Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Faculty speak in new art series

Monday, September 14, 2015

Red Light Night, a speaker series initiated by Southeast Missouri State University professor Joni Hand, the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri Executive Director Murielle Gaither and Arts Council Gallery Manager Liz Montgomery, has opened discussion with Cape Girardeau community members about sexual and adult themes within the arts.

Sept. 10 marked the second installment of the series held at the Arts Council located on 32 N. Main Street.

Gaither introduced Dr. Kenneth Stilson, the chair of Southeast's Department of Theatre and Dance, as the accomplished writer of "Acting is Believing" and as someone who has struggled with censorship in the past.

Stilson said that a production of "Romeo and Juliet" at Southeast gained national attention for being labeled as "pornography" by members of the public. Stilson directed the play and was brought into the police station for questioning after a woman from Poplar Bluff filed a claim against him for "criminal sexual misconduct."

Stilson also experienced some resistance from the public for directing a religious satire called "Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it All for You."

"I was attacked viciously in the press, and I was sent hate mail," Stilson said. "There were people in town that wrote letters to the president and the Board of Regents demanding I was fired."

The first Red Light Night event was held Aug. 13, and Hand was the presenter. Hand said that this speaker series is brand new, and it was an idea that was conceived as a way to get students involved with the arts and to expose a subject that shies from open discussion.

Montgomery said that Gaither intentionally targeted university staff for the roles as speakers, and the invitations were extended to all artistic backgrounds: literature, visual and performing arts, music and others.

"It was a very quick, resounding yes. People wanted to talk about it," Montgomery said.

Hand said that the event is held at night deliberately because of the adult themes. For example, Hand contributed material concerning the "borderline pornagraphic" material that was written on medieval manuscripts.

Montgomery remembered the conception of the series slightly differently. Montgomery said the idea for Red Light Night came from a simple discussion on Hand's presentation over the iconography in medieval manuscripts.

"These topics are worth exploring. They're worthwhile, also interesting -- a little bit more fun," Montgomery said.

Montgomery said that the intent was to engage the community in a formal discussion over these themes in art, which would have few appropriate contexts anywhere else.

The next Red Light Night will be held on Oct. 8, and it is titled "'I know it when I see it': Redefining the Freedom of Sexual Expression in the Age of Disco," and it will also feature a member of Southeast's Faculty, Dr. Joel Rhodes.

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