After the curtain call at a mid-January performance of the Public Theater’s Arguendo, a dramatic and humorous theatrical verbatim reading of the oral argument court transcript of the 1991 U.S. Supreme Court case of Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc., Brooklyn Law School Professors Nelson Tebbe and Bill Araiza took to the stage for an audience “talkback.” Experts in constitutional law, the professors transformed the stage into a classroom for a night, hosting an engaging discussion of the constitutionally complex subject matter of the show.
“The audience asked some thoughtful questions, and it was interesting to explain some of these constitutionally complex issues to a group of non-specialists” said Araiza. “And getting up on the stage, especially at the Public Theater, was actually a lot of fun.”
|Prof. Nelson Tebbe|
The case dealt with two adult entertainment businesses that intended to feature fully-nude exotic dancers as part of their entertainment lineup, but were prohibited from doing so by an Indiana statute regulating “indecent behavior.” The case reached the U.S. Supreme Court on First Amendment grounds. The issue before the Court: Is dancing naked in an adult entertainment establishment a protected exercise of artistic expression?
In a plurality decision authored by Chief Justice Rehnquist, the Court found that nude dancing was indeed expressive conduct under the First Amendment, albeit “only marginally so.” The Court went on to further decide how much constitutional protection nude dancing warranted, and whether the Indiana statute was, in fact, an unacceptable infringement on the freedom of expression.
“Arguendo was a very creative and intelligent theatrical interpretation of the case,” said Tebbe. “There was a lot of entertainment value in hearing the very dignified court debate on the subjects of nude dancing and a constitutional right to wear “pasties and g-strings,” which was verbatim from the case.” Tebbe went on to explain that the Court eventually found that the Indiana statute could in fact regulate nude dancing because the government had a moral interest (preventing nudity) in doing so.
Both professors spokes enthusiastically about their talkback experiences, though neither has yet decided to trade in their academic credentials for a career in the theater.
Read more about Arguendo.