Vulgarity at the NCC Editorial
Stabroek News
December 5, 2003

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For the second year in a row, the annual production at the National Cultural Centre (NCC) in commemoration of World AIDS Day had to be halted because of the behaviour of some members of the audience. In our Wednesday edition we reported that shortly after the show began on Monday evening, four men dressed in drag began to behave in a disorderly fashion in the auditorium. Our reporter described how they "shouted derogatory comments... and used vile language even though there were many young children present..."

Perhaps the real tragedy of all of this, was that far from rebuking those disrupting the performance, some members of the audience were amused by the display of vulgarity, laughing loudly and adding their own comments. As is quite often the case in these circumstances, those who objected to this behaviour were not loud in expressing their views, and were simply ignored.

The initial crassness of the four men set the tone for the larger audience response to a performance which, although not without humour, had a serious message about AIDS and discrimination to convey. It was Ms Desiree Edghill- a founding member of Artistes in Direct Support, the organization which had mounted the drama - who announced the termination of the production. Among other things, she told the audience that had the disruptive persons been asked to leave and been refunded the "meagre" $100 they had paid to enter the NCC, some would have cried 'discrimination.'

Manager of the National Cultural Centre Godwin Saul told this newspaper that an investigation had been launched, and that it was not management's desire to have such behaviour at the venue. However, he went on to say that because the cost of the ticket was only $100, management had not enforced the dress code; it had wanted the message enshrined in the drama to reach everyone. "That's what happens when you free up," he observed, " will witness the [crude] behaviour of some persons."

Mr Saul has clearly forgotten some of the pageants held in the NCC, which attract patrons who not only have forked out hefty sums for their tickets, but who are also decked out in full formal regalia for the occasion. Unfortunately, neither a prohibitive entrance fee nor a dress code are any guarantee of civilized behaviour in a Guyanese theatre nowadays.

One hopes that the investigation of this incident, tied, as it is, to the involvement of the Ministry of Culture, will not get bogged down in bureaucracy. It so happens that for once the issues are very straightforward, as is the remedy. Audience misbehaviour of a vulgar and disruptive kind cannot be tolerated in the NCC, and anyone who is not prepared to observe the conventions should be asked to leave in the first instance, and made to leave if they do not comply with the initial request. Furthermore, if they have been thrown out of one performance after outrageous conduct, the option of excluding them from future performances should be considered.

And no one in charge at the NCC should have any compunction about not refunding ticket money to the miscreants. If their purpose in buying the ticket was to prevent the smooth flow of a performance from the outset, then their money should be forfeit because they gained entry to the theatre under false pretences.

A public theatrical performance is a kind of unspoken compact between players and audience, in which actors, singers or whoever perform, and the public watches. Which doesn't mean to say that an audience cannot indicate its dissatisfaction with a performance, but this has to be done within the boundaries of convention. Those boundaries will be rather different for, say, a working men's club, than for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; far more freedom of audience expression is tolerable in the case of the former than the latter. However, even where the former is concerned, the performers - particularly comedians - understand the rules of the relevant compact before they go on stage.

In a venue like the NCC, however, the authorities should insist on behaviour appropriate to the formality of the setting. It should not be a place where anything goes in terms of public conduct, and some respect should be shown for those who have taken the time, trouble and effort to mount a performance, even in those circumstances where the result leaves room for improvement.

And as for Ms Edghill's fear that the company and the NCC would be accused of 'discrimination' if they evicted men in drag who were being disruptive, her conscience should rest easy on that score. The issue is not what the men were wearing and whatever this might or might not imply about them, but their behaviour. If they had conducted themselves in the same way while sporting tuxedos, they should still have been thrown out.