Boston Children’s Theatre is scrambling to deal with the fallout from a bitter dispute over onstage nudity in a production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.’’ One company board member abruptly resigned Saturday from her position — the latest development in a controversy that has raised questions about censorship and whether there should be limits on freedom of expression in a children’s theater.
The company’s staffers followed through on their vow to go on strike Saturday, forcing the cancellation of this weekend’s classes at Boston Children’s Theatre. Meanwhile, the fate of the central figure in the drama, executive artistic director Burgess Clark — who lost his job, at least temporarily, due to the contretemps — remained up in the air.
“There’s been no change in Burgess’s status,’’ executive director Toby Schine told the Globe Saturday.
In a letter sent Friday night to the board’s executive committee, staffers warned that their walkout “will significantly impact’’ the company’s annual fund-raising gala, scheduled for May 16. Schine said he is talking with staff members to “get clarity on what our next steps are.’’
Schine confirmed Saturday that Peggy Barresi had resigned from the theater’s board. She was one of two board members — Nicole Gakidis was the other — whom Clark accused of demanding that he delete a nude scene from “Cuckoo’s Nest’’ in which a 21-year-old actor was seen naked for about 25 seconds. Clark has argued that the scene is integral to the play.
Barresi denied Friday that she sought removal of the scene, saying in an e-mail that the issue was “about not following due process.’’ She said that “a decision to use nudity, a potentially controversial decision for a children’s theatre, was not brought to the Board for discussion,’’ and insisted, “There was never a dictate from the Board to censor the nudity.’’ She did not reply to a request for comment on Saturday.
Clark’s job status remains an open question. Last weekend, incensed at what he insists were attempts to censor the nude scene just before the final few performances of “Cuckoo’s Nest,’’ he decided to quit, and went so far as to write a letter of resignation. However, Schine presented an unusual suggestion to him: that Clark accept a layoff, in what Clark said was “a stop-gap to keep me from resigning’’ that would also allow board chairman Hank Miller “time to garner a united front on the board.’’
On Saturday, Schine defended the decision to include nudity in “Cuckoo’s Nest’’ — a decision some have called misguided and irresponsible.
“We do have shows that are much more traditional children’s fare, and we also do shows that challenge the boundaries of children’s theater,’’ he said. “This is one of those shows that is pushing that boundary. It’s at the discretion of parents as to whether they want their children to see the show.’’
The theater did not allow patrons under 14 to attend “Cuckoo’s Nest’’ unless they were accompanied by a parent or guardian, and took pains to give advance warning of the nudity, including posting signs at the theater entrance and mentioning it in pre-show speeches. “It’s absolutely our responsibility to make them aware of the context,’’ Schine said of parents. “And we did that at every opportunity.’’
Schine said that since the controversy erupted, parents with children in company programs have expressed “a lot of support.’’
“We’ve been inundated with calls and e-mails, a lot of them supporting the artistic expression, and saying the show was tastefully done and this should be a non-issue,’’ said Schine. In an e-mail Saturday, Clark echoed that, saying: “We have been inundated with support (from as far away as Luxembourg and Los Angeles).’’Don Aucoin can be reached at email@example.com.