech for the kids.”

In asking Kimbrough if he feels he has a responsibility to cover theatre from all areas of the spectrum, he responded in saying, “Yes, and that is one of the guiding principles of the faculty Season Selection Committee.”

Jinks said, “I think that it’s important that people in power have a sense of responsibility to everyone and this is a way for everyone to learn about the issue. Politics and art – producing theatre is a very complicated issue…the kids’ play was cancellable and I want to teach my students what the purpose of their art is.”

Jinks said, “They felt that talking about ‘those things’ that we were beginning to talk about would upset the donors; they wouldn’t want to come to the theatre anymore.

“All I can chock it up to is that people didn’t have a sense of trust that I could build a piece that would be fun and entertaining and interesting in the amount of time that we had – we had four months left. All I can think is that they just thought ‘if this is what they are working on, this won’t be very good.’”

Since the controversy, activists have become involved to give this play a voice.

“Jodi told me it had been proposed to move [the play] to Oklahoma City,” said Paula Sophia a trans woman and well-known activist. “To the extent which I can, I want to be involved.”

Sophia, along with several other advocates are projecting to host the smaller venues in OKC in April or early May and plans to host the play at the Boom dinner theatre in June are also in the works. There may be opportunities in Tulsa and on the campus in Stillwater as well.

Sophia said she thought it would be a great way to help promote trans awareness. “I have been part of the ‘spoken word’ scene in OKC for a while.”

Spoken word is like slam poetry in that it is very expressive and lyrical. Like a speech contest – it is very intimate and personal. Sophia has competed in slam poetry competitions at a national level.

So we won’t get to see Politics of Dancing, but we will get to see what the students did instead and some of their monologues around gender identity.

“What local audiences will get to see in This Title Has Been Censored will depend on which students agree to be a part of the performances,” added Jinks. “There were a number of monologues written around gender roles in other parts of our history, monologues about how/why not to, as a woman, scream ‘help’ and one young man wrote a song about what parts of the body he had were more than just our ‘parts.’ The refrain was sung repeatedly.

“There was also a sketch written about the pronouns being used now. Instead of about ‘he and she’ it’s about ‘thee and they and us and we.’”

Jinks concluded saying, “It’s exciting that art has this much power.”

Jodi Jinks is the Endowed Professor of the Mary Lou Lemon Endowed Professorship for Underrepresented Voices at Oklahoma State University (OSU) in Stillwater and the OSU Assistant Professor of Theatre. She was awarded the Mary Lou Lemon Endowed Professorship in 2014 to support her work with ArtsAloud-OSU, which devises performances not only with university theatre students, but also with prison populations. Prior to her career in university teaching, Jinks worked as an actor on film on Broadway and Regionally.


The Gayly- 3/7/2016 @ 10:00 AM CST