Local events to commemorate MSU’s 1989 controversial production on AIDS

Missouri State’s theatre and dance department has been pushing the boundaries of social commentary throughout its history on campus, one of the most poignant and controversial performances occurring 25 years ago with a play by Larry Kramer, The Normal Heart. The play’s focus on the early years of the AIDS epidemic drew ire from local representatives and advocacy groups. Various Springfield events have been scheduled, beginning Sept. 25, to commemorate the anniversary of Springfield’s production of the play, which has since won a Tony Award for its Broadway revival as well as a 2014 Emmy Award for the HBO film adaptation starring Mark Ruffalo and Julia Roberts.

optOPT to air program about impact of controversy

Ozarks Public Television will revisit the 1989 Springfield production of The Normal Heart and the backlash it caused within the conservative community during the station’s hour-long Sense of Community program on KOZK tonight (Sept. 25) at 8 p.m. Viewers can call into the station with questions as the role and impact of the performing arts is discussed.

Meyer Library to host archival exhibit

The Duane G. Meyer Library special collections and archives department will showcase “The Normal Heart—A Look Back to 1989,” Oct. 13—Dec. 19, about the controversy sparked by the University’s production of The Normal Heart. Using archival materials preserved by special collections in lieu of the regional and national firestorm, such as photographs, media coverage and other print material, the exhibit tells the story of how local conservatives banded together to fight the University’s production. Soon the community was embroiled in a battle over academic freedom, community values and appropriate activities at a public institution.

This exhibit will be located in the special collections department, open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended hours on Tuesday evenings until 9 p.m. when classes are in session.

sct normal heartSpringfield Contemporary Theatre to revive landmark play

Springfield Contemporary Theatre will bring The Normal Heart back to the Ozarks, Oct. 17-Nov. 2, telling this seminal tale of love and the rise of the AIDS crisis in 1980’s New York City as seen through the eyes of Ned Weeks, a Jewish writer and gay activist who co-founded a prominent HIV advocacy group.

SCT’s resident director, Robert Bradley—who, in 1989, was head of the University’s department of theatre and dance—will direct the current SCT production, whose cast is comprised of Joshua Best, Darryl Kent Clark, Rick Dines, Art Duncan, Michael Lee, Dawn McClain, Philip R. Pulliam, Jr., Avery Ragsdale, Bruce Robinson and David Hart Waggoner.

The production, which contains mature language and subject matter, will play Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. at SCT’s Center Stage. Reserved-seat tickets for the production are on sale now.

Tickets, priced $25 for adults and $22 for seniors (55 and over) and students, may be purchased online, by calling the box office at 417-831-8001, or visiting the box office in person in the lobby of SCTs Center Stage at 431 S. Jefferson Ave, Suite 136 in downtown Springfield.

Springfield Contemporary Theatre to host panel discussions

SCT will also host two panel discussions during its run of The Normal Heart, exploring the controversy behind the 1989 production and the intervening years to this anniversary production. Both these events will be held at SCTs Center Stage and are free and open to the public.

The Normal Heart Controversy Remembering 25 Years Ago”

Oct. 20, 7p.m.

The first panel will include the following guests:

  • Marshall Gordon, President of Southwest Missouri State University in 1989
  • Harold Bengsch, Greene County health commissioner in 1989
  • Robert H. Bradley, head of the theatre and dance department at SMSU in 1989
  • John Stinson, KSPR-33 news photographer in 1989
  • Ed Fillmer, KY3 journalist covering the story in 1989
  • Lynne Meyerkord, Board of Director, AIDS Project of the Ozarks and volunteer usher for The Normal Heart in 1989
  • Deborah Doll, actress in The Normal Heart in 1989
  • David Hart Waggoner, actor in The Normal Heart in both 1989 and 2014

The Normal Heart at SCT Springfield and Missouri State University 25 Years Later”

Oct. 27, 7 p.m.

The second panel will include the following guests:

  • Clif Smart, President of Missouri State University
  • Holly Baggett, professor, history department, MSU, and author of The Creation of a Community: Gay and Lesbian Springfield 1945-2010, from the book, Springfield’s Urban Histories, edited by Stephen McIntyre
  • Stephanie Perkins, deputy director, PROMO Promoting Equality for All Missourians
  • Lynne Meyerkord, executive director, AIDS Project of the Ozarks
  • Charles Abernathy, media spokesperson and community liaisons, GLO Community Center
  • Miles Sweeney, chairman of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Task Force
  • Rick Dines, managing artistic director, Springfield Contemporary Theatre, and actor in current production of The Normal Heart

History of the 1989 controversy

Protest over the production of the play broke out when then State Representative Jean Dixon (R-Springfield), along with members of Citizens Demanding Standards led by chairman Paul Summers, demanded that the university production be shut down on the grounds that state tax dollars were helping fund a production that was promoting a homosexual political agenda. By the time the production had closed, the controversy and surrounding events were being reported in the national media.

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