Ads stir up, refer to drama

“Sexy,” “scandalous” and “unforgettable” are the words the Yale Repertory Theatre uses to describe Frank Wedekind’s drama “Lulu.” But according to two major newspapers, the play isn’t the only thing pushing the envelope.

The Yale Rep had intended to publicize its upcoming production of “Lulu” with newspaper advertisements featuring a photograph of a woman’s bare torso with an apple obscuring the pubic area.

Both the New York Times and the New Haven Register refused to run an ad for the Yale Repertory Theatre’s production “Lulu” that featured this image, displayed here on a poster in front of the University Theatre.
Blair Benham-Pyle
Both the New York Times and the New Haven Register refused to run an ad for the Yale Repertory Theatre’s production “Lulu” that featured this image, displayed here on a poster in front of the University Theatre.

But both the New York Times and the New Haven Register refused to run the ads on the grounds that the image was obscene, and alternative ads for the performance, which showed a woman’s hand holding an apple, ran in both papers on March 18.

Drama School Dean James Bundy said the controversial image was developed in the summer of 2006 to promote the production, which will run from March 30 to April 21. The image was also used in conjunction with a subscription campaign last fall, and it continues to be displayed on the theater’s Web site and on posters outside the theater and the Drama School.

Bundy said the ads were closely scrutinized before going into production.

“Many people within the organization looked at the image,” he said. “We recognized that some people might be uncomfortable with it, but we also felt it captured something essential about the play and the production. ‘Lulu’ is a complicated, adult play, and the image communicates that quickly.”

Jacques Lamarre, associate marketing director for the Yale Rep, said that the Times responded almost instantaneously when the ad was submitted, and the Register’s refusal came shortly thereafter.

“The artwork submitted for that advertisement went beyond our standards for nudity,” said Abbe Serphos, public relations director for the Times.

Lamarre said that such an outcome was not entirely unanticipated.

“Was I disappointed? Yes. Surprised? No,” he said. “I think we knew that this one would likely run into trouble. But the daring work that’s done on the stage needs to be met with daring images.”

The New Haven Advocate agreed to run the ad with the original image, and the Hartford Courant reproduced a copy of the image for a story it ran on March 20.

Outside of the Times and the Register, few people have raised objections to the “Lulu” ads, Lamarre said.

“I can’t think of anyone who’s had a negative reaction at the Drama School, other than a laugh at the fact that the media thinks our posters are scandalous,” Thomas Russell DRA ’07 said. “If people think the poster is risque, wait until they see the play.”

The Yale Rep’s Web site warns that “Lulu,” which will be directed by Mark Lamos, features nudity, violence and sexual situations. But Bundy said that such a production is nothing out of the ordinary for a theater that has become known for its choice of challenging and often controversial material.

“Great theater confronts subjects that are difficult and rich with ambiguity,” he said. “The Yale Rep has a reputation for doing just that.”

Still, Adam Sussman ’07 said he could appreciate why the Times and the Register might raise their eyebrows at the content of the “Lulu” ads.

“I see why some people would object to that,” he said. “Because of the diverse reader base of these main-area newspapers, I can understand their decision.”

Although Lamarre said the toned-down image of the hand holding the apple is not as effective as the original in conveying the strong nature of the production, “Lulu” will not suffer from a lack of publicity.

“The day the Courant broke the story about these ads being rejected, visits to our website increased by 20 times,” Lamarre said.

The production has also had more advance-ticket sales than any other Yale Rep show this season.

“But it’s not just about publicity at any cost,” Lamarre said. “It’s about a production of a great play that ought to be seen and experienced by audiences. Hopefully this production will be very well received.”

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