A Trump Skit, A Town Outraged, A Community Theatre in Turmoil

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When one thinks of Breckenridge, CO the first thing that usually comes to mind is their popular ski resort. Then perhaps their famous Oktoberfest. But probably no one thought it would be home to a brewing controversy involving its local community theatre. A controversy that has led to threats of boycotts and the resignation of two theatre officials.

All due to a satirical sketch poking fun at Donald Trump. 

In December of 2017, it was announced that Erin Gigliello would be taking on the role of Executive Director at Breckenridge Backstage Theatre. Her optimism and excitement were evident by her comments to the local press. 

"I'm so excited to be a part of it," she said. "And on a side note, I am really excited to be living and working in here, to be a part of the fabric of Breckenridge. It just seems like such a wonderful environment to go to work every day, and I'm excited for it."

However, just seven months later Gigiello would be announcing her resignation from the position.

So what happened? Well, it all started at the theatre's annual fundraiser. 

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Billed as "Putting the 'fun' in fundraiser," Breckenridge Backstage Theatre's annual "Backstage Bash" is their biggest fundraising event of the year. Tickets cost $125 per person, and the event included food, drinks, and live/silent auctions. As per tradition, the event also included more adult-oriented entertainment with performances and sketches. This year, the theme was Las Vegas and one of the sketches was a take on the Camelot scene from Monty Python's Spamalot. 

According to reports, the sketch was set in Camelot, Nevada and featured a representative of the city's commercial world through a casino and hotel tycoon considering a run for the kingdom. We can all guess who that might be. Much of this character's lines were exact quotes made by Trump himself. While Trump was never named in the sketch, the impression was obvious and some in the audience weren't happy about it and made their anger known to theatre officials. 

The following Monday Nina Jannetti, who is the board chairwoman of Breckenridge Backstage Theatre, released the following apology:

"We would like to apologize to those guests who were offended by a brief political satire skit performed during our program, and please know that this will not happen again. The intent of the evening is only respect and gratitude at an event that is so meaningful to us, our patrons, and supporters."

Erin Gigliello turned in her resignation the very next day. 

She told the Summit Daily, "I would just say that the board and I didn't see eye to eye on some things. But I wish Backstage the best and don't want this to distract from the amazing theater that (artistic director) Chris Willard puts out in the community."

Artistic Director Chris Willard also echoed the board's stance but also offered some thoughts on having a sense of humor. 

 Chris Willard

Chris Willard

"We acknowledge that this particular forum may not have been the correct one for a brief discourse on national politics," Willard said to local news, talking specifically about the Backstage Bash. "Obviously, these are sensitive times in which we live, but my hope is that the theater will always remain a place where we can welcome differing points of view that reflect our society, culture, and even our politics. And if we can't laugh while we do it, then what's the point?"

Last week, Willard announced his own resignation. 

"(Wednesday) marks my 13th anniversary with the Breckenridge Backstage Theatre," states an excerpt of Willard's resignation letter, the only piece of the letter that was provided to the Summit Daily.

"Looking back, I am immensely proud and satisfied with the theatre's growth and accomplishments during my tenure," the letter continues. "I will always remember the wonderful years of being part of such an honest, authentic and supportive Rocky Mountain community."

While Willard has not stated the reason for his departure, it's not hard to imagine that it might be caused by the backlash from the community over the Trump sketch. 

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Following the sketch and Gigiello's resignation, some in the community weren't willing to let it go. Some wrote letters and posted on social media displaying their outrage. 

Janell Bednara wrote to the Daily Summit, "Taking swipes at a sitting president is not only immature it is also in bad taste. In my opinion, it reflects more on the bad taste of the individuals involved than the president."

 Erin Gigliello

Erin Gigliello

Kim McGahey was a bit more apocalyptic with her disdain by writing, "She (Gigiello) thinks it's OK to kick socialist sand in the faces of the hard-working Americans who donate money to the town's many charitable causes like the Backstage Theatre; and that we patriot contributors are stupid enough to sit there, be ridiculed and still write the checks that keep their nonprofit doors open. Little does she realize that she and her cohorts are kicking a sleeping giant who has finally awoken after 50 years of cultural slumber."

Deep breaths there Kim. 

While some might think that much of this vitriol has to do with the sketch alone, it would seem that they might have been some underlying political issues before the fundraiser even began. 

In addition to being the theatre's Executive Director, Gigiello is also a Democrat member of the town's council. Add that with the Trump sketch and it's not hard to believe that some in the community would claim there's political bias going on in the theatre. While you might think that something like this must be happening in "Trump Country", it's important to know that Breckenridge is anything but. 

According to voting statistics, Breckenridge is 61% Democrat. And according to voting results, Summit County(which includes Breckenridge) voted overwhelmingly for Hilary Clinton by 59%. So this issue proves what a vocal minority can do. 

But now with the news of Willard's departure, outrage is coming from the other side with some even calling for a boycott of the theatre. Mark and Annie McKinnon wrote, "The Breckenridge Backstage board, and more specifically its chairwoman, folded like a cheap suit. The responsibility of a board is to further the mission of the organization. This board abdicated its responsibility to the Breckenridge community by placing a higher priority on political correctness than art."

While I myself don't agree that a boycott is necessary, I do think that Jannetti and the rest of the board at Breckenridge Backstage Theatre need to seriously re-evaluate their principles and priorities. They've set a terrible precedent for themselves by going out of their way to try to appease a small vocal minority. 

Also to those angered in the Breckenridge community, Donald Trump isn't the first President to be lampooned and he won't be the last. As long as jokes don't cross the lines of common decency, lighten up.

Then again for many, the perception of the lines of common decency seem to be blurred these days.