NEW ULM - The New Ulm Actors Community Theatre's production of "Inherent the Wind"?was canceled last week due to cast dropouts stemming from objections by Martin Luther College professors and local WELS members over the play's depiction of the evolution/creationism debate.
NUACT originally slated the play as its fall production with MLC student Zach Stowe as director. The play deals with a fictionalized version of the evolution/creationism debate in the 1925 Scopes "Monkey Trial." The play is also a metaphor for criticizing the suppression of free expression under the McCarthyism of the 1950s.
The play was not slated to be performed at MLC, but a final audition was scheduled on campus on Friday, Aug. 30. NUACT previously used MLC for auditions, rehearsals and performances.
After seeing the poster for the audition, several MLC professors raised objections about the play's subject to the administration.
Jeffrey Schone, MLC's VP of Student Life, declined to name the objecting professors, but stated the administration similarly became concerned about being associated with the play.
MLC is the college of ministry for the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), which believes in creationism that teaches the Genesis story as a factual, historical account. Schone said MLC was concerned about making it absolutely clear to its students, WELS members and the public about its beliefs and teachings on creationism. He said he recognizes the subtext of the play, but feels it is unfairly critical of creationism and that most people would only see the criticism.
"We felt it was not compatible with what [the school] teaches the Bible says about the universe and the world,"? said Schone. "This is a ministerial school. People employing our students need confidence about their views."
Schone informed Stowe on the morning of the audition that it could not be held on campus. The audition was then rescheduled to a new location.
On the following Tuesday (Sept. 3), Stowe resigned from the play. He cited a flood of e-mails and letters objecting to his association with the play from MLC professors and local WELS members for his decision. He was also concerned that MLC administration would maybe take their concerns further if the outcry kept growing, so he decided to focus on the more important issue of his schooling.
However, he said he felt his creative freedom had been stifled and that he was very disappointed that some of the criticism seemed to come from MLC. He said he shares WELS' belief in creationism. He said he believes open discussion about the topic is essential to proving its validity.
"The play does not just say evolution is right. It treats Christians with respect. The entire point of the play is both sides need open, free discussions,"?said Stowe. "But, I don't have any negative feelings about it. Everyone acted how their conscience directed them in this situation. I can respect it."
In the following two weeks, six NUACT members dropped out of the cast after consulting their WELS pastors or officials about being in the play after Stowe's departure.
On Sept. 16, the NUACT board voted to postpone the show indefinitely due to insufficient time to replace and retrain the lost staff before Oct. 4, which would have been opening night. NUACT Executive Director Paul Warshauer said the group still hopes to put on "Inherit the Wind," but no date has been determined.
Schone said he feels MLC did not put any pressure on Stowe or the NUACT cast. But, he said he feels it is appropriate for the college to voice concerns about the extracurricular activities of its students.
Schone's only regret was the timing of the decision due to when the administration learned about the audition. He said he apologized to NUACT for the inconvenience. He said NUACT and Stowe can use the MLC campus for future plays, and that the concerns were only with the content of "Inherit the Wind."
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)