To the editor:
I am writing today in response to Deanna Isaacs’s Culture Club article of 12 April 2002 entitled “Sweetback Stabbers?” I found her reportage excellent and the article well written. As a long-standing member of Sweetback Productions, however, I feel it is incumbent upon me to express my distaste with some of the remarks in the article, address their probability, and set the record straight.
I know Kelly Anchors and Mike McKune well, and have worked with Sweetback from its inception. Along the way I have also worked with Steve Hickson, David Cerda, Pauline Pang, and Richard Lambert. From Sweetback’s first show, through Plan 9 From Outer Space and Female Trouble, and most recently The Birds (after a too-long hiatus), I have collaborated closely with Sweetback as a lighting designer and technical director. Unpaid and utterly free of expectations, I always jump at the chance to work with Kelly and Mike–they remain two of the most steadfast and visionary people I have met.
Never, in more than 15 years of theater experience, have I heard of such blatantly slanderous and inflammatory rhetoric as Cerda and Hickson put forth. As for Pang and Lambert’s apparent stance, I remain likewise shocked.
Aimless accusations never portray reality. The fact is, when Kelly recently approached five actors from the cast of The Birds about the upcoming Sweetback show, four of them responded enthusiastically–script unseen. This is likewise true for the seven Plan 9 cast members who immediately accepted the opportunity to work with Kelly and Mike again. If, as Cerda charges, the cast of The Birds was “unified by our disgust,” how is it that so many people wish to return to “hell” and “a nightmare” and screaming and constant crises?
The notion of a molting of founding board members–or any members for that matter–is ridiculous. It is no surprise that Cerda cannot be more specific about citing examples. It rarely happens in this manner–Anchors (and McKune for an apparently unspecified reason) was booted with no attempt to adapt or to reconcile differences. Remaining are only humiliation, cold E-mails, and nasty allegations.
(Incidentally, if anyone’s modus operandi at Sweetback is “a default setting at ‘crisis,'” it is mine. Hickson, Pang, Cerda, Lambert, as well as Kelly and Mike and many others across Chicago, can attest to my frenetic energy and compulsive precision; my own enthusiasm and focus are sometimes misinterpreted.)
It is most disappointing and shameful that Cerda, Hickson, Pang, and Lambert’s solution was to apparently shed their love for their friend and acquiesce to “the unfortunate psychology of theater.” I shudder to think what manner of draconian practices this notion might entail. Moreover, Pang’s E-mail smacks of Reagan-era bogus rhetoric and thinly veiled threats: mistakes get made and “founders get separated.”
Anchors is correct when she asserts that if a breakup was inevitable, it should have been handled differently–don’t adults and friends and lovers and businesses and theater companies try to work through their differences? Inherent to theater processes is a certain amount of spousal abuse, if you will, as egos and tempers flare and recede. But does not wanting to work with someone even though you love her and even though she’s brilliant necessitate a hurtful breakup?
Kelly Anchors is brilliant, and I love her too. She’s difficult, and so am I, and so is anyone who ever gave a lonesome shit about anything they do. And that makes me love her even more. And, above all, want to work with her again and again.
We will never know what exactly led the board to act so coldly to their friends but one thing above all is certain–as it always is with breakups–there is more to the story than meets the eye. Oscar Wilde put it best when he wrote, “The truth is rarely pure, and never simple.”