Archive for Friday, February 1, 1991


February 1, 1991


Unlike their counterparts in Wichita, local authorities aren't planning to take any action against performers who appear in the nude for a brief time in a dance-theater production coming to Kansas University next week.

"I think the police department really has no business interfering with academic arts programs," Jim Denney, director of the Kansas University Police Department, said this morning. "I have no intention of interfering with academic expression."

Denney said he has heard no complaints about the play, "The Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin/The Promised Land," which will be performed at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Hoch Auditorium.

The long dance and theater work, involving more than 50 performers, explores issues of race and religion and ends with a moment of nudity.

The performance is scheduled a week after police in Wichita ticketed two cast members of the road musical ``Hair'' because they appeared nude onstage. An actor who dropped his pants on stage and an actress who appeared in a short nude scene Tuesday were cited for violating the city's nude dancing ban.

POLICE ISSUED tickets in response to protests by Wichita dance club owners, who said local ordinances concerning nudity also should apply to the one-night engagement of ``Hair'' performed at a city-owned theater.

A Lawrence ordinance says anyone who displays his or her private parts in a public place may be cited for indecent exposure.

Mary D. Prewitt, assistant general counsel for the university, said the local situation is different from the one in Wichita. She said Wichita's ordinance was aimed at prohibiting nude dancing in bars.

"It's not the same as any state or local ordinance,'' she said of the Wichita law. "Of course we began working on this early on, and we don't think this performance runs afoul of municipal ordinances."

DENNEY ALSO argues that the content of Tuesday's play doesn't violate the city ordinance.

"This is a cultural and educational activity, and I don't believe there are any laws that tend to apply in this particular case," he said.

Lawrence Police Chief Ron Olin and Rod Bremby, assistant city manager, deferred questions about the matter to KU police. Olin and Bremby said they have heard no complaints about the upcoming performance.

Jackie Davis, director of the KU Concert, Chamber and New Directions Series, said she has met with city officials, including Mike Wildgen, Lawrence city manager. She said they told her they supported the university.

The performance is a four-part dance piece using as a basis the Harriet Beecher Stowe anti-slavery novel. Jones, the choreographer, has characterized it as an attempt to come to grips with what humans have in common and why people hang on to faith in the face of suffering. It is being produced in Lawrence as part of the KU New Directions Series.

THE FINAL portion, called "The Promised Land," takes the dance company through an elaborate exploration of hate and love. At the end, the company, facing the audience, stands nude in a scene that Jones says symbolizes the common humanity of all people.

Peter Thompson, dean of the School of Fine Arts, said he thinks "The Last Supper," as an art work and as a university activity, is not obscene.

"After seeing the work (on videotape) and after reading the ordinance I think it doesn't apply," Thompson said. "It doesn't apply to academic activity and it doesn't apply to a creative work, and it (the dance piece) is both. The nudity at the end is not sensual at all.''

In fact, the provocative nature of the ideas expressed in the performace will overshadow any flap over the nudity, Thompson said.

"PEOPLE WHO go to the performing arts aren't used to art challenging them, making comfortable ideas they have seem a lot less comfortable," he said. "It's not a mandate for a university, but one of our missions is to challenge a few ideas. I'm pleased we're doing it.''

Douglas County Dist. Atty. Jim Flory said he doesn't think the performance violates a state statute that bars lewd and lascivious behavior, which is considered behavior intended to arouse the sexual desires of one or both parties involved.

Local officials said it's unclear whether the local ordinance on public exposure would apply to private clubs that feature nude dancing.

Del Shankel, executive vice chancellor for the Lawrence campus, said his office has received no complaints from students or faculty about the pending performance.

"I think that Jackie Davis has been very careful to check this out. We've not heard anything that would suggest that we should anticipate a (legal) problem," he said.

"It's an artistic performance," he added.

SHANKEL SAID he likely won't attend the performance. He will be at a lecture involving the university's 125th anniversary celebration the same night.

Ted Ayres, general counsel for the Kansas Board of Regents, which coordinates state universities, said board policy doesn't prohibit nudity at campus performing arts events.

"There isn't any board policy that would, in my opinion, regulate or prevent nudity per se at an educational institution as long as it's appropriate to the production," he said.

Ayres said the same concept protects the right of university professors who teach drawing or painting courses to bring nude models into the classroom.

Sen. Wint Winter, R-Lawrence, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he was confident that city and state laws apply to events that take place on KU property.

However, Ayers said, "As far as the applicability of ordinances of the city of Lawrence to the University of Kansas, it's my opinion that they're not."

Tim Carpenter, staff writer, and Richard LeComte, arts editor, also contributed to this story.

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