NAG Play “Sex With Seven Women” Controversial

One of seven?

LocallyGrown received a lengthy comment from Beth Benson regarding Brendon Etter’s play, Sex With Seven Women, which is opening at the Northfield Arts Guild on January 11. I had several witty ideas for clever headlines, and could have had a lot of fun with this, but I decided to play it straight for a change, and just publish the comment in its entirety.

For discussion on this blog:

I am writing to express disappointment in the Northfield Art Guild’s choice of the play “Sex with Seven Women”. According to the Northfield News, Etter the playwright says, “How do you know you’re going to offend people if you don’t do it?” Why is the Guild choosing plays based on
this sentiment?

We have turned into a society that seeks to be enticed rather than inspired. The things we watch on T.V., the books we read, even the plays we attend have been debased appealing to our lower senses rather than our sense of decency. We seek entertainment that appeals to the lowest denominator rather than learn to appreciate the finer things. A cheap bottle of wine to achieve drunkenness may be what we crave, but a fine bottle of wine can only be appreciated by those whose taste has been refined and taught only by drinking finer wines. I would suggest that the Guild is offering Northfield cheap wine with this play when they can be teaching people to appreciate a finer wine. Someone needs to lead the way in bringing a standard that rises
above a downward spiral of society.

The Guild has an opportunity to bring out the noble and beautiful in society. Why should they waste their time highlighting the perversions of society? Let us as a community inspire their organization to inspire greatness and not sink to a level that only intends to shock with debauchery and push the envelope on what is acceptable. Let us inspire them to become
an organization that finds and supports the future Shakesperes, the Monets, the Bachs of our society; artists that will stand the test of time as those who were truly great. Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art.” We need to help people to love beauty. Let us inspire the Northfield Arts Guild to fulfill their calling to create
and support the creation of beauty.

Prior to grabbing the links to put into this post, I hadn’t read anything about the play, so I was wondering (knowing playwright B. Etter) if sex and women even had anything to do with it. The answer is, apparently, yes. Ross was very eager to see what image I would choose to illustrate this issue, so in addition to playing it straight, I thought I’d let him down again by using a tastefully appropriate photo of Brendon’s lovely wife, Ann.

After all the other flak and controversy we’ve been dealing with in this town, it’s a relief to me to move discussion to larger messy philosophical questions such as, “What’s art for?”


  1. This isn’t “Fear Factor: The Play.” Beth, if you happen to read this, what makes you so sure that these plays will be the equivalent of a cheap bottle of wine?

    Though I don’t know that these plays will be good or bad, it doesn’t seem fair to assume that they will be devoid of any artistic value just because they “highlight the perversions of society.”

    December 29, 2007
  2. Rob Hardy said:

    I do have sympathy with what Beth says, and would find the world a much poorer place without people who appreciate Bach and Monet. But I disagree with the assumption that art is, or should be, entirely about uplift. It’s more about examining the human condition, which has its depths as well as its heights. Beth mentions Shakespeare. He certainly explored the baser as well as the more exalted aspects of human nature. He understood that humans have bodies as well as minds, sexual organs as well as spirits. In my favorite Shakespeare play, Malvolio tries to put an end to the drinking of cheap wine and singing of bawdy songs, and is made utterly ridiculous. Poor Malvolio can’t loosen up, and becomes a kind of tragic character in a comic play. His tragedy is really that the fun-loving side of his human nature is stunted.

    Even Ralph Waldo Emerson, whom Beth quotes with approval, realized that art is about the finding (or the making) of meaning. Emerson says tat the artist “use[s] defects and deformities to a sacred purpose,” and realizes that “the evils of the world are such only to the evil eye.” The artist finds meaning even in ugliness. Emerson was concerned with the fate of art in an age of machines, and had faith that the artist could make art even out of a steam engine. Surely Brendon, as an artist, can do the same with phone sex. The artist often takes the things we don’t want to look at, and opens our eyes.

    On a recent visit to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, I stood for a long while in front of Murillo’s “Penitent Magdalene” and found myself responding both to her spiritual upward gaze and her sensual lips and beautiful body. So, I respond to art not just with my pure spirit, but with my heart and hormones. As a human being. Listen again to Bach, and see if it’s not pleasure as much as uplift that you feel. Pleasure and sometimes pain.

    Go on, Brendon, keep making art that titillates and makes us laugh. I hope your purpose is not merely to offend, but mainly to open our eyes—even if what you make us see is our own absurdity.

    December 30, 2007
  3. John Thomas said:

    I feel that the Northfield Arts Guild is a wonderful asset to the community.

    However, I also know, that it will not please everyone all of the time, with its choices of material.

    I think it is FANTASTIC that the NAG is presenting a series of short plays created by a NORTHFIELD playwright. It is only for two nights. I think it is great that Brendon gets an opportunity to present her work.

    It is quite simple. If you do not want to see the play, don’t go. Another great play will be coming soon.

    Northfield Arts Guild will be able to figure out the popularity of its showings by the number of people attending said play.

    I would have to also ask, are you this critical of everything that the Guthrie does, or any other theater organization in the area?

    It is good to sometimes stretch into new areas and explore. It broadens ones horizons. Doing the same classic plays that everyone else has done, over and over, gets boring.

    In your opinion, this may not be the best play… so if you feel that way, do not attend. Fairly simple. Go out to dinner on Friday, and read a book Saturday night… and guess what? You missed it… Darn.

    I would urge you to attend though, as maybe a play like this will show you something from a different angle, and cause you to ponder something that you never really thought about before.

    Kudos to the NAG, and Brendon for bringing locally grown talent to the public. I hope to see more creations by local artists. Great stuff!

    December 30, 2007
  4. Beth Benson said:

    I guess the question truly becomes what is art? Is it meant to uplift or only to entertain? Or is art the expression of one’s own soul? Can we call child pornography art if it is done “artistically” and put up in a art gallery (I’m not comparing the play with this, I’m just asking the question)? Where does a secular society draw the line at what is aceptable and right? Art can certainly depict the baser elements of society and human expression, but we don’t need to celebrate them. What happens if in a generation what we would consider inhuman and explicit now becomes acceptable in our plays, our music, and our art? 50 years ago, a play like this wouldn’t be advertised in the paper much less produced by the local arts guild. Where does it stop? Yes, I can do other things than watch this play. I’m not screaming censor.

    I’m not critical of everything that the Guthrie or other art organizations produce. It’s just that B. Etter made the challenge in the Northfield News that nobody seems to have oppositions to this sort of play. I just wanted the community to know that there are a bunch of people just like me who have oppositions.

    My point remains that someone needs to raise the bar and inspire people to reach higher.

    December 30, 2007
  5. Ann Etter said:

    I am posting strictly as as actress and as Brendon’s wife. Those of you who know me or my name will also recognize that I am currently the president of the NAG board- the board is not involved in any play decisions. My board title was not taken into account when the NAG decided to support Brendon’s plays- and it should not be taken into account in my response here. I am posting merely as an artist and wife. Also- thanks for putting that fun picture of me on here! By the way- I don’t smoke- last time I had a lit cigarette in my hand I was playing Rizzo in Grease (one of those vaunted classics…)

    Also- just to clarify- Brendon offered his time and talent with these shows as a fundraiser for the NAG. This is not part of the regular season- our next regular season shows are The Lady’s Not For Burning and Pajama Game for tickets. The Etters are funding all the publicity and everything else for SWSW. The NAG is paying nothing for this play except in the staff time it takes to take the ticket reservations on-line. The NAG is offering it’s theatre and support- and is receiving 100% of the ticket sales. Perhaps, Beth, you would like to come up with a fundraiser for the NAG? Contact Michael Fallon at the NAG.

    It appears to me that Beth has not read Brendon’s plays. If she had, she may still be offended, but she would see that they are not perverted nor are they base. Yes, they deal with women’s sexuality. We all deal with sexuality on a daily basis- and human society has since we evolved (or were placed on this earth). You can read great classics and find material that is far more explicit and far less humorous than these plays. The Old Testament for instance- part of the best-selling book of all time- there is nothing in these plays about a father impregnating his daughters. The Greek poets and playwrights- you will not find anyone killing his father and marrying his mother in these plays. Rob has already covered Shakespeare.

    You will find ugliness in some of the favorite plays and musicals. Oklahoma, Oliver, Carousel and Fiddler on the Roof all contain violent scenes.

    I too appreciate beauty- whether in writing, painting, theatre, nature, music, you name it. I feel happy when listening to a beautiful voice, or reading beautiful prose, or seeing a beautiful person, or experiencing the beauty of a giving and generous spirit. You may have other things you consider beautiful- beauty is subjective. For Instance, my husband and I frequently argue whether 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the best or one of the worst movies ever made.

    There is much art in the world that is not beautiful- Baldessari comes to mind- I don’t find much of his work beautiful- he is still a great artist. Duchamps has some works that are beautiful (Nude Descending a Staircase) and works that are less beautiful (found objects, etc.)- and he is a great artist, also.

    There is beauty in these plays- both in the writing and in the appearance. There are also situations that will hopefully make you think- make you look at yourself and question how you see the world. These plays are not being done to offend- they are being done to give exposure to a local artist, to provide challenging roles to local actors, and to raise money for the NAG. They were written to be humorous and to make people laugh at different sides of human sexuality. They will make you think- and they will make you laugh.

    I certainly hope Brendon’s work becomes well-known and appreciated enough to be among the classics- but for now he is a local author whose work is being supported by a local arts organization- and as his wife- and as an actress- I am very grateful for that.

    Beth- I suggest that you see the plays before you make public judgment upon them. Judge not- lest ye be judged… or perhaps Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I assume you would not like your work ripped down, classified as base and debauched, and compared to cheap wine before it has even made a public appearance. Perhaps you would like to view the plays, then write a letter to the editor commenting on what you thought of the actual work and not on what you assumed the work to be based on a title.

    December 30, 2007
  6. Dear Beth,

    I made no such “challenge” in the Northfield News article. The question was posed to me by the News photographer and reporter, Dan Iverson, as to how I would respond to people who might be offended by edgier theater, to which I responded that there is no way to know if people will be offended if the art is never produced.

    It was my same rationale for supporting the NAG’s recent regular season picks of “Cabaret” and “Glengarry Glen Ross”. I heard of no negative feedback from the community for those productions.

    Art, the uplift or degradation thereof, is always a personal experience. To me, you seem willing to stand up for what you believe to be the more moral elements of art. This is all well and good except that, to the best of my knowledge, you have never read these plays, nor have you seen them. This is their first production anywhere outside of my debauched mind.

    I’m glad you have no problem being decisive about art you have never seen. It probably saves you time, but it also closes you off from a lot of very good work because you have prejudged its apparent offensiveness based on one word in the title.

    I write for the experience of writing, to unleash energy, to have fun with words, to make people laugh, to make people cry – well, okay, I probably haven’t been able to do that one yet – and to tell interesting stories that just might sometimes have sexual themes. I’ve written about 400 plays. You could say the subject matter varies greatly, from the firmly sexual to the more sensitive or serious portrayals. You can read 366 of them here: – sorry, Griff, had to put in the plug for my own stuff.

    To my knowledge, I’ve ever written only one play that was deliberately meant to offend. But again, I did that for fun, as well, and I would never ask or expect anyone to produce it.

    Whether or not you are uplifted or entertained by my art or anyone else’s has much more to do with where you are as a person; personally, I think a good penis joke can do both. I realize, in your eyes, that probably makes me less refined and cultured, but it also allows me the freedom to write what I want without worrying about standards imposed by others. I think that dirty old man, Shakespeare, or Moliere, or Noel Coward, or Oscar Wilde, or Neil Simon, or David Mamet, or… would heartily agree.

    December 30, 2007
  7. Beth Benson said:

    The reason I wrote into the Northfield News and this blog is because of this statement in the Northfield News “Until the NAG Theater put on titles such as “Cabaret” and “Glengarry Glen Ross,” Etter said there were some fears in the local theater circle that the community wouldn’t embrace plays with content not suited for all audiences. Still to date, Etter said he hasn’t experienced any backlash.” I am the backlash. Yes, it’s a small concession, but someone has to say enough!

    Once again, I pose the question, “who decides what is decent and what is not?” We can go all around that question and accuse me of judging something I’ve not seen, but we make those type of judgements all the time. We as a community are making a judgement on Mayor Lansing without us all knowing him personally and talking to him personally about the issues he’s facing. We make judgements on Heroin users being bad for our community without actually using Heroin. Does one have to experience it all in order to make a judgement on something? So, once again, where is the standard on what is decent and good for a community?

    December 30, 2007
  8. Rob Hardy said:

    I’m confused now. The mayor is being judged on the basis of evidence of wrongdoing compiled by an independent investigator. Judging him based on such evidence seems different from judging a play based on—what? Not seeing it?

    My own writing tends to be nicer and safer and less naughty than Brendon’s, but he has a sharp wit, a flair for language, and the courage to take risks for the sake of art. I don’t like everything he does, but I like the fact that he keeps doing it, keeps creating, keeps walking that dangerous wire between inspired and just plain gross.

    Censorship doesn’t make people more decent. It only prevents them from making their own judgments and developing their own moral and aesthetic muscles. Thank you to the NAG for treating Northfielders as grown-ups.

    December 30, 2007
  9. kiffi summa said:

    The “world”is a strange, and various place…Artists of all disciplines seek to “uplift” others by simply saying “look at this thing I’ve seen in my mind’s eye”; “read this thing I’ve created by wandering down the paths of my thoughts”; “watch this play I have written to try and explain the ‘strange and various’ lives of people”…

    To try to parse out what is uplifting or not about “art” is, to my mind, a task too personal to be anything but futile.

    The National Endowment for the Arts tried to do that a few years ago, and almost succeeded in denying the larger public from seeing (what are in my opinion) some of the most beautiful photographs ever taken.

    Artists need to follow each and every vision they have, knowing that their vision will not always be greeted with total approval by all, and the general public needs to give artists the freedom to keep presenting new ways to perceive, if not understand, this “strange and various” world in which we exist.

    December 30, 2007
  10. Beth, I read with interest your comments regarding the upcoming production of “Sex with Seven Women” at the NAG theater. Allow me to respond wearing my NAG director’s hat:

    The mission of the Northfield Arts Guild is to “stimulate artistic activity in the greater Northfield area.” The Northfield Arts Guild strives to “organize, support, and promote the efforts of the community in expressing, developing and appreciating art.”

    Part of the reason we decided to produce “Sex with Seven Women” was because it fit in well with our mission. It was written by a talented local writer, whose growing skill has been increasing lauded by the community (Brendon is the writer, among other things, of the popular Jesse Jane Jamboree productions). It is also being acted by local actors, developed by local theater talent, performed in a local venue, and, above all else, its subject is relevant to a large portion of the community, many of whom are men and women who are familiar with sex and sexual issues.

    That said, the Guild recognizes the right of adults to avoid attending productions that make them uncomfortable or that they find objectionable. That is why we included strong disclaimers–that this show was for mature audiences only–in all of our advertising for the show, a likely reason the newspaper was asking that question of Brendon in the first place. It’s a delicate line. There is so much in the play that isn’t objectionable, yet we still have to make the disclaimer for the small bits that might make small portions of the audience uncomfortable–and of course it all gets blown out of proportion.

    That all said, the Guild recognizes the right of any individual to voice objections to material that may make them uncomfortable or that they may deem objectionable–even when they haven’t seen the materials. Still, owing to our mission, the Guild is of the opinion that all art–whether it be uplifting, depression, shocking, soothing, challenging, enlivening, or objectionable–will always find the audience it was meant to find.

    The Northfield Arts Guild hopes that while you may not want to attend, for your own personal reasons, a performance of “SWSW,” you may still consider attending the various future NAG productions that are geared toward other audiences. In coming months, we will be producing the musical “The Pajama Game,” the post-war comedy “The Lady’s Not for Burning,” the children’s tale “Holes,” and Shakespeare’s “Merry Wives of Windsor.” And I’m not even mentioning the 10 art exhibitions we put on every year, the wonderful art by local artists that we sell in our shop, the dance classes for kids and adults, the CVRO concerts, etc etc.

    As per our mission, there’s truly something for everyone at the Northfield Arts Guild.

    Now, if I may, for just a moment, remove my director’s hat and comment as a citizen commenter:

    I read a chunk of “Sex with Seven Women” when it came through the office (though I was careful not to read all of it–because I didn’t want to spoil my seeing it), and I have to say, it’s funny. And really good. While the situations are mature, Brendon’s writing is, as always, spot on–clever, witty, and full of sharp, unexpected observations about a subject that we all (may think we) know something about.

    In the end, “Sex with Seven Women” has something for every mature adult to think about, chuckle over, and ponder–even as they might be grasping their armchairs to keep from falling out of their seat from laughter!

    December 30, 2007
  11. John George said:

    Beth- You said, ” Where does a secular society draw the line at what is aceptable and right?” That is a good question if there are moral absolutes in society. It seems that our society has moved away from moral absolutes and is content with moving the line around to see what is accepted at a particular point in time and place. The only problem with this is that each new level of tolerance then becomes precedent for even further expansion of the line. I agree with you that this is not a play I will attend, nor is it something I will recommend to anyone.

    If everyone else wants to go see it, that is their perogative. In our society steeped in the freedom of speech, even the most base pornagraphy is acceptable and can be accessed on the internet. In the Neatherlands, even sex with a 14 year old is considered acceptable. Some college students wrestle in the mud, but just because they do doesn’t mean that I have to, also. Those of you who defend this type of entertainment may do so, but some of us also have a right to express our objections to it. I’ll side with Beth, and I don’t think I have to go see the play to do so.

    December 30, 2007
  12. John Tuma said:

    Anne Stated: “It appears to me that Beth has not read Brendon’s plays. If she had, she may still be offended, but she would see that they are not perverted nor are they base.”

    We all have to make judgments based on how things are presented to us every day as to whether we are to spend time and money supporting them. We don’t have the time to read or see every item which wants to grab our attention. I certainly understand your need, Anne, to defend your work, but I think you’re missing the point. Beth has every right to judge the work of based on how it is presented. She is simply offended that a “community theater” would sanction on a production intended to, in the author’s own words, “How do you know you’re going to offend people if you don’t do it?” Take that in combination with the warning on the NAG web site:

    “Production Disclaimer. Northfield Arts Guild Theater reaches a diverse audience. Certain patrons may find some subject matter, language and situations unsuitable in specific productions.”

    I don’t think she referred to it as “perverted” (those were your words), but is simply making the point that such productions are probably better left to other venues then our community theater. I am nowhere qualified to argue with any of you on what qualifies as art, but we all have to make judgment calls based on how something is promoted.

    For example, I found a lovely little movie by the name of Bella that was advertised as “inspiring”. I did some research and found it was a small production film that won several small film festivals. A little underdog movie that made it to the big screen. It also deals with the consequences of sexuality in our society. It further deals with how Hispanics are viewed and forgiveness. When my wife and I made a decision to spend our precious time and money to see this production we were very inspired. The point is we do make judgment calls every day based on how something is presented.

    If you can’t see how a significant number of your neighbors would be disappointed by their community theater advertising a production which was apparently designed to “offend” or that could be “unsuitable” then we will simply be talking past each other. In such a case you might have to dismiss me as a knuckle dragging conservative who just doesn’t get it. I know I come from the wrong side of Interstate 35 where we grew up learning to plant corn, build houses, treat people with respect and pray. I’m probably too stupid to understand the relationship between the Old Testament, Oliver and Sex with Seven Women, but in my book there is world of difference. I don’t need to read the play to figure that out. It is sufficiently explain to me in how your production is promoted and it turns me off.

    It’s either one of two things. A very poor job of promotion of what this play is really about or it’s not worth my time and money seeing. You may feel it’s an appropriate production for a community theater and that is your right. You and the NAG may not appreciate my position, but it does lower my view of the direction of the community theater. Also, if you want to dismiss me for lacking understanding I can appreciate and that, but it will just make it clear to me that we are looking at this from two different views of this world.

    December 30, 2007
  13. Dear Beth,

    You said:

    I am the backlash. Yes, it’s a small concession, but someone has to say enough!

    Once again, I pose the question, “who decides what is decent and what is not?”

    My answer: I don’t, and neither do you.

    As much as it may frustrate you, Beth, you do not control creative human expression. Nor do I.

    My questions to you are these, and they are not glib, throw-away queries: As the backlash, what did you propose to do? Did you want the NAG to drop the play? Did you want people to not see it? Did you wish to be seen as more morally upright than those who might chose to see it? Did you merely want to start a serious conversation about the nature of art?

    If you are “not screaming censor” (your comment #4), what are you asking or demanding to be done?

    You said you felt challenged to stand up and be counted as the backlash based on a quote you read in the newspaper article. You aired your opinion and assigned several negative attributes to a work of art with which you have no familiarity simply because of a title. You did this in two very public forums – the Northfield News and this blog. To what end?

    You are right when you say that people judge many things without experiencing them. I am guilty of that. The difference is that I don’t slam them in public forums.

    You certainly have the right to send letters and protest as you see fit, but I must let you know from experience that I have been yelling at my own writing for years, and it is an obstinate child. I suspect all art is.

    However, please don’t equate the negative attributes of heroin use and abuse on the community – which has been documented and studied and well-established for many years – with the effects of a piece of writing performed twice on a local stage as a fundraiser for a local arts organization which, I hope, can use the money to encourage “future Shakespeares”.

    A play deserves a fairer shake than a syringe of heroin hyperbole.

    December 31, 2007
  14. John Tuma said:


    The problem here is how you chose to promote this by the way you titled the play and how it was presented in the paper. It frankly looks like you wanted people to scream “censor” and “perverted” (words you are using). The same tactic Britney Spears uses when shaving her head trying to get attention. If you truly were trying to explore the struggles of sexuality for women in this age in a positive and uplifting way you could have approached the whole thing much better.

    You stated “I have been yelling at my own writing for years, and it is an obstinate child. I suspect all art is.” Maybe you should be yelling at yourself for doing a poor job of trying to promote a fundraiser.

    As a leader here in the homeschool community I am significantly disappointed. Contrary to popular belief homeschooled children are twice as active in community activities as other students. One of the outlets they find to express themselves is in community programs like the NAG. As a result of this we have to now carefully consider involvement in such an institution. We don’t care to “censor you”, but you may have just reduced your participation from community significantly by this cute little promotion technique. A promotion technique more akin to Victoria’s Secret then a community theater.

    If the NAG’s goal is to turn into a little artistic click that have no moral absolutes you are well on the way of succeeding. By the way Mr. George most people in our society believe in some moral absolutes and I don’t think it wise holding up the Netherlands as a shining example of how a society should protect its youth from sexual exploitation. Having worked with the Survivors Network, a group formed by those abused by authorities such as priests and teachers, I am confident they know that there are absolutes. The absolutes of shame, pain and suffering they have experienced from not being protected from such abuse.

    If your goal is to inspire a future Shakespeare by promotion of this play in a community theater you have all taken a step backwards.

    December 31, 2007
  15. Anne Bretts said:

    Wow, I do believe it’s something about winter in Minnesota that brings out the need for a good fight. And for those who don’t play hockey, conversation seems to be the sport of choice.
    I think this is a fascinating conversation, and one that plays out in my head quite often, so I wish people could take it down a notch and try to listen to each other a little more instead of defending their positions. I see this happen a lot on this site, where we keep repeating out positions instead of trying to seek common ground or at least mutual respect.
    I think Brendon and Anne and Michael and others are right that they have the right to put on any play they wish. I am not offended by the title or descriptions I have seen so far. I appreciate that the NAG perhaps goes overboard in warning people, which can make a play seem more dangerous than it is. I love that it is willing to take risks and support local authors, directors and actors. I understand the need to do ‘Pajama Game’ and other plays that please a broader audience and generate needed revenue.
    Beth and others bring up a point that many people struggle with, which is whether we can’t find a way to uplift and entertain…
    It’s a struggle many of us feel when we see television teaching children that marriages can be built in six weeks, based on the mean-spirited competition by a group of strangers living together in a house where they scream, scheme and live like slobs. On one level I find, ‘Bridezillas’ and ‘Survivor’ and even ‘Project Runway’ as harmless fun for well-adjusted people. But I can see that a preponderance of such shows creates a ‘reality’ that teen-agers and children and even some adults come to see as the way solve problems and treat other people.
    Personally, I don’t appreciate the humor of Jerry Lewis or the Three Stooges, but I have wasted hours watching dumb romance movies on the Lifetime channel. I know Fargo and Sweeney Todd are amazing black humor, but I have a problem seeing murder as humor.
    So, my question for Beth and John is whether it’s enough not to offend, or should we strive to teach a lesson in everything we create? Is ‘Pajama Game’ good because it is inoffensive?
    As a writer for newspapers and magazines, I have seen the argument play out over and over in whether to use a graphic photo that makes an impact but may offend readers. I have seen newspapers struggle with wedding announcements about gays and a host of other topics that are either matters of justice or totally offensive, depending on your point of view. Those of us in the business who have seen all the photos and worked with the topics for decades can forget how our work appears to people on the outside of those conversations.
    For Brendon, it might help to understand a little more how that voice in your head works. For Anne and Michael and others, it might help to explain a little more what you saw in the play that struck a chord with you and made you think others would be touched as well. What is the most inspiring piece you’ve seen on stage, and what moved you about that.
    As I said, this is a great conversation…

    December 31, 2007
  16. Ann Etter said:

    John, Beth and John,

    The words Beth and J. George have used to date to compare this play to the evils in society are: debased, perversions, debauchery, child pornography, sex with 14 year-olds and mud-wrestling.

    I have no taste for any of those.

    What I am trying to get across to you is that the play is not what your imagination seems to think it is, based on the words you and others have used. Because the title is provocative does not mean that the content is disgusting.

    I happen to agree with much of what you say about society. I just want you to understand that you have chosen the wrong target for your objection. it is not what you seem to think it is.

    Please read what you are going to insult before you publically lambaste it. You said that you carefully researched Bella before seeing it. Please afford Brendon that same respect.

    December 31, 2007
  17. John,

    It strikes me that you actually didn’t read my response #6. If you had, you would have seen that I’ve ever written only one play (out of 400 or so) that I deliberately intended to be offensive. These plays spoken of here are not of that type.

    The quote in the paper has been completely misconstrued, first by Beth Benson, as a “challenge”; now by you as the purported purpose or goal of this production. Neither is true to my intent or to the words in the article. I can understand how you might have come to these conclusions, but I don’t think you’re correct in doing so.

    Beth Benson used the word “censor”. I quoted her. I have not used the word “perverted”. I also never said I was “trying to explore the struggles of sexuality for women in this age in a positive and uplifting way…” (your comment #14).

    I have said I want the production to be fun, that I hope people can laugh. If you find uplift in laughter at human foibles and predilections, then you might also laugh and be uplifted.

    As for promotional strategy: if we promoted the plays as safe and fun for the whole family, and you brought the family, would that not be the greater breach? I think being bold and up front with the promotion and the attendant disclaimers is the more honest approach to take.

    I’m not sure what “moral absolutes” I have transcended in your view. Use of the word “sex” on a promotional poster? Giving my opinions on art and theater in a newspaper article? Having an opinion on what is “offensive” that might differ from yours?

    I haven’t the slightest idea why sexual abuse by priests and teachers is relevant; except as yet another disingenuous attempt to link my writing to such a deplorable issue by implication…. and it can only be by implication, because you know so very little about the actual work in question here.

    The NAG produced “Cabaret” without Northfield descending into decadent hedonism which hastened the rise of a totalitarian regime; it produced “Glengarry Glen Ross” without a horrific slide into abusive language among real estate agents, and it produced “Annie” without ten-year old orphans in town being threatened with switchblades by conniving, money grubbing kidnappers.

    As a community theater and arts organization, I have always maintained that the NAG should be open to all; rather than held hostage by the merely comfortable and safe. If you believe that a production that uses six actors (out of thirteen total) who have never appeared on the Arts Guild stage is somehow indicative of the formation of a “click” (sic), then it, again, points out how little you know about this production. As a community artist, to where else should I look to help produce my art?

    The NAG always needs more people to volunteer, John. Please do so. Write your own plays. Produce them. Fill them with your morality. Give the money to the NAG. I will support you. I do not worry about art. I do not fear it.

    And my name is spelled “Brendon”.

    December 31, 2007
  18. John Tuma said:


    I give Brandon the benefit of assuming he is intelligent and as a playwright understands that words do matter. It was he who came up with a title and he used the words to describe it in the Northfield News. I was attracted to Bella based on the description of the lead actor and the author that it was an inspiring story dealing with some very difficult social issues. As a result I desired to research it some more.

    The way you and others involved with the Sex with Seven Women production have been describing this play in this blog have been far different than the initial words presented in the Northfield News or what was obviously intended by the title. If the title wasn’t supposed to be so obviously provocative for the purpose of publicity one might have wanted to use different words to describe it than he did. I understand how propaganda works. I’m involved in it a daily basis. Words do matter.

    I would suggest that if Brandon spent a little bit more time “yelling” at himself about how he promotes his productions and title then they would not be compared to cheap wine. I have no problem with him being provocative, but in the form of a community theater it does cause me to question its appropriateness. Whether that is my taste or my belief in absolutes is irrelevant. It is my right to judge the quality of the work based on how it is presented and titled. It was not presented well in my humble opinion.

    My suggestion is that Brandon should have said “it is not our goal to offend, but to present some challenging issues on women’s sexuality. The title is not meant to mean a particular man had sex with seven women, but rather to explore the challenges of sexuality in this day and age”. Had he presented it that way, I would have simply walked away from it thinking it’s not something I care to watch, but he has his right to exercise freedom of speech and thought in this great nation.

    It’s another thing to try to provoke for promotion and that’s where you have entered into the lower realms which you have described as “perverse”. I have no ability to judge whether it is perverse are not, but no one can deny that the way it has been promoted by Brandon was meant to elicit such a response. To their credit, the NAG web site is a little bit more subdued. You are not going to get the joy of me calling it perverse to play into the promotion game. Beth is correct that it is a fair assessment based on information given to conclude it is cheap wine sold using provocative propaganda techniques.

    You are not going to convince me to give it the benefit of the doubt because your words of promotion have already made it clear what I should expect. It seemed obvious to me you wanted to bait people into calling it “perverse” to help promote what you call art. It’s irrelevant what I think within your clique and I hope you enjoy your time putting on your production were for your clique. What should be relevant to the NAG as a “community” theater is that several in the community were not amused by Brandon’s title and promotion techniques.

    Because words do matter, Brandon has already made it clear that he does not want any of my time or money. I appreciate his clarity so that I can move on to the next Bella.

    December 31, 2007
  19. Rob Hardy said:

    Dear Brendon,

    It seems that your evil twin, Brandon, has been offending people again. Please try to rein him in a little. He is not wholesome. He uses naughty words like “art” and “theater” and “community.” He evidently envisions Northfield as the kind of disgusting place where creative people indulge in creativity.

    Your well-meaning friend,

    P.S. I am not breaking the Locally Grown ground rules. This is not sarcasm. It’s art.

    December 31, 2007
  20. Ann Etter said:


    I’m sorry, John, it never occurred to me that there needed to be an explanation that the plays were not about a man having sex with seven women. Between the descriptions of the six separate vignettes that make up this play, the cast lists, and the decriptions of the pieces that were provided in the newspaper it should be abundantly clear that no one in the show is actually having sex (that’s what “not visually explicit” means). And certainly no one man (or woman) is having sex with seven different women.

    Perverse/perversion/perverted are all the same word and I am quoting Beth. That is not my description.

    You have referenced where you grew up and what you were taught. Where I grew up and at the religious school I attended we were taught to show respect and love for others. Casting aspersions, calling names, and insulting the work of others was not allowed.

    If you and Beth and J. George would like to have coffee and discuss this in a less public forum I would be delighted. I’m always willing to listen and discuss.


    December 31, 2007
  21. John Tuma said:


    My apologies on the name. I am dyslexic and I use this voice recognition system that isn’t always a very cooperative on similar and same pronunciations. Hopefully that also explains my poor grammar.

    You stated “I haven’t the slightest idea why sexual abuse by priests and teachers is relevant; except as yet another disingenuous attempt to link my writing to such a deplorable issue by implication…. and it can only be by implication, because you know so very little about the actual work in question here.”

    No your conclusion is absolutely wrong. If you were paying attention that was a response to Mr. George’s absurd assertion that there are no moral absolutes and any reference to that in this thread is a response to him and I do not attributed that to you. My apologies.

    You further state “As for promotional strategy: if we promoted the plays as safe and fun for the whole family, and you brought the family, would that not be the greater breach? I think being bold and up front with the promotion and the attendant disclaimers is the more honest approach to take.”

    I absolutely agree with you. How about that? I was seriously when I thanked you for being very clear that this production wasn’t meant for me and I can move on to the next attempt by an artist and the popular culture to grab my attention to determine whether I would give it my time.

    I do sense some disappointment on how your production was perceived by the public. It might have been easier to start this thread off by simply apologizing to a patron like Beth for the confusion created by a misinterpretation in the news as opposed to attacking her and trying to suck her into what appeared to me as simply a promotion gimmick. I’ve been misquoted and misinterpreted many times. Having been in the publicity game for a number of years I find it’s usually best to be a little bit more respectful when they disagree with you. You catch a lot more flies with honey if you know what I mean.

    I’m done with this thread. Pass me off as a bad memory. Best wishes for a fruitful career. As for me I’m off to find that next Bella. If the NAG puts it on I my many consider it, but there is still a big question mark for me and that should not be taken as a personal insult. It is just our reality.

    December 31, 2007
  22. William Siemers said:

    John wants Brendon to apologize to Beth???

    For using ‘sex’ in the title of a play?
    For promoting a play with ingenuity?

    My guess is that about 50% of all art ever produced is about sex…so why should we be surprised by this offering.

    I’d say Brendon has been very conciliatory in the face of ridiculous criticism of a play that no one has even seen. So maybe he needs an apology….No forget that…way too much apologizing going on in this town. (Isn’t that nice…the mayor apologized!)

    Anyway, I hope this play is a hit. I’ll be there that’s for sure. I’m already looking forward to NAG’s production of Hair, nude scenes and all.

    December 31, 2007
  23. John Tuma said:

    My apologies, just one more post for my new found friend William Siemers.

    I did not say that he should apologize, I simply said a little “honey” would do nicely next time dealing with those that disagree with you. I suggest a little careful reading of the English language might be helpful before you get too excited. So my apologies “honey” for not being clear.

    Anne Bretts, I don’t necessarily agree with all your conclusions, but I appreciate your sentiments on the nature of these blogs. To quote Dickens’ character Tiny Tim “God bless us, everyone.” Goodbye. 😉

    December 31, 2007
  24. William Siemers said:

    John…you are too sweet.

    I get it now…use a little Minnesota passive-aggresive behavior and you can get by with just about anything. Start with an apology that you don’t really mean and THEN stick it to ’em.

    December 31, 2007
  25. John,

    In your comment #20, you wrote:

    It might have been easier to start this thread off by simply apologizing to a patron like Beth for the confusion created by a misinterpretation in the news as opposed to attacking her and trying to suck her into what appeared to me as simply a promotion gimmick.

    I guess I wasn’t aware of being disrespectful to Beth Benson. I certainly never attacked her. She wrote the letter; she submitted that same letter to this blog with the preface asking for discussion. That’s not my promotional gimmick.

    She prejudged (attacked?) my play, not my promotional strategy, by calling it “cheap wine”. I don’t think I should cower and leave my work undefended; nor should I apologize to her for her confusion, when she could have allayed much of that confusion with a little more research.

    John, I will not pass you off as a bad memory. I am somewhat frustrated by some of your comments, but I understand where you’re coming from. I certainly understand how the posters and article could be interpreted, and how they might have offended some, but I can’t be held back by the fear that someone could be offended. Anything can be offensive to anyone; it would be impossible for me to produce my writing were I to overly concern myself with that worry. I do have moral standards, and there are many things I would never try to do or ask other people to do on stage. Writing creatively has actually helped me develop a better understanding of my own morality.

    I really do hope that you and many others will also start writing and producing for the NAG. They are always looking for ways to promote local art. I am definitely guilty of wanting the NAG to thrive through continued exploration of local content of all types, from all people.

    For instance, at the risk of being considered crass, I am also producing the third installment of the Very Short Play Festival. Plays can be on any subject, written by anyone, provided they are under 10 minutes long. It’s also a NAG fundraiser. In the first two years of the festival, we’ve had playwrights as young as 8 as well as those who were much older. Subject matter and tone has run the gamut from tame and innocent to brash and mature. The deadline for play submission is March 1, 2008. Production dates are April 25 and 26, 2008 at the NAG theater.

    December 31, 2007
  26. My mistake, that should be “in your comment #22” not #20.

    December 31, 2007
  27. Now I totally want to go to this show, support the NAG, and support Brendan!

    It’s “The Music Man” all over again, right here in our Cannon “River City” don’t you know? All that art that’s too steamy and perhaps…oh my..sexual. *shhhhh* Oh yes we got trouble!

    At least I know that Brendan’s show could never be about my own life with that title! *whew!*

    How do we get tickets? When is the show again??

    December 31, 2007
  28. Tickets can be purchased online and other information found here:

    Friday, January 11 and Saturday, January 12, 2008.

    8 PM, both nights at the NAG Theater, 411 West Third Street.

    If it doesn’t sell out through online sales, tickets will be available at the door starting at 7 PM both nights.

    December 31, 2007
  29. Thanks, Brendon, for putting yourself out there. Your drive to make things happen by pursuing plays like “Glengarry Glen Ross”, and the current offering deserves a big pat on the back. Of course, thanks also go to Beth for making her views known–the essence of this discussion is very important–in my eyes no easy answers to these questions, but it is important to have the discussion. I respect both views in this argument–and the more respectful yelling, the better!

    It is not so long ago, that ArtOrg was criticized by many people for upsetting apple carts. In fact, an editorial piece in the Northfield News once said:

    “These are huge demands. Maybe I would rather string beads or knit socks because I can keep my hands busy while watching reruns of ‘The Love Boat’ on TV and do two things at once. Art should be fun and on my day off I don’t want to think or feel or maybe even pray. No! I do not support the idea of or need for, ArtOrg…More importantly, these representatives have not revealed in a positive way what they think the meaning of, nature of, and use of and purposes of art are…”

    Well, sheesh! How does one respond to this other than keep going and work hard at what one believes? Challenge both people and art. We have a good environment when there is enough art to make a substantive discussion happen.

    We displayed several of our Dia de Los Muertos prints this fall at an outside gallery but it was interesting to see some of the criteria that knocked some of the pieces out of contention for display: this one has a cross, that one has a gun, this one looks like it might have a bottle with alcohol, and that one is too risqué because it shows the skeleton in a bikini!

    I think that often good art starts with some kind of tension that ultimately resolves itself in understanding. For myself, that was present in the Day of the Dead events we helped with, and I am quite happy and humbled by that outcome. I think an initial tension is present in our current project “The Twenty View of Dundas”.

    There is a tension with “Sex with Seven Women”. I hope we open a thread up–and include only those who have seen the play– and debate whether it was a success. I notice that it is showing only twice, on Friday, January 11 and Saturday, January 12 at 8pm. Wouldn’t it be great if it was held over for additional nights because it got crushed with attendance?

    December 31, 2007
  30. John George said:

    John Tuma (Gotta address the right one, here)- You said, ” By the way Mr. George most people in our society believe in some moral absolutes and I don’t think it wise holding up the Netherlands as a shining example of how a society should protect its youth from sexual exploitation.” Did I infer that the Neatherlands is a “shining example?” I must have not made myself clear. I think they are an example of where a moral slide can end up. I certainly do not support their judgements on this, and I think allowing this type of attitude toward young teens is reprehensible. Also, I’m not sure what you are meaning by calling shame, pain and suffering absolutes. They are wounds, and deep ones, but moral absolutes? Sorry, I just don’t get the connection.

    Refering back to my response to Beth about where society draws a line, my point is that the line keeps moving. Each time a more daring play or movie or whatever is allowed, the line keeps getting changed to align with what is perceived as society’s acceptance at that time. I call this moral relativance, and I believe this dulls one’s moral senses rather than sharpening them, but that is just my opinion.

    Brendon and the NAG are being right up front in their presentation of the play as being what it is. I commend them for that. I also commend Beth for speaking up and saying a title like this stirs up moral suspicions. I know many do not approach life by abstaining from even the appearance of evil, but some do. Just because something is avante garde, that alone does not make it art. Like they say where I grew up, just because the cat has kittens in the oven, it doesn’t make them biscuits. What with almost every product on the market being promoted with some sort of sexual nuance, I realize our stance is like trying to dam up Niagra Falls with a teacup, but I think we have a right to raise the question about propriety. I want Beth to know she is not alone in her opinion.

    December 31, 2007
  31. Beth Benson said:

    There are a lot of topics that I could respond to, but I’ll respond to this: “why did you write the letter and why did you publish it in such a public manner?” I’ll come to why I wrote the letter in a little bit, but the reason I published it in the public is because it’s easy to dismiss one person’s opinion. It’s harder to dismiss a community’s opinion. You have a community arts guild. When you put the name Northfield in the front of your organization, you are representing a community. If you want to produce works that need warnings on content, the community has a right to respond. I also wanted to motivate the community to inspire you to do better which you will find in my original letter.

    Why did I right this letter? I usually don’t write letters like this and usually keep my disgusts over how things are to myself. I am watching a commuity I love go down a slope into moral relativism where there is no foundation with right and wrong. It honestly grieves me. But this time it was different. I believe that the Northfield Arts Guild has a calling to be great. I believe that they can find the next great American playwright in Northfield and be the first to produce his/her work. But, from what I can see, you are settling for “edgy”, “controversial”,or “progressive”. I believe that you have two roads in front of you. You can keep producing works that need warnings about not being suitable for all audiences with profane language, sexual intonations, and nudity if you even want, or you can produce greatness. Plays that capture the hearts of it’s audiences- both old and young. Plays that stand the test of time. The road you are on now will lead to a few people in a small Minnesota town saying “that was a great production”. I’m sure there are people who will enjoy Sex with Seven Women. They may even say that was a great play. But it will end there. The other road will lead to a nation saying “that was a great play”. And that work will continue. I wanted my very public letters to try to get community pressure to expect greatness from our Northfield Arts Guild.

    There is a road you can follow where greatness will be easier achieved and you can know it better when you find it. The road is one where you follow the Creator and Saviour of the world, Jesus Christ. He is the standard of greatnes whether you believe it or not. Jesus is well trained to make the good (or even the bad) truly great. He’s made a king out of a shepherd. He took a murderer and made him a leader of a nation. He took a bunch of fishermen and made them the founders of the Christian faith. He is used to taking ordinary people and helping them to achieve their dreams and make them into someone they never thought they could be. He took me, a mom with two small children, and helped me to create something great and lasting for our community. He is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or think. He came into a world that had no hope and through his death and resurrection created a hope and a destiny for all who believe in and put his trust in Him. This is truth. This is the standard that does not change.

    So, I think the Norfield Arts Guild can do better. I believe in your future even though you feel I am only criticizing. Look at my letter again and read about what I was trying to get the community to do. Fulfill your calling to produce works of Northfield artists. Require greatness and that is what you will find.

    January 1, 2008
  32. Julie Bixby said:

    I find all of the comments on Brendon’s play very interesting. We all have a right to believe and voice our opinions, but we are warned not to judge a book by its cover and so far that is all we know about “Sex with Seven Women” (well, some of us).
    I am anxiously looking forward to seeing it. I hope that there are so “few” (as you mentioned, Beth) that there is standing room only and cries for more!
    I wish you the best and thank you for sharing your mind and heart with us.

    January 1, 2008
  33. Ann Etter said:


    One final comment- then I’d be happy to meet you for coffee if you want further discussion.

    Brendon and I have had several discussions over this topic. Ultimately, I think he and I have a different view than you regarding who art is for:

    We feel that art is for everyone. Whether Jewish, Muslim, Christian, agnostic, atheist, Unitarian Universalist, Buddhist, Hindu, Pagan, Scientologist, and any other possible sect or religion you can think of. ALL people are capable of creating inspired art and appreciating it regardless of who they follow or do not follow in their spiritual life.

    As for whether Brendon’s pieces are inspired or just plain funny- or both- that is for each individual viewer to judge. Ultimately we all speak for ourselves. Brendon is putting his art out there- and those who are interested will come and give him their opinion on his work. You are most certainly welcome to view it and then give him your opinion. He enjoys feedback from those who have seen his plays.

    January 2, 2008
  34. kiffi summa said:

    Beth: Please… to bring your very personal and obviously heartfelt religious views into a discussion of what is /has the possibility of being a “great” piece of theatre, is just too personally insensitive for those who do not believe as you do.

    Plays are just another form of writing; do you condemn all writing which does not agree with you standards of religious evaluation of “greatness”?

    When you say ” He is the standard of greatness”, as you did in you Jan 1 post, you shut out all other viewpoints or worldviews.

    I was raised to be a churchgoer; I was also raised that a religion worth valuing, required a level of tolerance that is often difficult to achieve… Try.

    January 2, 2008
  35. victor summa said:

    How fortunate it is for Northfield that this discussion’s finally got to where it has been directed since Beth first set aside any temerity to address her religious values as the judgment on the worth of art.

    Beth, It’s Northfield. No one listens.

    Still, I see a large part of this controversy overlaps much of the “values” judgment that is circulating in Northfield over the Mayor/Roder split and the Council’s “seeing the path” they want to pursue on those issues – not truly bothering to test the community’s values. Granted the Council quotes overarching communications from their “constituents” but I doubt they take an objective appraisal of all the remarks they hear. Clearly they have not listened to – or at least been moved by the many comments made at their meetings – most being direct condemnation of their choices.

    I doubt that they would value your remarks Beth, were they even expressed on subjects they regularly play around with.

    Beth, your courage to step forward is laudable – as laudable as another who might disagree with your conclusions.

    But Beth, what does trouble me about your logic as expressed in #36 above is, you peg all your values (art included) to a religious perspective – citing the mysteries of religion as being above challenge for being fact based. And with that you dismiss the artistic value of SWSW – not yet experiencing it. I can not possibly go into the vagaries of (various) religions and there varied impacts on mankind for thousands of years. Suffice to say for many – it (religion) is wishful thinking for people who have an unshakable fear – I’m not going to attack your religion or your right to have one – I will express my fear that preaching from other then the pulpit is scary to me …. hence my dissatisfaction with the City’s role in bringing religion into the Council process – so much so that Roder had to mislead the public about his role in the affair and the council, blinded by their faith banded together in verbal stoning mission in support of him.

    Now, that Shakespearean.

    So, if you were to see Brendon’s play, your opinion like mine and all the other viewers would in the end only be part of a lager voice – and whether “disgusting or genius art – it still has a place on the shelf labeled “ART” possibly, including a cautionary disclaimer.

    But how is it a Christian value for you to say to: Brendon – change your ways or suffer never finding fame (sic) That’s scary too.

    I believe that you have two roads in front of you. You can keep producing works that need warnings about not being suitable for all audiences with profane language, sexual intonations, and nudity if you even want, or you can produce greatness. Plays that capture the hearts of it’s audiences- both old and young. Plays that stand the test of time. The road you are on now will lead to a few people in a small Minnesota town saying “that was a great production”. I’m sure there are people who will enjoy Sex with Seven Women. They may even say that was a great play. But it will end there. The other road will lead to a nation saying “that was a great play”. And that work will continue.

    Should he take blind faith in your judgment? What is great? What is art?

    Beth, will you change your opinion if SWSW brings artistic fame to Brendon … and when the N’fld Arts Guild realizes equal fame for first producing it? Frankly, I won’t – I’ll stand by my judgment – no matter what the voice of the theater going public says. I hated Pajama Game … but found “The Nervous Set“ quite good .

    Finally: PT Barnum take note …. or is this the best campaign ever to drum up an audience for an otherwise humdrum piece of theater. I’ve got my tickets… SRO!


    January 2, 2008
  36. John George said:

    Kiffi- In your reply to Beth, you said, ” Please… to bring your very personal and obviously heartfelt religious views into a discussion of what is /has the possibility of being a “great” piece of theatre, is just too personally insensitive for those who do not believe as you do.” How is this different form what Beth and some of the rest of us are experiencing from your point of view? Is it OK for you folks to present your sentiments and convictions and not let us present ours? We have been putting up with this type of “entertainment” for a long time. If that isn’t “tolerance”, then I don’t know what is. Is it right for your persuasion to constantly offend our persuasion in the name of “art” and then complain if we say something about being “insensitive” to us? Just wondering.

    January 2, 2008
  37. Lisa Guidry said:

    John George, I completely agree with you. Beth continue to take your stand. My mother always said if you don’t take a stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.

    January 2, 2008
  38. Ross Currier said:

    Michael Fallon, Executive Director of the Northfield Arts Guild, wrote a post about this topic on his blog:

    Of particular interest to me were his comments along the “local” line:
    “It was written by a talented local writer…being acted by local actors, developed by local theater talent, performed in a local venue…”

    However, he also addresses the topic of controversy:
    “…the Guild recognizes the right of adults to avoid attending productions that make them uncomfortable or that they find objectionable. That is why we included strong disclaimers–that this show was for mature audiences only…There is so much in the play that isn’t objectionable, yet we still have to make the disclaimer for the small bits that might make small portions of the audience uncomfortable–and of course it all gets blown out of proportion.”

    I would suggest that anyone interested in learning more about the controversy surrounding the play should read Michael’s post.

    January 2, 2008
  39. BruceWMorlan said:

    This discussion seems to be really two discussion threaded into one. On the one hand we have the old question “what is art”. In one corner we find the “art is how I (we) force you to confront the demons that make you less than what you could be”. In the other corner we find the “art should show us what we could become, inspire us!”. My closest friends know that I have a tendency to take on too much guilt over things I had no part of (guilt by being the same gender as some perpetrator, good stuff, all the guilt with none of that messy doing something first). I do not like art that is only about confrontation. In the other corner, the pep rally crowd. Too much sugar for my taste. So, IMNSHO, like a sweet and sour, a little of both please.

    The other discussion is of the merits of this particular work. I have not seen it (yet), but I did get an advance look at it (I considered trying out for a role). I decided against it because I thought it was a bit too out there for my personal acting debut. But I found the stories to be relatively innocuous, especially compared to some of the things I’ve seen in other venues (think, Fringe Fest). Certainly no more disturbing than Cabaret, for example. Now, I am of a mind to take in a show … right here in river city.

    January 3, 2008
  40. Paul Zorn said:

    First a disclaimer: I’m a NAG board member, and as such take a special interest in this discussion. But I am *not* writing with any special NAG board authority, or as any sort of spokesperson for anybody. It’s just me.

    I think it’s appropriate — indeed, necessary to NAG’s mission — to present/sponsor/facilitate a wide variety of art and entertainment. I expect to enjoy some offerings, be indifferent to others, and perhaps actively dislike still others. Different strokes … .

    Fine, but is it OK for NAG-sponsored offerings to include stuff that might offend (rather than just not appeal to) some viewers? That’s a harder question, but my answer is “yes”, with two mild provisos.

    First, anything even conceivably inappropriate for children (who are, after all, important NAG stakeholders) should be clearly flagged. Parents, not NAG, should decide what works for their kids, and so parents need clear information. Second, any organization, like NAG, needs to make judgment calls about what is “challenging” and what is irredeemably offensive to its stakeholders. Such calls can be difficult, and they depend on the stakeholders in question. What’s right on Broadway might be banned in Boston.

    So much said, I’m fine with “Sex with Seven Women” (omit the caps and quote marks and we’d have another discussion …). Sure, the title is edgy, but I think both provisos mentioned above are clearly met. As for the play’s *artistic* merit, I’m optimistic, having seen and read some of Brendon’s other stuff. But I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve seen the play. Perhaps others will, too.

    Paul Zorn

    January 3, 2008
  41. Lance Heisler said:

    A lengthy, varied, and vigorous discussion about the presentation of art . That’s why I love this town. There will always be those who speak without ever listening, and those who listen without ever speaking, but I cling ever-optimistically to the notion that discussions like this are essential to broaden the group that does both (speaks AND listens). Give yourselves a big pat on the back, all of you.

    January 4, 2008
  42. Griff Wigley said:

    Robbie and I are going. Here’s the thank-you email one gets when ordering online:

    Thank you for your request for 2 tickets to the Northfield Arts Guild’s production of Sex with Seven Women on Friday, January 11 at 8:00 pm. A total of $20 has been charged to your card.  Your tickets will be waiting for you at the Northfield Arts Guild Theater on the evening of the performance. The doors will open for seating one half hour before the show.

    January 4, 2008
  43. Raelene Ostberg said:

    Okay. I actually read this ENTIRE blog. I really appreciate that Beth went through the effort to remind us that there are people out there who do question the Northfield Art’s Guild’s choices when it comes to edgier work. I, for one, question the choice to redo “classics” over and over. But, that is what makes us a diverse community and I do appreciate that we are a diverse community here in Northfield! Though I, like Beth, wish everyone would just submit to my ideology and the kind of art I like. ?

    A couple thoughts…

    Beth wrote:

    “I believe that the Northfield Arts Guild has a calling to be great… I believe that you have two roads in front of you. You can keep producing works that need warnings about not being suitable for all audiences with profane language, sexual intonations, and nudity if you even want, or you can produce greatness. Plays that capture the hearts of its audiences- both old and young. Plays that stand the test of time. “

    Are you saying that the only plays that stand the test of time and are “great” are those that “capture the hearts of audiences”? This is not true. But, that is beside the point. I ask…What about our minds!? I find a lot of plays, movies, etc which carry warnings actually inspire me to think. Plays that go for “capturing the heart”, often insult my intelligence. I thank God for some of the great plays that you will most likely never see. They are rich and diverse.

    Beth wrote:

    I’m sure there are people who will enjoy Sex with Seven Women. They may even say that was a great play. But it will end there. The other road will lead to a nation saying “that was a great play”. And that work will continue. I wanted my very public letters to try to get community pressure to expect greatness from our Northfield Arts Guild.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if you had the power to judge art, right now today in our “all-knowing state”, what will end up being great? Even without reading it?! Wow. I, personally, suspect Brendon may end up being remembered as one of the great playwrights. Just imagine?! From Northfield, Minnesota!!!

    Beth wrote: “Require greatness and that is what you will find.”

    I agree. However, I have a little different view of greatness. Brendon has done amazing work. And, I have read these plays. And, guess what. You will find them quite tame…. and each great in a unique way. Thanks for all your efforts Brendon. Please continue to strive toward greatness… in a variety of ways.

    Please, Northfield Arts Guild, continue to push us to new heights (for the Raelenes of the community) while making sure to hold on to past gems (for the Beth’s of the community). This is, after all, a COMMUNITY theater. Not every play can make everybody happy. Beth (and others with her views) are only part of Northfield. I am very proud that our community theater is supporting our entire community through its multiple and varied offerings. I would not value living here as much and would not be as dedicated as I am if it did not. The NAG is achieving greatness. Thank you.

    January 4, 2008
  44. John George said:

    To all: Have you noticed the significance of the initials, “NAG”? Maybe this is why they are getting “nagged” at. Just a thought, though a useless one! Just wanted to inject a little (and some would say VERY little) humor into the mix.

    January 4, 2008
  45. T McKinley said:

    I just read this entire thread, and nothing makes me happier than living in Northfield! Brendon, I have acted with you, written with you, and enjoyed your work on stage. You are a friend, a gifted artist, and a blessing to this town. To be fair, you also pitched the title and your comments around this particular play to be, shall we say, titillating. That’s all part of the fun and entirely your prerogative. By the same token, whatever rebounds from that tack will certainly land squarely in your yard. Happy raking!

    I am intrigued by the question that has arisen between the lines as this thread progresses: What would Jesus do? It’s a fascinating query, given that the theater of Jesus’ time was pretty much limited to state-sponsored torture and executions. (I don’t include religious theater because, aside from two or three notable exceptions, Jesus never went to a house of worship.) The illiterate son of a poor carpenter who never went more than 100 miles from where he was born, he may not have had the money or the interest in seeing a play like Brendon’s. But as this controversy grows, I do believe he would have followed it with interest.

    He was, after all, noted for hanging out with tax collectors, lepers, prostitutes – the despised, disfigured, and dispossessed. For most of the past millennium, actors have certainly been placed in that category by Western society; in Shakespeare’s time professional troupes were viewed with moral suspicion and women were not permitted to tread the boards at all. As exposed by the glitz, glam, and glare of the paparazzi’s strobe lights, acting is still considered a morally ambiguous profession; we don’t hang on every escapade of the Spears family for its moral instruction. I think Jesus would be right at home backstage or in a dressing room, at least as much as in the pious middle-class living-rooms and churches of the people who profess to follow Him.

    So, while I’m not sure if Jesus would actually go and see “Sex with Seven Women,” I do imagine him sitting comfortably on the steps of the NAG theater, engaging the cast and crew in a thoughtful discussion of their work. I picture him listening and laughing and probing, gentle yet firm, as he engages in a Socratic dialogue designed less to impose and confirm his own preconceptions about a particular play (or playwright) and more to explore art, the limits of the human experience, and how both can be synthesized into a meaningful communion with sacred reality. He’d show up, he’d love the artists (even if he doesn’t see or appreciate their art), and he would participate in the discussion that defines culture and tradition, even in places like Northfield.

    At the end of “Inherit the Wind,” another play that pits tradition against modernity, religion against science, and the two sides of the I-35 against one another, the last image is of an agnostic defense attorney picking up a copy of the Bible in one hand and “Origin of the Species” in the other and placing both – firmly and respectfully – in his satchel. Like the men who wrote that great, Pulitzer-winning play, I believe that plays like Brendon’s do not pose us with either/or dichotomies of morality vs. immorality or religion vs. atheism, or even represent the beginning of a slippery slope to perdition or – worse – mediocrity. It’s all part of a sacred mix, and as members of this wonderful and vibrant community, our task is to hear and learn from all sides, treat each with respect, and carry them with us – together.

    January 5, 2008
  46. T,

    You freaking genius.

    Who’s this Jesus guy you keep talking about? Sounds neat.

    It should be noted to you, and to all, that I wrote these plays, like I write all my plays, to have fun.

    I hope they make some folks laugh. That’s all.

    Maybe there’s great art in that laughter, maybe not, but that has never been my goal or my claim.

    They are words on a page. Words that I hope others might find amusing, entertaining, maybe stimulating (on occasion), but, mostly, they are words I wrote because I could.

    I’m selfish that way.

    Yes, I hope people go. Yes, I hope they enjoy themselves. Yes, I hope it helps the NAG produce more art – from anyone. Finally, yes, I hope they realize the plays are not autobiographical.


    January 5, 2008
  47. Kiffi summa said:

    T. McKinley: you have just hit on the idea for a SPECTACULAR piece of theatre…….. maybe the title could be “Jesus in Northfield, MN” or something equally self-explanatory.
    Your image of Jesus sitting on the steps of the NAG, philosophizing with actors and citizens is a brilliant idea.
    Get busy writing now, Please!

    January 6, 2008
  48. Ian Hathway said:

    I’ve just spent the last hour pouring over this running dialogue, and I must admit that though parts of it depressed me and frustrated me, I found it quite enlightening, especially T McKinley’s comments. I was very glad to read Kiffi Summa’s sentiments about Beth’s religious protest, though the following comment #38 about “you folks” using “your persuasion to offend our persuasion in the name of art” frustrated me to no end. As I recall, Kiffi had no part in writing this piece.

    As an actor IN Brendon’s work, I think I might have a different perspective than many here; when I first read through the work, I was a little unsure of it myself. And, truth be told, it wasn’t my first choice in shows to be a part of. However, after my audition, and hearing some of the pieces actually read aloud, my opinion changed. I am very glad to be a part of the show, controversy and misconstrued comments included, and believe that Brendon made a great choice in the name, because as an actor, it made me stop, take a second look, and say, “What?” (when I first saw the poster for auditions). In attracting a cast, the title, (titillating, was it called?) is a perfect hook; I emailed Brendon half in sheer curiosity to see just what this show was about.

    Irregardless, I hope to see the seats at the NAG full on opening night, and am glad to be a part of Brendon’s production.

    January 7, 2008
  49. John George said:

    Ian- Sorry if my comment about “persuasions” frustrates you, but I was trying my darndest to espress my opinion without being offensive. Looks like I failed again. But, on the matter of frustrations, titles like SWSW do get under my skin. Perhaps I am just suppose to hide my feelings and let on that they do not bother me, or at least not express them in an arena of public debate.

    January 7, 2008
  50. Ian Hathway said:

    I apologize if my reply sounded too biting; I didn’t mean it so much as a criticism as simply a statement of fact. Unfortunately, once posted, comments can’t be edited on here (can they? I don’t know how). And, to be frank, I can see how the title can get under your skin, and as far as that goes, I have no problem with that. I again didn’t mean to criticize your opinion on the title there, simply to state a point of view (the actors in the show) that may not have been heard yet. There are things that get to all of us, and that’s all there is to it. Hope I didn’t cause too much of a ruffle. 🙂
    Irregardless of whether you see the play or not, I hope you have a pleasant week. Even if I don’t agree with you, I’m glad you spoke out.

    January 7, 2008
  51. John George said:

    Ian- Thanks for the apology, but I don’t think it was necessary. I did not take offense at your observation and I certainly do not want to offend anyone by what I say, either. I’m always looking for ways to improve communication. This blog is a good way to do that. I hope you have a great week, also.

    January 8, 2008
  52. […] manner. In my opinion, that’s not what we’re getting (although the recent discussion on Sex With Seven Women comes close to what I personally consider to be the ideal balance: direct and honest exchange of […]

    January 8, 2008
  53. Griff Wigley said:

    T., that’s a great piece of writing (#48). In addition to Kiffi’s excellent suggestion to get busy writing a play based on it, I’ve got another idea. Email on the way!

    January 10, 2008
  54. William Siemers said:

    A very enjoyable night at the theatre! Kudos for all involved. I hope they sell out again tonight…the show deserves it.

    January 12, 2008
  55. Griff Wigley said:

    Here are 4 photos from last night’s performance of Sex with Seven Women.

    Sex With Seven WomenNAG Theatre in winterNAG volunteersNAG Theater crowd

    January 12, 2008
  56. Ann Etter said:

    Thank you! We sure enjoyed being up on stage last night- and you were a wonderful audience!

    We really appreciate your support!


    January 12, 2008
  57. It’s amazing to me how much a great audience brings to a performance. Thank you for coaxing the best out of us with your laughter.

    There will be some tickets available at the door tonight. Box office opens at 7 PM, doors at 7:30 PM.

    Thank you, Northfield, for the great response. It was wonderful to see so many smiles as people left the theater. It inspires me more than I can really say.

    January 12, 2008
  58. Ian Hathway said:

    Thank you so much to everyone that came! Having a great audience makes a show so much better!!!!

    January 13, 2008
  59. Jane McWilliams said:

    Where, but in Northfield, could you have a conversation like the one Brendon’s plays have evoked? I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s thoughtful comments and I rejoice in the diversity of opinion. I rejoice, too, in the diversity of art.

    Yesterday noon, I had the pleasure of attending the HD live Metropolitan Opera performance of Verdi’s Macbeth. Beautiful singing of a familiar story, retold by master of music theater. Then last night, I had the fun of attending Sex with Seven Women by a talented young playwright, strong performances of witty incidents. Verdi made me cry; Brendon made me laugh.

    As Rob said above, Brendon “has a sharp wit, a flair for language, and the courage to take risks for the sake of art.”

    It was quite a day.

    January 13, 2008
  60. Rob Hardy said:

    What struck me about “Sex with Seven Women” was not that it was obscene or sex-obsessed, but that it was concerned with the fundamental human question of how we connect with one another. Two of Brendon’s recurring themes are sex and telephones, which are two of the ways in which humans “connect.” Anyone participating in discussions on this blog should appreciate the problem of how we connect with each other in a world in which so much human interaction is virtual—online, or on the cell phone. With a lot of humor and insight, Brendon explored a world of people trying to connect on a personal level in a world where that is sometimes awfully hard to do—where our phobias and fetishes, our preconceptions and our gadgets sometimes get in the way. It was hilarious, shocking, and thought-provoking. It was real theater.

    January 13, 2008
  61. Thank you, Jane and Rob. Your words inspire me to keep plowing on with my writing.

    I’m so glad that the shows made people laugh; that was my goal.

    Rob, you, of course, had no problem seeing the real themes of the evening. It was definitely about sexuality, but also about connecting, which is something that keeps coming up in my writing. So much so, that my friend, Shari, teases me about its inevitability.

    I got the last laugh on her though. I gave Shari the line – as Sue Kline, the desperate telemarketer, in “Call Girl” – “Connections. Connections. Connect.”

    January 13, 2008

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