ACE Rejects Springer Funding, UK Tour in JeopardyDate: 15 August 2005
Jerry Springer - The Opera has suffered another blow. Arts Council England (ACE) has declined an application to subsidise a planned regional tour of the multi award-winning but ever-controversial musical. Show producers at Avalon say the production is no longer financially viable and, unless ACE reconsiders or a private backer steps forward, the tour will be cancelled.
Originally due to launch from Manchester this October, in March, when 11 of the 36 regional theatres due to receive the musical pulled out following protests from religious pressure group Christian Voice, the tour was postponed until the start of 2006 (See News, 17 Mar 2005). In January, the same evangelical organisation spearheaded a campaign against the BBC’s broadcast of Jerry Springer, generating a record 45,000 complaints as well as several death threats (See News, 5 Jan 2005). It also succeeded in halting proceeds from a performance of the show being donated to cancer charity, Maggie’s Centres (See The Goss, 23 Feb 2005).
Avalon’s Jon Thoday says that ACE has now buckled to the same kind of pressure in its decision not to fund the planned tour. “I feel like we are the only people standing up for freedom of speech in the arts community,” he told today’s Independent. “I feel incredibly disappointed that, while they (ACE) see freedom of speech as a good thing, they are not prepared to support it.”
ACE denies the accusation. It maintains that its primary justification for refusing subsidy from its limited £20 million touring budget is on account of Jerry Springer’s commercial success to date. It previously funded the musical during its development at the Battersea Arts Centre and the National Theatre.
Promising "triumph, tragedy and trailer trash as high art meets low", Jerry Springer - The Opera is based on America's most lurid talk show host who has broadcast programmes such as "Pregnant by a Transsexual", "Here Come the Hookers" and "I Refuse to Wear Clothes". In the musical, Springer suffers the worst day of his career, during which he's taken from his studio to both heaven and hell, confronting some of his bizarre guests.
Religious protestors believe that, aside from the expletive-laden score, the most offensive aspects of the musical are the depictions of God as an impotent fool and Jesus as a nappy-wearer who admits he’s “a little bit gay”. BBC Two’s unedited broadcast in January attracted a television audience of 2.4 million (a record TV viewing figure for a musical or opera).
A cult hit in concert form at BAC and the Edinburgh Fringe, the full-fledged version of Jerry Springer - The Opera had its world premiere on 29 April 2003 at the National Theatre, where it had an extended, sell-out season running in repertory for five months at the NT Lyttelton. In November 2003, it transferred to the West End’s Cambridge Theatre, where it closed this past February (See News, 12 Jan 2005). Last year, the show - written by Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee, who also directed it – won four Best Musical prizes at the Olivier, Critics’ Circle, Evening Standard and Whatsonstage.com’s own Theatregoers’ Choice Awards.
Avalon told Whatsonstage.com that it has set a deadline of 19 September 2005 for securing alternative funds for the regional tour, but as it stands, there will be no more performances of Jerry Springer for the foreseeable future. That said, at the Edinburgh Fringe this week, show creators Thomas and Lee will be giving a lecture – for two performances only, 16 and 17 August at the Assembly Rooms - on “How To Write An Opera About Jerry Springer”, including their views on the controversy surrounding the show.
- by Terri Paddock