Pearl Bailey play’s premiere canceled over writer’s ‘culturally insensitive’ emails

A screenshot of the Utah Shakespeare Festival website shows a photo of Kim Staunton, who was set to portray Pearl Bailey in "Pearl's in the House." The play has been canceled.

ST. GEORGE, Utah — The discovery of “culturally insensitive” emails sent by a play’s creator has led the Utah Shakespeare Festival to cut the world premiere show from this summer’s roster.

Pearl’s in the House, a musical about the life of legendary singer and civil-rights trailblazer Pearl Bailey, was abruptly removed from the season calendar this week after festival officials discovered the offensive emails sent by playwright Art Manke.

While the contents of the private emails were not made public, casting was the subject of Manke’s ire, according to a statement issued by festival administrators Friday afternoon.

“Our 2018 season is thematically based on ideas of the adverse effects of intolerance in our culture. The offensive communications that led us to cancel this production are completely contrary to these values and the artistic objectives we are pursuing this season,” Executive Producer Frank Mack said in the release.

Artistic Director Brian Vaughn also weighed in.

“It is an unfortunate set of circumstances for all the artists who have put so much work into the process, but our organizational culture and values take precedence always,” he said in the statement. “This was an incredibly difficult decision because of the impact this would have on so many parties; however, continuing the production would not add to our mission and our values but would detract from them.”.

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The theme of this year’s festival is “The Other,” with the season’s offerings focused on tolerance and appreciation of those who do not fit into society’s preset groups.

Pearl’s in the House was developed at last year’s festival as part of the WordsCubed new play program. Manke and actor Kim Daunton were set to bring a full production to the stage in August and September, according to the festival’s website.

Manke is an award-winning regional theater stage director and co-founder of A Noise Within, a classical repertory theater company in Pasadena, California, according to his IMDd bio. He holds an MFA from the American Conservatory Theater and is a five-time winner of the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award, according to the Utah Shakespeare Festival site.

Additional performances of An Iliad will fill selected slots in the calendar previously designated for Pearl’s in the House. Festival guests already holding tickets for the show will be contacted by the festival for help with exchanges or refunds.

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