Less than a week before the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival gets underway, organizers with the event announced Friday they were removing a play from its lineup after learning a playwright convicted of possessing child pornography was involved with the production.
The Fringe Festival said the move to pull the play Who Goes There? was undertaken in accordance with the Fringe Theatre’s Safer Space policies.
The decision was made after organizers said David Belke participated in the show’s production. In 2017, the 57-year-old former substitute teacher was sentenced to six months in jail and his name was added to the sex offenders’ registry after pleading guilty to possession of child pornography.
Watch below: (From October 2017) David Belke, a well-known Edmonton playwright and public school teacher pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography on Thursday. Kent Morrison reports.
“We will immediately engage in a structured conversation with the community about this issue to discuss how we move forward,” the Fringe Theatre’s executive director, Adam Mitchell, said in a news release. “We are dedicated to evolving our Safer Spaces policy.
“We cannot do that and allow the show to continue.”
The festival said any tickets already purchased would be fully reimbursed.
“Fringe Theatre has implemented its safer spaces policies, developed over the past two years, from the moment it learned of Belke’s involvement,” the festival said, without elaborating on what exactly that entailed. “After receiving feedback from the community, and despite best efforts to mitigate harm, the decision was made to remove the show from the festival.”
Speaking to reporters on Friday afternoon, Mitchell said the festival learned that Belke was the playwright behind the show about eight weeks ago, at the festival’s program deadline.
Mitchell said the festival immediately spoke to the producers and the venue that was to host the show to “pursue risk-mitigation around the production.”
“What we’ve heard since, is that — from our community — was that was just not good enough and in order to maintain a safe space for everyone in the festival, we can’t have this production of this show at this time,” he said.
Belke said the “risk mitigation” the festival had considered with regard to the play, would have limited his ability to further take part in the show to being an audience member. Now that the play has cancelled, Mitchell was asked if Belke would be allowed to enter festival sites as a spectator.
“Ultimately, we don’t have any restrictions on people attending the site and my understanding is that David Belke doesn’t have any restrictions to be in public spaces.”
Mitchell said he believes the decision to cancel Belke’s plays is a separate issue from artistic integrity and that it is not an attempt to censor a production.
He said the festival will continue to work to further develop its Safer Spaces policies.
“It is, I think, a prominent discussion in our industry and in all industries right now. Festivals and the arts industry has been a high-profile industry for assault, harassment, sexual assault etc. Our commitment to providing a safe environment for everyone involved, runs deep and it runs throughout everything that we do.”