Sunday, July 29, 2018

Epitaph for a festival that collaborates with its censors

Yesterday I was so relieved and happy that my dear friends and colleagues Renata Carvalho and Natalia Mallo and our sister theatre company had safely got away from the danger they were in as they presented my play "The Gospel According To Jesus Queen of Heaven" in the winter festival of the Brazilian city of Garanhuns.

And I was proud they acquitted themselves so well in the chaos and the danger of that final performance. They made an incredibly powerful and courageous stand for human rights and for artistic freedom of expression.

I am still so proud of them today. Proud, also, that we work together and that this Brazilian version of the play is our joint creation.

But I am also furiously angry. The way they've been treated by this festival and this city is a total disgrace.

What kind of festival is it, I ask myself, that operates under the slogan "Long Live Liberty"; that invites a play to be part of it, and then abruptly withdraws the invitation at the last minute because it allegedly offends the Christian church. Is that how you celebrate liberty?

And what kind of festival is it that having been told its actions in withdrawing the invitation are illegal, cancels its cancellation, re-inserts the play into its programme, and then withdraws it again just as the performance is beginning?

What kind of festival is it that then stands by while armed police arrive in armoured vans, cut off power to the production's sound system, cut off the power of its lighting? A police force that first attempts to lock the public out of the theatre, and then, having failed to do so, takes the seating away from the audience and removes the cover of the theatre, forcing audience and performer to endure the pouring rain?

What kind of festival is it that not only fails to protect its artists but also literally dismantles their performance space while they are performing?

It has a name. It's called the Festival Internacional de Garanhuns, FIG for short. And no self respecting artist should ever agree to perform there again.

And what kind of mayor, I ask myself, having been given the opportunity to welcome artists and public to his city's arts festival and the opportunity to present his city as a diverse, safe and welcoming place... chooses instead to broadcast and celebrate its prejudice and hatred?

He has a name: Izaias Regis. And he has covered his city in ignominy and in shame.

And what kind of High Court judge, I ask myself, grants an injunction prohibiting a play's performance and displays in his judgement a total ignorance of the play's meaning and content?

What kind of High Court judge hands out a judgement that contradicts both the laws and the constitution of his own country? The country whose legal system he is supposed to be upholding?

What kind of High Court judge could possibly be so ignorant and so prejudiced as to do that?

He too has a name: Roberto da Silva Maia. He is a total disgrace to his profession.

And what kind of religious leader, I ask myself, so manifestly and shamelessly fails to protect and defend the victims of prejudice in his diocese? So disgracefully misleads his flock by failing to uphold the one commandment Jesus said was at the centre of his whole teaching?

It is the commandment to love your neighbour as yourself, Dom Paulo Jackson Nóbrega de Sousa, Bishop of Garanhuns. Please think about it.

And as for you, Association of Evangelical Pastors of Garanhuns, Jesus knew the likes of you.

He knew you only too well. He never denounced the likes of me or Renata Carvalho. But He denounced you. Over and over again. Doctors of the law, pharisees, hypocrites. Whited sepulchres. Hearts of stone.

You and your like crucified Jesus. Just as you threatened to crucify Renata if she performed on the stage.

You call yourselves followers of Christ but you are his worst enemies.

But thank you, artists and public of Garanhuns who raised the funds to enable our play to be performed in spite of censorship. Thank you for attending both performances. Thank you for staying to the very end of the second performance and giving these brave theatre artists the welcome, support and protection the festival so shamefully failed to give them.

You represent the best of your city.

As for you, FIG... do you remember the gospel story of the fig tree in Bethany that gave Jesus no fruit? He cursed it and it withered and never gave fruit again.

You will carry this disgrace round your neck like a millstone.

And in your present form you, too, will wither and die.

No good will ever come from you again.
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