Swastika fallout prompts theater to remove symbol from fliers, posters

The prominent display of a swastika on posters and fliers for a play showing in Ashland has triggered enough negative reaction that the theater company has removed the symbol from promotional material.

"We had posters up for three weeks before it opened and never heard a peep," Ashland Contemporary Theatre Artistic Director Jeannine Grizzard said. "We opened up that first weekend and word started getting back. The issue is the swastika."

"Breaking the Code" opened June 11 and runs through July 2 at the Bellview Grange, 1050 Tolman Creek Road. The play tells the story of Alan Turing, who broke the German code during World War II, but then faced discrimination in Britain for his homosexuality.

While the play deals with powerful human themes of good and evil as it examines the complex relationship Turing had with his society, many residents seem to have a hard time seeing beyond the swastika on the poster, according to Grizzard.

"More than the usual number of our posters are being taken down," she said.

Some businesses have refused to have the poster displayed because of the swastika, and others have had to overcome a strong initial reaction to the symbol before allowing it.

"There was some startle value at seeing the poster," said David Mannix, who plays Dillwyn Knox in "Code" and was in Grants Pass putting a poster up at a coffee shop when he ran up against the negative reaction. "They have a policy about swastikas and stuff like that. It was left up, but was the subject of graffiti. It was sort of a gut reaction. It hadn't occurred to me that there would be reflexive momentary negativity."

Grizzard also met some resistance handing out leaflets for the play during a performance of a monologue from "Breaking the Code" at the Midsummer's Dream festival over the weekend. Others have told her that the presence of the swastika made them unlikely to examine the poster closely enough to learn that it's advertising a play.

Outside the grange over the weekend before a performance, a friend of one of the cast members was going inside the theater, which has a large version of the poster in front, when a group of teenaged boys yelled "enjoy the Nazi fest!"

"When a patron's harassed, that's the end of the line for me," Grizzard said. "We decided on Sunday to change it, and the whole board agrees."

The board replaced the swastika with a "gegen Nazi" symbol — a fist smashing a swastika that has come to represent the opposition to modern Nazis in Germany.

Attendance at the plays has been poor so far, according to Grizzard, but she doesn't believe the swastika is to blame.

"We've had about 25 people at each show, and a good turnout is between 60 and 80," she said. "But there have been competing events like graduation and the opening of the Elizabethan Stage."

While disheartening, the poster problem has not been the biggest challenge facing the production. Many members of the theater have experienced tragedy over the last two weeks, including deaths in two families.

"The poster is the least of our problems," Grizzard said. "We'd like more attendance and we're getting the word out there that this is a play about defeating the Nazis and overcoming adversity."

Myles Murphy is an editor and reporter with the Daily Tidings. Reach him at mmurphy@dailytidings.com.

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