Hundreds of theatergoers and LGBT allies alike packed a downtown Charleston auditorium Monday night for a special performance of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated show “Fun Home,” based on a memoir of the same name that could cost one South Carolina university more than $50,000 in state funding.
The book and musical tell the story of a girl growing up with a closeted father, his suicide, and her own coming out as a lesbian. But when the College of Charleston included “Fun Home” in its “College Reads!” program for incoming students last summer, it created some controversy.
In March, the GOP-controlled South Carolina House of Representatives approved a 2014-2015 budget bill that cut the College of Charleston’s funding by $52,000 – exactly what the university spent on the books. The budget also slashed $17,142 from the University of South Carolina Upstate, which assigned the book “Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio,” a story about the state’s first gay and lesbian show on the airwaves.
Both universities have said that students did not have to read the books if they objected to their themes.
Republican state Rep. Garry Smith said he proposed the cuts after receiving a complaint from a concerned College of Charleston parent. He told The State newspaper of Columbia back in February that “if you want to make a point, you have to make it hurt.” Weeks later, Smith got into a Twitter fight with a College of Charleston student, during which he said that the book painted a person of faith as “a terrorist,” and that if he were to assign it, he “would be arrested.”
Outraged by what many believe to be censorship, the cast of “Fun Home” volunteered to put on back-to-back performances of selected songs from the musical without pay. With tickets selling for up to $15 a pop, Todd McNerney, chairman of the college’s Department of Theatre and Dance, said the sold-out shows on Monday were a boon for the school.
“I hope they won’t punish us for presenting a piece of artistic work,” he told The Post and Courier. “Not a cent of state money was used to support this.”
Whether or not the cuts will stick in the state Senate remains to be seen, but the Board of Trustees already looks fearful. According to the “College Reads!” committee, the book selected for next school year – David Finkel’s “The Good Soldiers,” a chronicle of the 2007 troop surge in Iraq – faces an uncertain future.
“Unlike in previous years, the book has not been announced – presumably at the direction of the Board of Trustees – and a stop payment was issued leaving in limbo the 4,000 books in our possession,” reads a statement on the College of Charleston’s website. “The committee has received no explanation for this action.”
Ahead of Monday’s performances, students rallied in opposition to the proposed budget cuts.
“We know that our voices matter,” Briosha Sanders told ABC affiliate, WCIV. “We don’t want this top-down fashion of the Legislature and the Board of Trustees making decisions about what’s best for us without our input.”