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Last Updated: Monday, 15 August 2005, 16:44 GMT 17:44 UK
Springer opera tour under threat
Jerry Springer - The Opera
Jerry Springer - The Opera featured Jesus and God as chat show guests
Arts Council England has denied that it refused to fund a UK tour of the musical Jerry Springer: The Opera over protests by Christian groups.

The controversial show - which depicts Jesus, God and Mary as talk show guests in Hell - is due to start a nationwide tour in January 2006.

Producers fear Arts Council England has bowed to pressure from Christian groups, putting the tour in doubt.

But a spokeswoman for the arts body said such claims were "nonsense".

The money that we distribute to arts organisations is limited and needs to be used carefully
Arts Council England spokeswoman

She said the decision not to provide funding for the tour was financial, as the musical was already a "commercial success", and not over fears of a religious backlash.

"It is nonsense to say that the Arts Council has refused to fund the tour of Jerry Springer over fears of protests from Christian groups, or anyone else," she told the BBC News website.

"We helped funded the original production at the Battersea Arts Centre, which transferred to the National [Theatre], and we are very proud of that.

"The money that we distribute to arts organisations is limited and needs to be used carefully to help with the development of other productions."

In March this year, Christian Voice wrote to 250 regional theatres urging them to boycott the satirical show.

The letter warned theatres it would seek to prosecute them on grounds of blasphemy, leading to many venues pulling out of the tour.

'Freedom of speech'

John Thoday, the musical's producer, said: "We only went to the Arts Council because the tour was not commercial.

"It would have been if we had been able to get the full number of venues but a lot of them pulled out because of the letter they received from Christian Voice.

"That made the tour uneconomic, but we still wanted to do it because we felt it was important for freedom of speech."

Protester
Protesters gathered outside BBC buildings when the opera was aired

Mr Thoday said they had initially received a positive response from Arts Council England and were surprised when they were turned down.

"I don't know what their reasons are, but it makes me wonder whether the fear factor caused by the Christian Voice letter means they don't want to be involved in the controversy."

Mr Thoday said they were now looking at other ways of funding the 17-venue tour - which is due to start in January 2006 - adding that if they are unsuccessful the Opera may never be performed again.

String of awards

Jerry Springer: The Opera premiered at Battersea Arts Centre, south London in 2002, before becoming a big hit at the National Theatre. After an extended run, it transferred to the Cambridge Theatre in November 2003.

The show - which is based on the Jerry Springer US talkshow - picked up a string of awards, including best musical at the Olivier Awards, the Critics' Circle Awards and the Evening Standard Awards.

The BBC screened the musical in January, sparking up to 55,000 complaints before it was even aired, and 8,000 after it had been broadcast.




SEE ALSO:
Springer Opera legal bid rejected
16 Jun 05 |  Entertainment
Legal threat over Springer opera
03 Jun 05 |  West Midlands
TV watchdog clears Springer opera
09 May 05 |  Entertainment
Regions urged to back Jerry opera
17 Mar 05 |  Entertainment
BBC rejects Springer complaints
30 Mar 05 |  Entertainment
Christian group takes BBC action
14 Mar 05 |  Entertainment
Row over Springer opera donation
23 Feb 05 |  Entertainment
Springer musical to go on UK tour
13 Jan 05 |  Entertainment


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