“But we don’t have all the facts yet.” In nearly every conversation I had during Fringe about the Sean Neely incident, this was the inevitable conclusion. We often segued into debates about censorship in a more general or hypothetical sense, but as to whether Sean Neely’s eviction from the 2016 Minnesota Fringe qualified as censorship, most of us were withholding judgment “until the Fringe files its brief and we have both sides of the story.”
I was on board with this until I read the actual court documents.
It turns out, the Fringe has responded! Neely filed his initial complaint against the Fringe on March 16, 2016, and the Fringe filed its answer on April 19. The Fringe has not yet responded to a later Motion for Judgment, but that’s a separate step of the process; the answer is generally where the defendant lays out its defense and tells its side of the story. And the Fringe’s answer makes it abundantly clear that the festival is defending its right to censor.
Since I’m going to be writing about this, I thought I should provide an overview for any outsiders who happen to stumble across my site.
In its original form, the Minnesota Fringe’s response to Sean Neely’s lawsuit is difficult to follow because it’s mostly a list of “We agree with paragraph X but we disagree with paragraph Y,” so you have to cross-reference it with the complaint to make any sense of it.
Therefore, I have spliced the two documents together in a readable format, which I encourage people to share widely.
Click here for readable PDF compilation
If you prefer, you can see the originals as Attachments A and B of Neely’s subsequent Motion for Judgment.
When I first heard the news, I hoped there was some mistake. Perhaps someone in the Fringe office had clicked “block” accidentally, out of sheer clumsiness and without even realizing they’d done it. Surely the Minnesota Fringe would never deliberately block a user on Twitter for voicing criticism.
Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident; my Facebook feed was soon splattered with screenshots of the message, “You are blocked from following @mnfringe and viewing @mnfringe’s Tweets,” all from different people who had expressed doubts about the Fringe’s decision to remove Sean Neely from this year’s festival. Worse, those who then questioned the Fringe’s decision to block people on Twitter, were themselves promptly blocked.
This is unacceptable. It shows a profound disrespect for the Twin Cities independent theater community — and a complete lack of understanding of social media.
Like it or not, the Fringe is part of a community — a passionate, opinionated community of artists and audience members without whom the festival literally could not exist. Decisions about the festival affect all of us, and we are going to talk about these decisions. Obviously we don’t get a vote on festival policy, but similarly, the Fringe does not get to control our conversations.