This saga has dragged out over the last three days. It's a sad, sordid story that should serve as a cautionary tale to us all: that old saw about "any publicity is good publicity" doesn't always hold true.
The first we heard of the story,it was from a Reliable Source; Christine Dolen, the Drama Queen. The story appeared in her blog on January 6, and it was straightforward enough; Rising Action makes Phelps' calendar
. She starts off describing Fred Phelps, a loathsome creature:
...he has spent the bulk of his golden years (and the years leading up to them) spewing what he believes to be Biblically-justified hate. He and his followers picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard, the young gay man whose murder was detailed in Moises Kaufman's The Laramie Project. Gay men are apparently No. 1 on Phelps' enemies list.
Obviously, I missed the parable where Christ preached funeral desecration. But the crux of the story follows, and there's a curious sense of foreshadowing:
So it is hardly surprising (except perhaps for the relatively small size and short history of the company) that Oakland Park's Rising Action Theatre has become one of Phelps' targets with its current production.
Dolen actually makes an excellent point here; hardly anyone in South Florida knows about Rising Action. Even given the influence of the internet, Rising Action is a guppy in a fairly large lake of theatrical endeavors.
Actors' Playhouse did La Cage Aux Folles
a couple of years ago: they are a much larger theatre, with a larger audience, a prime downtown location just a block from City Hall. I remember doing Keely and Du
at Florida Stage: we were worried about pickets protesting the sensitive nature of topic (in the play, a conservative christian group kidnaps a woman from an abortion clinic intending to force her to carry to term). We had faced protests a few years earlier for bringing the AIDS awareness play THE INNER CIRCLE
into Palm Beach County schools. We'd already gained notoriety: we were a perfect target, but not only did no one picket, no one wrote nasty letters. Caldwell has also done a number of gay-themed plays; it's a pillar of south Florida Theatre. Surely their
productions would have prompted action.
But no one seemed suspicious, just surprised. The community seemed to be lining up to support the small company that is "dedicated to promoting and educating the public in diversity and tolerance for all people through theatre arts
...artistic director David Goldyn says commisioner Larry Gierer and several ministers plan to be there in support of artistic and religious tolerance...
The article is emailed around, and posted on Facebook several times. Many of us marked our calendars and counted down the days.CHAPTER 2
The next we hear of the story, there's a change in plans, as reported by Mary Damiano
in Miami Artzine.
The Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas has canceled its planned protest of Rising Action Theatre in Oakland Park and their production of The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told. The protest had been scheduled for tonight, Friday, January 16.
But before we can let out a sigh of relief, out comes the surprise twist:
According to Shirley Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church, last December, someone who identified themselves as being associated with Rising Action Theatre e-mailed Westboro Baptist Church asking them to picket the production.
Rising Action artistic director David Goldyn said that he did not send the church an e-mail asking them to protest, but that he later e-mailed the church thanking them for the publicity generated by the protest. Goldyn said ticket sales skyrocketed after news of the protest broke.
Now, I know quite a few producers who assumed that this was, in fact, a publicity stunt.
"In no way shape or form did anyone from my theatre start this," said Goldyn, "and it hurts me that somebody would say so."
Hmmm. Maybe those on the business end are just cynical. Damiano doesn't really imply anything, and doesn't supply anthing that actually contradicts Goldyn. A bunch of people erased the date from their calendar.
"We see that they accomplished what they were after--getting their publicity," said Phelps.
Could this be a petulant attempt by Phelps to cast doubt on Rising Action?CHAPTER 3
It turns out that Mary wrote her blog after discussing the issue with Brandon K. Thorp, the fiery young theatre critic for the New Times. He wrote about in the Broward/Palm Beach New Times' blog, Juice
I wasn't going to write about the cancellation, because I liked the idea of SoFla's political class showing up to do battle with the Baptists and leaving unfulfilled. But I did mention it to my friend Mary Damiano, the editor of The Miami ArtZine. She decided to blog about the cancellation, and to confirm the information I gave her, she put in a call to the Westboro Baptist Church.
But Damiano may have been trying to give Rising Action the benefit of the doubt, because she didn't include all the fruits of that phone call. As she left it, we might have
believed that Westboro Church was trying to undo the positive effects of its previously announced protest by making it appear
that Rising Action was complicit in creating the protest.
And there it might have rested, if David Goldyn hadn't
done something incredibly stupid
He sicced a lawyer on Damiano.
...this mild treatment was enough to prompt a call from Goldyn's lawyer and even a hideous phone call from David himself, in which Goldyn allegedly called Damiano "pigheaded" and "revolting" and claimed she was trying to destroy his theater.
This prompted Brandon's story, and prompted Brandon to include the smoking gun: the email that Westboro Baptist claimed was the basis for the scheduling of the protest:
Sent: Saturday, December 27, 2008 2:56 AM
Subject: Rising Action Theatre Presents The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told
Rising Action Theatre Presents The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told.
This is a gay play that features Adam and Steve and Jane and Mable in
the garden of Eden. The first act is a gay retelling of the Old
Testament of the Bible from the creation all the way up to the
nativity which features a pregnant lesbian. The second act is set in
modern day NYC and features the same characters, only they have no
recollection of their past lives.
This is a play that is an absolute affront to everything traditional
Christians hold dear, and a prime target for protest. The theatre is
located in Fort Lauderdale in a very gay suburb, surrounded by gay
clubs, shops, and cafes. As a part of the Miami-Fort Lauderdale media
market, home to more than 6 million people, media coverage would be
heavy and would reach many households.
The theatre's website is located at www.risingactiontheatre.com
there you can find an address and information about the show which runs from now till Jan 18th 2009.
You can go here to read media coverage about the show:
(END OF LETTER)
It takes a tremendous set of balls to threaten a lawsuit if you knew that there might be an email undermining your position completely. Either David Goldyn has a big brass set, or he didn't know that there was such an email.
But why would Westboro Baptist complete fabricate such a letter? It makes no sense. It's also reasonable to accept that the only way they'd target such a small and relatively unknown theatre is if someone had urged them to do so.
Brandon's position is that while Westboro Baptist is a cult of extremists, they do live by a strict code based on the Bible, and thus it's unlikely that they'd bear false witness by making up the message, or even altering it to look as if Goldyn sent it.
David Goldyn comments on this story:
It's hard to deny a rumor. Have you ever tried it? The more you deny it the guiltier you look. So I am in a funny situation. So here goes.
I assure you the email supplied by the church is a forgery. I don't know who did this and I am not pointing fingers. I am not the source of it plain and simple.
Neither Brandon Thorpe nor yourself interviewed me before going to press with this inflammatory story.
Prior to Dec 29, I had very little knowledge of who Fred PHelps or Westboro Baptist Church was.
It seems very odd to me that members of our theatre community are so quick to point fingers. Are we that jaded that you would take the word of something called "godhatesamerica" and "Godhatesfags" over one of your own?
These accusations are repugnant and hurtful.
Well, I've noted, I was giving you the benefit of the doubt following Mary Damiano's story. But when people start making threats of lawsuits and hurling invectives, well, I take exception to that. Damiano treated you very fairly, especially in light of comments made by one of your actors.
And as for contacting you; I aggregate stories published on the internet. I don't call people for stories. I don't do interviews, and I don't review plays. I find what's out there that's pertinent to my charter, and I put it together so it's coherent, and I publish it. If you wish to comment - well, you've already discovered that you can do that.
I would never have entered the fray but for Brandon's report. I see that Brandon's story has been removed; I see that the New Times is willing to take your word over that of Westboro Baptist, or at least over the word of its own journalist who claims to have contacted the organization.
I'll grant you this much: I've altered the title of the post, and included your comments into the body of the article.
But frankly, I'm still suspicious. Brandon is correct that it is highly unlikely that anyone working with Fred Phelps forged an email with your name. Christine' observation that Rising Action is an extremely unlikely target must also be considered. And I must consider that whoever wrote the email included not one but TWO links to promotional stories. I spend hours a week tracking down those kinds of links; they're not easy to find. And yet whoever wrote those stories knew right where they were. Why not just point to your website, which is far more logical and a lot easier?
If the party sending the email simply wanted to call Fred Phelps down on you, using your name to do it has no benefit, since it wouldn't take much to determine that the name on the email matches that of a person working at the target organization. Which, it seems to me, is ultimately what happened.
I will stipulate that without the entire original email, including the paths in the headers, it cannot be demonstrated that you are, in fact, the party that sent the email.
But the lesson here, David, is still yours
to learn: Mary was willing to let it stand. She even printed your statement denying contacting Phelps without contradiction
. She reported only facts: Westboro Baptist Church was canceling the protest, that they only scheduled that protest because some one sent them an email informing them of the play, and that Westboro Baptist believed that the message was sent by someone with Rising Action theatre, and you stated that that person was not you.
Which leaves the question: if David Goldyn didn't send the initial letter, who did?Final Chapter
Well, as it turns out, someone from Rising Action - or at least its production of Most Fabulous Ever Told
- has stepped forward to accept responsibility for the letter.
Jan 24, 2009
To whom it may concern:
This issue of David Goldyn at Rising Action Theatre being accused of sending the Westboro Bapist Church a letter prompting the planned protest has just come to my attention. I am Larry Fields, I appeared in the production as Adam, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that David Goldyn DID NOT SEND the referenced letter. I sent it. I sent it to them using my real name and my real email address.
The church has fooled all of you, in an effort to (surprise surprise) hurt this gay theatre. The South Florida Theatre Blogspots states "It's the epitome of arrogance to threaten to sue someone for saying something about you that you know beyond any doubt is completely true," and it goes on to say "It's the 21st Century, people. The Information Age is in full swing." That's a good point, about the information age, and you should know that not only is this claim by the church NOT "completely true" but also EASILY verifiably false using some of that 21st Century technology.
Contact Bellsouth. Ask the ISP if any email originated from his IP address on that hour and date with that message in the body of the email sent to the church's address? NO. I sent that release to the Westboro Baptist Church, that is verifiable. I sent it to them from my home in Miami on my own time from my computer and using my email address. I sent it in the "comments" page. In this 21st Century age of technology is it easy to cut and paste an email message together to create a false email, and are you shocked that the Westboro Baptist church would do such a thing?
They took David's email address from when he emailed them telling them that they were responsible for surging ticket sales, and they pasted it onto my original letter, because they didn't know who I was, but they knew that he was the producer, so they wanted to attribute the letter to him, in an effort to cause trouble for Rising Action. Had due diligence been performed you would have discovered this.
By publishing this story without properly vetting it for accuracy you are harming a local theatre in our community and a producer who did nothing wrong. A full retraction and apology to him and his company is warranted. This is simple ethics.
As for my involvement. Let me make clear, I am an independent contractor for any company that I work for, including Rising Action. I am not an employee, they are in no way responsible for what I do on my own time. I sent that letter to Westboro in an effort to use them, a vicious anti gay hate group, to the advantage of a gay theatre company, by giving the theatre increased media visibility and coverage. It was my intention to use Westboro Baptist Church to help a gay company, I had no malicious intent and as a private citizen with no official ties to any theatre company I am totally within my rights to send them what amounted to a press release.
I never made David Goldyn or any of the artistic staff at Rising Action aware of my actions. It came as a surprise to me that the Westboro people actually took my bait. It is unfortunate that you at the South Florida Theatre Blogspot, Brandon K Thorpp, and Mary Damiano have been duped and used by the Westboro church to harm a local theatre. Again, just a little investigation on the part of the journalists covering this story would have ended it before it ever began. The records are clear, and I'm sure David Goldyn would be happy to have Bellsouth provide you with proof that no such email ever originated on its server from him.
Westboro Baptist Church is not exactly a trusted source. They are a fanatical hate group, our press in the theatre community here in South Florida should not take their word, or God forbid their side, without making sure that what they claim is true. In this case it is a total bold faced lie.
And a little side note, you reference my letter to Mary Damiano, admittedly written in poor taste in talking about David Goldyn. He had nothing to do with that. I have spoken to Mary on the telephone and I have written her two separate letters of apology for my bad taste and poor judgement in sending her that letter. I believe she will be publishing that letter in the next edition of Artzine.
Please make this right.. Please don't attempt to harm a theatre's reputation that does such a unique thing in our community, providing a gay theatre for everyone. David Goldyn DID NOT WRITE THAT LETTER, AND HIS REACTION TO IT WAS GENUINE. I have no reason to lie about this, and there is hard evidence to back it up.
I believe Larry. It's not the first ill-advised letter he's sent
But he also makes the claim - similar to Mr. Goldyn's - that if I had called Rising Action, I would have been able to clear this up. And that's simply not true. Mr. Goldyn was already on the record stating he didn't send the email. Had I called him up, he would have simply repeated his earlier statement. Mr. Goldyn knew
that he didn't send it, but that's not the same thing as having evidence to contradict the evidence showing that he had
For that, we needed Larry Fields, and until he admitted sending the letter, we had no reason to call him.
As for "vetting for accuracy," it shows a particular amount of gall on Fields' part to claim that Mary Damiano was "duped," when in fact she published an entirely accurate
story. She alone was willing to accept Goldyn's statement at face value.
If anyone owes Mr. Goldyn an apology, it is Larry Fields. He alone knew all the facts about the matter. He alone took the steps that led to the current situation. At any time, Fields could have contacted Damiano, Thorp, or myself, and presented the facts that only he had access to.
Instead, he waited until Rising Action was pretty well coated in mud.
So sorry, Larry. You are not in a position to lecture anyone on ethics. I wont' be retracting anything, and I certainly won't make your apologies for you. This is your mess, Larry.
But now, I think, we have all the facts.
- Actor Larry Fields decides to 'help out' his theatre by convincing a radical right wing religious organization to picket the theatre. He sends them an email suggesting that the production would be a good opportunity for a picket.
- Westboro Baptist schedules a day to picket the production that coincides with other activity in Florida.
- The Miami Herald picks up the story, and it quickly circulates through the theatre community. Not only is a counter-protest discussed, people start buying tickest the show in support of the organization.
- David Goldyn sends an email to Westboro Baptist, taunting them with the fact that their scheduled protest has helped to promote his show.
- Westboro Baptist cancels the protest, and claimed that someone from the theatre had tipped them off originally.
- Mary Damiano's story was completely accurate; she reported what she was told by Westboro Baptist, and she printed David Goldyn's statements denying that he sent it.
- Goldyn, unable or unwilling to believe that anyone from his organization might have contacted Westboro Baptist, makes an outraged phone call to Damiano, and consults a lawyer.
- When Brandon followed up with Westboro Baptist, they saw an opportunity to discredit the theatre, and took Fields' original letter and pasted the header from Goldyn's latter message taunting them about how their announcment had helped his ticket sales to the body of the original tip.
- Goldyn, knowing that he didn't send the tip, is still outraged, and convinced New Times to kill the story.
- By this time, I've picked up the story. Recognizing that the only way the story makes any sense at all is if someone from Rising Action had originally tipped them off, I'm not willing to completely drop the issue, although I - albeit grudgingly - admit that there's no strong evidence that David Goldyn was that person.
- Larry Fields comes clean.
What a sordid little affair! Who knew all this could circle around a small theatre in Wilton Manors?
Larry is correct about one thing: Rising Action Theatre does
fill a niche in the local theatre scene. It's a shame that Larry's plan backfired in such a spectacular manner. If he hadn't written the letter in the first place, none of the rest of it would have happened. The show would have gone on, ticket sales might not have spiked, but maybe word of mouth would have gotten them there anyway.
If David Goldyn hadn't gotten angry about Damiano's entirely accurate story, Brandon would never have leapt to her defense, and I never would have picked up the story, and we would never have learned the truth: Larry Fields has no future in Public Relations.
Oh, and we've also learned that Westboro Baptist is willing to lie and cheat to acheive its ends, thus revealing their complete and utter hypocrisy. Which, ultimately, is no suprise to anyone.