Are The Nice People At Nice People Theatre Promoting Pedophilia? No. No They’re Not.
These folks look so charming! That’s Miriam White on the left, one of the artistic directors of Nice People Theatre. Nicole Blicher, Nice People’s other artistic director is there on the right, snuggled up with Megan Gogerty, the writer of the musical Love Jerry.
But, cue dark and stormy music, they tried to run an ad on Philly.com that used the word “pedophilia.” It was rejected.
In Love Jerry, which opens Friday, June 4 at the Latvian Society, Jerry is a pedophile, and the work challenges audience members to humanize him. The show has received some excellent reviews; the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote, “Love Jerry is a profoundly moving theatrical experience that dares to approach an incendiary social topic with balance, responsibility and emotional authenticity.”
But Philly.com, which, you may know, is the online heart of the region’s largest newsgathering operation and has been in bankruptcy for a little while now.
So you might think they’d take whatever ad money they can get, but hey, I’m a dastardly blogger so what do I know about the news biz. We heard online kerfuffle about this yesterday, so I thought I’d meet up with Miriam, Nicole, and Megan to get their take on the situation.
After the jump, the filthy, perverted ad that will make you think we endorse pedophilia, since we’re using the word. Also, nice people tell you about the challenges in making a musical out of molestation.
“We’ve never advertised before,” Nicole says. “We wanted to make a video that was a living version of the postcard.”
With a budget of about $800, Nicole says they had gone back and forth about with ad sales at Philly.com leading up to Memorial Day weekend, negotiating cost and ad placement. This week, she says, their rep told them that they accepted the price, but the content manager would not approve the ad because it used the word “pedophile.”
“I was shocked immediately,” says Nicole. “It’s baffling—part of the issue of the play is dispelling problematic stereotypes about pedophiles in the media.”
Sitting in the lounge downstairs at the Latvian Society, all three cite the television show To Catch A Predator, which sets up alleged pedophiles by enticing them online, pretending to be minors interested in sex with older people, usually men.
The truth of the matter, Nicole says, is that “90 percent of the abusers are known to their victims.”
“It’s ironic,” says Megan, the playwright, “because this is an epidemic that flourishes in silence. I believe you have to be open an honest about its affects, and here’s an attempt to speak honestly.”
Nicole jumps in: “We’re talking about theater!”
“What’s surprising to me [about Philly.com’s refusal to run the ad],” says Megan, “is that the ad is so responsible. It’s not salacious, it’s not exploitative, it’s not playing scary music. In fact, I’d laud NFT for using the word ‘pedophile’—it’s honest about the provocative subject matter.”
“It’s not easy to sell the show,” says Miriam. “We can’t hide the fact that it’s deconstructing the psychology of a child abuser.”
They take pains to differentiate their experience with the business side of Philly.com from the editorial side, from which they’ve received some good reviews in the past, and which they think will review this production as well.
They’re not taking out an ad, although they did speak with the president of Philly.com today about the issue.
If you tell them that you forwarded the ad to some friends (and you did, because you wouldn’t lie), they’ll give you $2 off admission. In turn, they’ll donate that discount to an organization that fights child abuse. They figure that they can spend the money where it’ll help the situation, if you do their advertising for them.
“We’re excited about the solution, sending the video around and word-of-mouth, to flip it, and give the money we’d have paid for the ad to CAPE.”
CAPE is the Child Abuse Prevention Effort, which will be involved in two talkbacks during the run, as well as staffing the lobby with a volunteer, who can answer questions about child abuse and solutions.
The story of Love, Jerry is about two brothers, one of whom is accused of abusing the other one’s son.
“Because it’s theater of course it happened,” says Megan.
The play tracks Jerry’s decision to offend, his offense, and the aftermath.
“It’s really about the other brother, Mike, reconciling his love for [Jerry],” Megan says. “How do you love someone who’s betrayed you like this? These abusers are fathers, brothers, uncles, friends, and in the neighborhood. In reality, this is a guy in your family. It’s a heavily researched play. The story is fictitious, but it’s pretty banal—a pretty typical situation.”
Asked if they had trouble finding a performer to act—and sing—the part of a pedophile, Miriam says that there was never a question that they’d be able to fill the part.
“That’s not to say that people didn’t say no,” Miriam says, when they asked actors to audition for the part of Jerry.
“It’s hard!” says Megan. “If you’re doing Oklahoma!, you have to memorize lines, sing on key. Here, you have to memorize lines, sing on key, and get to places that are really uncomfortable.”
Megan has nothing but effusive things to say about the actors she’s seen in Philadelphia.
“This is my first time in Philly and the first time any of my work’s been produced here,” she says. “I’m so impressed with the dedication of actors in Philadelphia” in getting to those uncomfortable places.
“I’m not an expert on abuse. I’m an informed citizen who wrote a play. I hope it sparks a debate, but it’s also a play.”
One might not think of molestation and musicals going hand-in-hand, but Megan says that the music is key to offering the show’s characters—and the audience—some critical distance.
“It’s not a traditional musical,” Megan says, “where the songs carry the plot and you can listen to the soundtrack to figure it out. The characters have communication problems. The music allows them to step outside the narrative and tell the truth about what’s going on with them.
“I’m asking a lot of my audience. I’m asking them to understand a pedophile as a human being, and not as a monster, but without condoning his crime. [The music] gives space to connect with Jerry, to understand him as a human being.”
Photo by Nicholas Gilewicz