California State University, Long Beach – September 7, 2016

Long Beach, CA

College administrators cancelled an on-campus performance of the satirical play, N*GGER WETB*CK CH*NK (N*W*C), scheduled to take place in the Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) on September 29, 2016. The play, written and acted by three former college debate teammates, Rafael Agustin, Miles Gregly and Allan Axibal, was created with the intention of speaking about race in contemporary America. Using comedy, they crafted N*W*C using their own experiences with immigration and racial intolerance, slurs and stereotypes. Although N*W*C had been successfully staged and sold out in 2015, it was cancelled the following year because unspecified members of the campus community expressed concern over whether or not the show was adequately contributing to an educational dialogue. The show’s cancellation prompted Michele Roberge, the executive director of the performing arts center, to resign.

Key Players

Michele Roberge served as the executive director of the Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts for 14 years. She resigned upon learning that the performance would be shut down, telling the OC Weekly, “I just couldn’t come to work every day to work at a place that condones censorship.”

Further Details

The Carpenter Center for Performing Arts is technically a professional theater, although it is owned by the university. N*W*C is a play that has been touring the country for approximately 12 years. The small cast of writers visits college campuses in an attempt to foster conversation about real-life experiences with racial intolerance, integration, and immigration. The production has sparked protests of all kinds, including picketers, Neo-Nazi threats, and oppositional flyers, The New York Times reports.

In 2015, the NAACP penned a letter protesting CSULB’s decision to stage the show on its campus. In addition, many students objected to the play’s title. However, despite the criticism, University President Jane Close Conoley held firm and allowed the production to go forward.

But in 2016, the outcome was different. The performance was cancelled after numerous students and CSULB community members expressed concerns about it. Whereas the protests in 2015 had been primarily concerned with the title, those in 2016 objected to the content, OC Weekly reports.

Michele Roberge denounced the cancellation of the show as censorship. Upon resigning, she said, “by censoring this show, we’re depriving students of the opportunity from hearing a different point of view about race relations and making up their own minds about what’s in the news every day, from Black Lives Matter to police brutality. And as a professional presenting theater on a university campus, I think our job is to bring topics like this to the campus to be seen and discussed. But the university has curtailed my ability to do that, and I have enough integrity that I couldn’t accept [the decision],” the OC Weekly reports.

Outcome

Show cancellation

The show was cancelled, though the performers were compensated, OC Weekly reports.

Roberge resigns

Michele Roberge resigned from the position she had held for 14 years, because she was uncomfortable with what she considered censorship.

N*W*C tour continues

Although unable to perform at CSULB, a cast member of N*W*C said that the production would continue the tour as planned.

External References

Long Beach St. Pulls Plug on N*GGER WETB*CK CH*NK Show. Cancellation, or Censorship?, OC Weekly

What’s in a Slur? A New Play Searches for Answers, The New York Times

Prepared by Bridget McElroy ‘18

November 16, 2017