The death of a theater production is arguably UVU’s best-kept secret controversy this month. Electra, which was slated for release in early March at the Provo Theater, was cancelled last week for suggestive sexual content.
Electra is a classical Greek tragedy by Euripides about a brother and sister who are commanded by the gods to kill their mother. The UVU production had a twist: it addressed American pop culture and our fascination with celebrities.
Ashley Grant was cast as the titular character for her senior project. In accordance with director Isaac Walter’s contemporary vision — a reimagining of celebrity identities like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton — Ashley shaved her head for the role.
The costume design comprised of provocative clothing styles, such as short skirts and revealing midriffs. The dance choreography for Electra’s fan girls and backup dancers was also highly sexualized.
Late on the evening of Feburary 17, Walters sent out an email announcing his decision to cancel Electra after a discussion with the department chair. Walters explained he had UVU’s audience in mind.
The rehearsals may be one additional reason why the show was cancelled. The schedule was unclear and communication breakdown may have inhibited the process.
In addition, some of the dances had been under-rehearsed and some of the monologues were not memorized in their entirety.
Some members of the cast feel that the show’s cancellation doesn’t negate their positive experiences; the set of ELECTRA had become a place where some could safely express themselves, take risks, and “go there” because of the unity and teamwork.
Others felt less optimistic. Ashley Grant feels that she would have to struggle with negotiating her bitterness with the positive aspects of the cancelled production. Her sacrifices for the show, from morning rehearsals to her shaved head, seem to have taught her to abstain from taking risks with her art.
Several questions arise in the aftermath of Electra‘s cancellation for other students in the theater department. Some feel curious about where the responsibility for the cancellation lies, Walter or the chair, and to what extent Walter’s choice was consequential of department pressure.
Some question whether or not this actually undermines UVU as a safe place for freedom of expression in Utah Valley; one student pointed out at the post-mortem meeting that almost any other university over the point of the mountain or elsewhere outside Utah Valley might have produced Walter’s Electra. Other theater students feel like the cancellation of Electra means that they must tailor their senior projects and creative expression to an institutional standard or else find another university.
Ultimately, the harsh paradox of Electra‘s cancellation is that the production was intended to be a critique about whether authentic identity is forced into conforming to artificial community or if individuals have a choice to resist. The irony is that consequently students involved and uninvolved in the production must now question how to “carry on with the show” if UVU is not a place where such a choice exists for them.