“Whorehouse coming fall 2005” :: AU Theatre Banner Causing Controversy

Auburn University :: Theatre Banner Causing Controversy
WSFA TV Montgomery, AL

One word is turning a lot of heads and drawing much controversy. “I think it is dramatic,” says Joseph Ansell, Interim Dean for Auburn University’s Department of Liberal Arts.

The theatre department is promoting “The best little whorehouse in Texas” by hanging a banner on the theatre. It reads “Whorehouse coming fall 2005.” Ansell says, “Given where we are and the fact there is a lack of support for the arts in the region and certainly on this campus, getting people to pay attention is important.”

A little background will likely be helpful here.

Auburn University is a state land grant university. It is public. It is also a rather conservative environment.

The public relations quandries are: (a) this is the bible belt, (b) the banner is up as thousands of state high school students are on campus for a wide variety of camps, and (c) Auburn is considered by ‘some’ to be one of the world’s largest Baptist universities.

The latter is not true, of course, but it does – in a way – define the environment this little controversy is taking place within. Auburn actually started as a Methodist college.

Among the activities taking place on campus while this banner flies? Camp War Eagle (freshman orientation), band camps, cheerleader camps, sports camps, various conferences and much more. All draw not only students, but their parents, to the Loveliest Village on the Plains.

Some aren’t happy.

Me? I think it is harmless. However, the double entendre is not the banner message I would have chosen – given the environment. The one thing I learned in many years of promoting activities on university campuses is this – it is quite political.

So, how would you handle this PR problem? I wish the Theatre good luck.

The good news from the story? One of our graduates, Sally Pitts, was the reporter. Sally is a wonderful young woman and has a bright future in broadcast news.

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0 thoughts on ““Whorehouse coming fall 2005” :: AU Theatre Banner Causing Controversy

  1. Allan Jenkins

    Why not? The play IS called The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas; if Auburn is not too conservative to stage a play with that title (the play itself being harmless, as we all know), then why not play on the title?

    Having been born and raised in the South, I am not surprised by the issue. Having left the South, I can say only that we Southerners can, from time to time, be way too squeamish and nervous.

    I apply the Jubal Early test: Would Jubal Early have been scandalized? No? Then it’s a fine banner. Carry on.

  2. Robert

    Allan, my only change would have been to have the entire title there, instead of the phrase.

    Just so you’ll know, this banner is about one story high/wide and is placed at the point where – each day – hundreds (even thousands) of students and their parents walk by many times during the summer. The theatre lies directly in the path between student housing and the main campus areas.

    Their strategy placed it well, yet failed to take into account the mores of those visitors. (Or, I’m grinning here, maybe they did. I don’t know.) Also, every day is a slow news day around here. So, it screamed for attention.

    As for Jubal Early, I don’t know if you’re talking about the Civil War General or the Firefly series. Neither would likely be scandalized. I just don’t see the comparison.

    Perhaps last year’s production of Equus is a better example. Just the play’s topic brought controversy, although minimal. The theatre isn’t afraid of tackling controversial issues. Ultimately, this probably won’t cause any harm to the program. It certainly created awareness.

    Still, in a university environment where cutbacks have rumored even the removal of the theatre program due to low enrollment and high costs (although that is debatable) it just adds a bullseye to their profile that is likely unwelcomed.

    This will all likely go away until the students return for fall classes. Then, I can see it all returning to local news. Controversy of the week, kind of thing. College campuses thrive on those things. 🙂

  3. Matt C.

    One correction: Auburn is one of the largest Methodist colleges. Given 1) Auburn’s history (started by the Methodist church before the Civil War) and 2) despite the conservative atmosphere alcohol flows a little too freely for those who want it (I’m a Methodist, so I can say that).
    I like the new layout, Robert. I’ll have to start coming back more often. Being looking for activity on my blog again soon.

  4. Robert

    Hey Matt,

    Yep, I say that sort of ‘tongue in cheek’ as to describe the conservative atmosphere.

    Auburn is considered by ’some’ to be one of the world’s largest Baptist universities.

    The latter is not true, of course, but it does – in a way – define the environment this little controversy is taking place within. Auburn actually started as a Methodist college.

    Of course, you and I both know that some Baptists do partake during their college years. How many, I don’t know. But, it isn’t unheard of.

    Thanks for the kind words about the layout. Please keep in touch. Always good to hear from you.

    Take care.