The Utah Shakespeare Festival abruptly canceled one of its summer productions on Friday after learning of “insensitive communications” between the guest director/creator and “a potential member of the cast,” according to spokesman Tyler Morgan.
Morgan declined to give specifics about the content of emails exchanged between Art Manke, the writer/director of “Pearl’s in the House,” and the unnamed actor. The play is a musical biography of performer and activist Pearl Bailey.
The 2018 festival in Cedar City, which opens on Thursday, has been programmed around the idea of “intolerance and the adverse effect of intolerance on humanity,” according to artistic director Brian Vaughn.
Shakespeare Festival executive producer Frank Mack issued a statement that said, “The offensive communications that led us to cancel this production are completely contrary to these values and the artistic objectives we are pursuing this season.”
Ironically, “Pearl’s in the House” is not just about Bailey’s career in entertainment, it’s about her work as a civil rights activist. She died in 1990, but the issues she worked for “are certainly part of the conversation today,” Vaughn said.
Manke did not respond Friday to requests for comment via Facebook and email.
The festival’s statement did not specify what role was being filled in the production. But one actor who had been cast, Malkia Stampley, dropped out a few weeks ago because of a scheduling conflict, a spokesman for her talent agency said Friday.
In a casting call on backstage.com, the festival had listed three openings for the play, including Bailey’s role. Stampley had been cast for the character of Renata Jackson, described in the listing as ”an attractive, politically correct, light-skinned, African-American woman.”
The third opening called for a “middle-aged, white actor who should bear the resemblance of Richard Nixon, circa 1974,” to play Nixon and a character named Gordon and to provide the voice of The Announcer, Disc Jockey and Cab Calloway.
Kim Staunton had been announced to play Bailey; she also performed as Bailey in readings of the play in Cedar City last summer. V. Craig Heidenreich had been cast for Gordon, Nixon and the voice roles.
This was to be the first full production of the show after it had been workshopped at the 2017 festival. It was scheduled to debut on Aug. 23 and run through Oct. 13.
Additional performances of “An Iliad” will be added to fill the gap caused by the cancellation of “Pearl’s in the House.” The actors’ contracts will be honored despite the cancellation, the festival said.
“It is an unfortunate set of circumstances for all the artists who have put so much work into the process, but our organizational culture and values take precedence always,” said Vaughn.
“This was an incredibly difficult decision because of the impact this would have on so many parties,” Vaughn continued. “However, continuing the production would not add to our mission and our values but would detract from them.”
The festival will offer refunds or exchanges to those who purchased tickets for “Pearl’s in the House.”
Reporter Sean P. Means contributed to this report.