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Protests Ignite Over Kaleidoscope’s “Polish Joke”

Kaliedoscope Theater Productions – a small Buffalo theater company known for putting on smart comedies – is currently producing a show about a man deeply conflicted over his Polish roots. Throughout the play, the man learns to confront the stereotypes he’s grown up with, eventually coming to the realization that he should not be ashamed of his rich heritage. 

“The message is to be proud of yourself no matter who you are. Whatever your heritage is, you should stand up and be proud of it,” said Alison Louis, a former intern for KTP, who performs its shows at the Marie Maday Theatre at Canisius College. Sounds harmless enough, right? Perhaps even a production you’d be interested in seeing?

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“Polish Joke,” however, has been the center of controversy recently as members of Western New York’s Polish community protest the play, claiming it perpetuates Polish stereotypes. The Am-Pol Eagle, a local Polish newspaper, published an editorial lambasting the production for its depiction of the Polish community. “Everything we have learned about the play indicates to us that it clearly portrays Poles and our Polish community in a negative light,” the editorial reads. “We … join those calling on Canisius College to stop ‘Polish Joke’ before it can cause damage to our community.”
Last Saturday, a group of protesters picketed outside of the theater where “Polish Joke” is performed. “It implies that we are imbeciles, idiots, and therefore the connotation of the title itself is offensive, no matter the content of the play,” one protester proclaimed. Many people also carried signs showing anger over the show’s logo and program’s cover art. Louis said throughout the protest members of the theater company – many of whom are Polish themselves – tried to work with the protesters, offering them free or reduced price tickets, so that the protesters could actually see the show they were protesting against. No one accepted the offer, however, even though many have not seen or even read the play. 
Megan Brenner, a senior at Canisius, saw the show Saturday night and found nothing offensive about the production. She said the protesters need to see the play before making judgments. “I don’t feel like the people who are protesting against this have really taken the time to really see the show. If they had seen it and really listened to what was said, they would see how great a message it has,” Brenner said. 
Since the drama first erupted, KTP has made some attempts to suppress tensions. It has contacted the protest groups and offered to have cultural performances, like Polish dance groups, precede the show, for instance. However, the cries to stop production and remove KTP from its stage on Canisius’ campus have only grown louder. The theater company also recently released a statement criticizing these censorship tactics. “Kaleidoscope Theater believes in the importance of education in realizing the promise of American life and takes pride in promoting knowledge and respect for all cultures and heritages,” it read. “Our mission continues: ‘To be an instrument of enrichment, enhancement and enlightenment through the creation of quality theatrical experiences.'”

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Because of the protests, KTP may not be able to perform at its current location in the future. Canisius revoked its rental agreement with the company, which allows it to perform and rehearse at the Marie Maday Theater. “Kaliedoscope Theater Productions has been such a helping hand to the theaters groups here on campus,” Brenner said. “I think Canisius would see a great loss and would be kicking themselves in the end if they let go of their contract over a really small incident.” The theater company had already finalized its 2009-2010 season and begun selling tickets before Canisius pulled the plug, further complicating the situation.
“Polish Joke” will finish its run this week with performances Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30PM, and a matinee on Saturday at 3PM. The company asks anyone interested to see the show, and judge the show and the controversy surrounding it for themselves. For more information on the show and tickets, head over to KTP’s Web site

(All photos taken by Alison Louis on Saturday, June 20. The bottom image is used on the play’s cover and other promotional materials.)

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