"Love! Valour! Compassion!" a play about a group of gay men and their journey with AIDS has stirred up controversy in Grand Rapids, Mich., where some Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) Trustees are calling for the school to defund the theater that hosted the play.
"There have been several members of the board who feel that the Actor's Theater is inappropriate," Bert Bleke, GRCC Board of Trustees chairman, told The Christian Post in an interview on Thursday. "Historically, the college provides a small amount of money to the theater," Bleke explained, and some members ask for even that to be removed. According to reports, GRCC gave the theater $19,000 last year.
Some residents believe that through the play – which includes a scene of male nudity – GRCC is endorsing nudity "as entertainment or education and is using our tax dollars to do this, resident Joan Ridderbos told MLive last week. Ridderbos, who did not see the play, learned about it from friends at her church.
"We have not monitored their productions at all," Chairman of the GRCC Board of Trustees Bleke told CP. He explained that their yearly budget starts in July, so the board will not be able to act on the funding of the theater until next June.
"This is not the first time that this issue has been raised," Bleke noted, but he did say the level of concern is unprecedented. In general, the Board of Trustees has remained "staunch in defending the theater's right to produce whatever they think is appropriate."
But in recent years, new board members have decided to challenge that right, Bleke added. He said the theater has long had a reputation for "being kind of edgy."
"I don't think the Actor's Theater has changed, I think the board composition has changed a little bit," the chairman explained.
"The show is certainly about so much more than just this fleeting moment of a naked human being on the stage," Jolene Frankey, the play's director, told local news station WZZM13. "That is the point of art…if we challenged people, if we made you think a little bit and feel some things that you weren't expecting to, then we feel we've done our job," Frankey added.
Another Grand Rapids local, who wished to remain anonymous, told CP that "if certain members of the community" oppose the theater's funding, "it's over." Specifically, he mentioned Peter Secchia, an Italian-American diplomat and businessman who served as U.S. Ambassador to Italy from 1989 to 1993, and whose name adorns one of GRCC's schools, the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education. As a major donor to the school, Secchia carries enough weight to end the issue quickly, the resident said.
"Peter Secchia knows about everything I suppose," Bleke told CP. Nevertheless, the chairman of the board of trustees said he had not heard from the major donor one way or the other.