Dolphin Show draws criticism for handling of director resignation

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Dolphin Show draws criticism for handling of director resignation

Past Dolphin Show cast.

Past Dolphin Show cast.

Colin Boyle/Daily Senior Staffer

Past Dolphin Show cast.

Colin Boyle/Daily Senior Staffer

Colin Boyle/Daily Senior Staffer

Past Dolphin Show cast.

Crystal Wall, A&E Editor

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On Tuesday, The Dolphin Show, the largest student-produced musical in the country, came under fire over its handling of the resignation of Communication junior Tucker DeGregory as director, which was rooted in the group’s institutional issues and differing opinions on the type of art the organization should be responsible for bringing to the Northwestern community.

Amid tensions rising among the show’s executive board, the group issued a statement on Facebook, signed by the “Producers & Executive Board of the 78th Annual Dolphin Show,” announcing DeGregory’s resignation as the director of the 2019 production. The statement, which has since been deleted, affirmed it “was the correct decision moving forward after long, challenging discussions with our executive board.”

“After comments about race in our room were made that made members of our board actively uncomfortable, we believe this change will allow us to move forward and heal. While we trust these words may not have had these intentions, our board could no longer move forward bearing their impact. We want our community to be inclusive, diverse, welcoming, loving and caring, and we believe this is the first step in addressing Dolphin’s past and looking toward Dolphin’s future,” the statement read.

Within hours, the post was riddled with controversy, accumulating over 50 “angry” Facebook reactions and a long trail of comments. Several of the comments targeted the nature of the post, labeling the statement as an attempt at “gaslighting” without context and as an unfair, slanderous attempt to place the blame for institutional issues brewing within the group on one person.

The Dolphin Show producers and executive board declined to comment.

DeGregory was named director of the 78th Annual Dolphin Show in April, which he described as an “amazing opportunity.” He had choreographed “Ragtime” and “Hello, Dolly!” and was thrilled to take on such a role in this organization.

“Truly, Dolphin has been my favorite organization on campus, which is why this is kind of crazy,” DeGregory said in an interview with The Daily. “It has led me to figure out what I want to do professionally.”

However, tensions began growing as the group’s executive board, producers and director started the show selection process. When a student petitions to be the director, DeGregory said they pitch several titles they want to pursue. This year, many of the titles he suggested featured characters of color. They included “Hair,” a musical centered around the 1960s sexual revolution and hippie “tribe” culture, and “West Side Story,” which explores the racial divide between whites and Puerto Ricans in 1950s New York.

After the group collected the rights to a handful of musicals, DeGregory, the executive board and the producers held a 6 a.m. meeting at Panera Bread in Evanston in April to discuss their options, during which he said the executive board unanimously voted to make “Hair” the 2019 production.

However, the afternoon after the decision had been reached, the producers and director received an email from an executive member expressing their concerns about the choice. The member admitted they had not read the script before the vote, but after reading it that day, they felt there needed to be further discussion on the issue.

At midnight, the group reconvened to continue the dialogue surrounding the show, specifically about the role of race in the play. DeGregory said he had consulted with members of the black theater community to hear their thoughts on the show selection both before the show was pitched and after the board’s concerns were heard.

Communication sophomore Lucia Boyd, Dolphin’s former director of marketing, said the apprehension stemmed from the use of the N-word in the show and the portrayal of racial stereotypes. Although the group had received permission from show licensor Tams-Whitmark to remove the word from the show, the board decided to repitch shows to honor the fact that certain members felt uncomfortable by the choice, Boyd said.

This time, most of the talks centered around “West Side Story” and “Big Fish,” a show about a father-son relationship. However, DeGregory said “West Side Story” raised the discussion of casting, as board members wanted to ensure Dolphin did not put on a white-washed production. To address these concerns, DeGregory said he spoke to several Latinx members of the theater community to hear their input. Boyd said while these Latinx students offered to share their thoughts in person with the board, they weren’t invited into the discussion room by the producers.

Communication junior Desiree Applewhite, a friend and roommate of the former director, acted as one of DeGregory’s consultants when considering the portrayal of black characters in “Hair.” Applewhite said she was concerned about the lack of black and Latinx voices in the room, especially since none of the executive members held those identities.

“The board had so many times when, although no one on the board is African-American or Latinx, they felt they could speak for those groups and completely ignore members of those groups,” she said.

Despite the executive board originally favoring “West Side Story,” the board began leaning more toward “Big Fish” after further discussion. However, Boyd expressed her concerns with the show — she said the show’s female voices were belittled in the male-dominated show. Combined with the show’s setting of Alabama and the recent abortion ban, Boyd said she worried it would be a problematic production.

However, the board had been discussing these shows for days, and the producers motioned for a final vote, which Boyd said made her feel like her points were ignored. She said while members of the board tried to mitigate her disappointment, DeGregory was the only one who had reached out afterward to her to validate the point she raised and continued the discussion with her outside the room.

The next night, a member of the executive board sent out an email to the team, addressing the discussion and specifically calling out a comment by DeGregory about whether or not the Dolphin Show will pursue “challenging” work in terms of race. DeGregory expressed his apologies if his statements discredited the work team members were doing to pursue inclusive theater on campus.

These tensions did not ease, though, and it eventually led to discussion of DeGregory’s role by some producers and members of the executive board. In a closed door meeting without him, Boyd said a divide emerged among the members of the executive board as to whether they would support the impeachment of DeGregory, with the threat of members resigning on the table.

Last Monday night, the show’s producers made a motion to impeach DeGregory, and the board voted in favor. However, Boyd said the producers failed to notify DeGregory in a timely fashion. Despite the lack of a formal statement, Boyd said most of the theater community had heard the news, including DeGregory himself. As a result, DeGregory formally resigned as the show’s director.

Over the next 24 hours after DeGregory’s resignation, four of the seven executive board members stepped down — something that was not mentioned in the group’s statement. Boyd was one of them and expressed her concern about the released statement.

“I think it was very slanderous,” Boyd said. “It was just a defamation of a particular person — extremely unprofessional and extremely hypocritical.”

Boyd made it clear, however, that thoughts of executive board members resigning had been brewing before the impeachment vote. She said she thinks the root cause of the resignations centered around discussions and decisions made on behalf of unrepresented identities without their input. This challenge was paired with the strenuous circumstances of the meetings — held in the early morning or late into the night with little facilitation, the process was potentially damaging to the mental health of members.

However, Boyd disagreed with the message of the post and how it was handled by the remaining board members.

“I personally, before this statement was released, wanted Dolphin to release a statement holding themselves accountable for the harm they had caused to the community and everything that has happened,” Boyd said. “I don’t really know what the best way for that would have been or how that’s even possible, but the statement that they did release divided the community even more.”

Despite her disagreement with how the situation was handled, Boyd said the remaining members of the Dolphin Show are still students who make mistakes and learn from them. Even while the actions made received attention, she said the community should honor the fact that Dolphin, like other student groups, is a learning process.

Email: crystalwall2020@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @crysticreme

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