The Amherst Student

Committee Cites Blue Laws Factor In Derailing ‘The Dream Engine’

The Tribe
Part of The Tribe of "The Dream Engine"

"The Dream Engine", Jim Steinman's rock-musical Independent Study project, has been derailed by the Independent Study Committee. The Committee decided that the play, which deals with the theme of revolution and society, may not be presented on Sunday, April 27 because the Committee was unwilling to sign a state license certifying the play as "in keeping with the character of the Lord's Day and not inconsistent with its due observance."

The Committee's decision was announced to Steinman '69 and Barry Keating '69 who is directing the play as part of his Independent Study program, at a meeting last Thursday, April 10. The planned Sunday performance has been moved to Monday night.

'We Are Not the ACLU'

Steinman explained that "None of them (the members of the Independent Study Committee, Professors White, Gifford, Epstein, Westfall) would 'perjure' them-selves and testify that the behavior of this play is appropriate to observance of the Lord's Day.

"One of them said to me. 'We are not the American Civil Liberties Union. If you want to challenge the Blue Laws you should do it on your own time: this is not the job of the College.'"

Dean of Faculty Prosser Gifford explained that the Committee had considered the Sunday performance and the signing of the license as a three-part question.

"One," he said, "was the question of what does the license mean? Is it an empty formality or is it significant? Second, is the question of who signs it, or who should sign it? And third is the question of whether it is the function of the Independent Study Committee to take on the Blue Laws of Massachusetts."

'Almost Cowardly Action'

Professor Donald O. White, Chairman of the Independent Study Committee, declined to comment on the Committee's decision. Professor White stated, "The Committee will, in due course, respond to any criticism. But that response will come in the name of the Committee as a whole."

Steinman called the move "a timid overly cautious, almost cowardly action. A College and especially a group such as the Independent Study Committee which is designed to advance a student's progressive education, should be strong enough and have the guts and sense of principle to stand behind a student's work. The only thing they're coming up against is something that is as absurd and outdated as the Blue Laws."

'License of No Consequence'

Susan Richardson, MHC '69, President of the Mount Holyoke Dramatics Club and production manager for "The Dream Engine," said that earlier in the year she had attempted to obtain a license for a Sunday performance of a play at Holyoke.

"We called Northampton, Springfield, and Holyoke, just trying to locate a license. Finally we were advised by a county official to forget the whole matter. Since they had never heard of the license, it was obviously of no consequence," she explained.

The license states in part that, "The licensee shall not advertise his place of amusement, or any performance or exhibition therein, by means of pictoral posters or placecards of an obscene nature; shall not, in his place of amusement, allow any person to wear a head covering which obstructs the view of other spectators....."

'Looking for Fornicators'

"It shows a great deal about the Independent Study Committee's paranoia," Steinman said, "that the chaplain at Mount Holyoke completely supports the play and feels that it is appropriate to the Lord's Day as well as being an exciting addition to the Lord's Day.

"I would challenge the Independent Study Committee members, all of whom claim to have read the script but not one of whom have seen one actual rehearsal, to state publicly exactly what in the play is not appropriate to the Lord's Day.

"It's grotesquely comic," continued Steinman, "that the play is about revolution, social upheaval and disruption, and it's being thwarted because of fear of left-over relics from the Puritan age who are wandering forlornly through the Pelham Hills looking for fornicators."

At the same time that the Committee decided to re-schedule the Sunday performance for Monday, they also announced to Steinman that the Committee would fund the entire enterprise, making the sale of tickets unnecessary. The play will now be presented without charge, although donations will be accepted.

'No Charge for Course Work'

Professor Walter Boughton, Director of Kirby Theater, explained, "It is a long-standing policy of the Dramatic Arts department not to charge for student productions.

"Any student directed play, whether it is done within a course in the curriculum or under Independent Study, is done as part of course work. It is not proper to charge the public for work done in courses; this play is curricular, rather than extra-curricular," Boughton concluded.

'We Changed the Rules'

Dean Gifford emphasized the distinction between the "curricular" and the "commercial" aspects of the play. "It became clear that we did not want to set up a precedent of large self-financed enterprises.

"To some extent we changed the rules in mid-stream," Dean Gifford admitted, "but we did it for the good of the program."

'Harassment and Hindrance'

Steinman criticized the Committee for hesitating so long before making this decision. "A week and a half before the production, after we have already undertaken all the publicity and done all the preparation for the production, the Committee has decided that there will be no admission charge and no Sunday performance.

"Now we have to back-track and undo all the arrangements we've already made. Even though it, may not be intentional, the overall effect is to harass and hinder the production."

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The Amherst Student

In Dependent Study

The Independent Study Program, presently in its third year, has since its inception undergone a process of self-definition and evaluation. The program is clearly a bastard : it belongs neither to the professorial classroom world nor to the extra-curricular student identity-crises world. The task of defining the course of the program, the relationships between the student and his project, the student and his tutor, the tutor and the project, belongs to the Independent Study Committee. The definition frequently is a question of the Committee's knowing when to define the program by taking appropriate action, and when the only appropriate action is inaction.

The action taken by the Committee to prevent a Sunday performance of Jim Steinman's "The Dream Engine" and to make the production free not only re-defines the Independent Study program, but makes the re-definition at a most inopportune moment. Open to criticism is not only the content of the decisions, but the timing.

By refusing to take the legal responsibility for a Sunday performance of the play the Committee has not only acted in poor faith toward an Independent Scholar of their own choosing, but, as a group of intellectually committed professors involved in an artistic endeavor, has timidly retired in the face of civil censorship. The Committee has chosen to hinder the performance and jeopardize the success of the play they commissioned.

The decision to assume the financial burden for the production of Independent Study projects seems to be an acceptance of responsibility that is hardly consistent with the refusal to sign the Sunday license. The harm done by the decision stems from the implied conception of the Independent Study program, and in the particular case of Mr. Steinman, the time at which the decision came. The Committee maintains that an Independent Study program is curricular, that there should be no charge for curricular enterprises. This concept draws the program back into the limiting framework of the classroom from which the program necessarily provides release. The Committee, at a time of great challenge and opportunity, when Independent Study has begun to attract numbers of students eager to undertake original creative work, has interpreted the program back into a context that discourages that work.

For Mr. Steinman, the combination of these decisions, the implications and the timing, has caused considerable difficulty. The Committee has functioned to stifle his project rather than promote it, to interrupt the progress rather than forward it. Perhaps the Committee can learn from its Independent Scholars that Independent Study is a time for self-examination and growth, and frequently, errors.

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