Summerville councilman defends criticism of 'Rent'
The Summerville politician who suggested cutting funding for a theater group because of bad language says he's glad he started a conversation, even if he sparked some heavy criticism.
Town Councilman Terry Jenkins, a 69-year-old paper products salesman for Kapstone, told the finance committee last week that council should withhold tax money from the Flowertown Players because of the language in "Rent," a Tony Award-winning musical about a group of impoverished young artists and musicians struggling to survive in New York City, while a couple of them are living with HIV/AIDS.
The committee agreed to delay action until the theater company had a chance to appear before them next month.
"I can't believe the firestorm that's come up and the number of emails I've gotten, generally against what I said, although I've gotten a good many calls thanking me," Jenkins said Friday. "Wrong is wrong, and the language was bad and it was wrong, and I don't think it was appropriate. But if it opens up dialogue between us and the theater group that leads to a path forward that they're happy with and we're happy with, then I think it's going to beneficial that we raised the subject."
Jenkins said the play was excellent overall and presented a valuable message, and he didn't see why the language couldn't have been toned down.
"To me the language detracted from the message of the play," he said. "It's the kind of play that I think the message is so important and so powerful, people that need to be hearing are younger people who are going to face this as they come up in their lives, and they are the ones you really can't take there because of the language."
Changing the language was not an option, according to J.C. Conway, the group's artistic director.
"We have to present the play as written by the playwright," he said. "Some authors will give you a license to change things up a little bit here and there, but it's at that author's discretion, and it's the job of the publishing company to keep an eye out and make sure you're not changing it."
Also, the language was authentic for the characters being portrayed, he said.
"If you're showing 20-something bohemians in New York in the '90s and they don't cuss, it's a little weird," he said. "It makes it even tougher when it's a musical, because they're lyrics. It's not like you can just not say a word when you've got music going along with it."
Jenkins urged council not to give the theater company any more of the town's accommodations tax money, a fund generated by hotels meant to bring in tourists. It would be a $3,000 cut. After the controversy, he said he didn't know if he would change his vote or not.
"I may or may not stick with my vote," he said. "I feel certain there are going to be at least four of the seven people on council who are going to vote to give them the funds, and they're going to get the funds."
But he's standing firm on his opinion that the language was in poor taste, despite a Facebook critic who compared his stance to something from the Dark Ages.
"Wrong is wrong and the language here was wrong and in very poor taste," he said. "It detracted from getting the real message across. If I am from the Dark Ages for standing up for what I believe and know is wrong, so be it! Regardless of where society moves to be accepting, wrong is still wrong and poor taste is still poor taste."
The musical was nearly sold out for all of its 11 performances in January, Conway said. Jenkins said some people walked out because of the language.
Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.