Chip Walton on R ratings, Venus in Fur and theater's "collective masochistic consciousness"

"You don't have to tell me about masochism, I'm in the theater," says Vanda von Dunayev, one of the characters in Curious Theater's current production, Venus in Fur, by David Ives, which tells the story of a playwright-director attempting to adapt Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's novel Venus in Fur into a play. Curious Theater's producing artistic director, Chip Walton will be participating in Rated "R" on Stage, a panel discussing sex, violence and nudity in the performing arts tomorrow evening. In advance of this discussion, Westword spoke with Walton about Venus in Fur.

See also: Emily K. Harrison and Erin Rollman on Peggy Jo and the Desolate Nothing

Chip Walton
Westword: Talk about the panel and your involvement in it.

Chip Walton: I'll be honest with you: I didn't really have a hand in organizing the panel, so I'm really just a participant, which, frankly, is kind of nice for me, because I'm often on the organizing end as well as the participating end. As I understand, it's about how provocative content and sometimes risqué content plays into the cultural sector in a way that's kind of vis-a-vis the R rating of the movie industry or the parental warnings on HBO or whatever. I think for us, the interesting thing about it, and I say this in a good way, I think our work is normally R-rated. For some organizations, that may be an exception to the rule. For us, that may just be our rule.

The panel is being described and advertised as a discussion of gutsy, provocative art. That's sort of literally embedded in our mission. I think for some organizations that may be a step outside their normal comfort zones, but for us, it's kind of right on bulls-eye.

What's the rationale for thinking about theater in the context of a rating system?

I'll tell you what I always say. It's not an exact or perfect analogy, but I think there's some value in thinking about it along the same sort of spectrum of network TV versus cable TV. I know that distinction has gotten seriously blurred over the last ten years or so. But I still do think there is a certain kind of cultural consumer that's for this because the level of the work they produce tends to be deeper, more difficult, more challenging than what you might see on CBS on any given Tuesday night.

I think there is a similar spectrum that exists in the performing arts community. I don't think one is better than the other, but I think it's important to recognize that there is that distinction and for the patrons to recognize what they're getting and what it is that they want.

What I always say about Curious, which is a wonderful thing, and it's absolutely true, I never hear from my patrons, "That play was too tough. I wish you'd give us a break." What I hear is, "I don't know if that play was a Curious play. It didn't really challenge us enough."

I think there are other people who are like, "That's not what I want. I just want to go and really be entertained," which is an important function of the performing arts as well, as opposed to have to work as an audience member. At the Curious, the R rating is less about sex or nudity or profanity. It's less about anything like that, and it's more about really sort of challenging provocative content.

You all don't actually rate your plays, do you?

The one complaint we sometimes get is about profanity. It's funny. I think part of it is a generational thing. I'm in my mid-forties, and I think some of us grew up in a linguistic world that was perhaps a little more permissive. What we do try to do is try to communicate with audiences in advance about what they're going to see. If someone really has a problem with full frontal male nudity, they know before they get to the show that it's in the show. If they want to self-select out, they have the opportunity to do so. We don't ever put a rating on it. We just try to be open and communicative about what people are going to see.

Talk about Venus in Fur.

Keep reading for more from Chip Walton.

Location Info


Curious Theatre Company

1080 Acoma St., Denver, CO

Category: General

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