Appropriateness of show at Fringe Fest in Jeff Park sparks debate


A one-person show titled “A Virtuous Pedophile,” which will be part of the Chicago Fringe Festival in Jefferson Park over the Labor Day weekend, has sparked a lot of debate on social media in the past few days.

The festival’s Web site lists the show’s content as PG-13 (parents strongly cautioned) and has the following one sentence description: “Can liberals accept that pedophilia is a legitimate sexuality?” Pedophilia refers to adults who have sexual fantasies about or engage in sexual acts with prepubescent children.

The Web site states that the show’s description and rating were provided by the artist, whose name is listed as “tds” from Phoenix. Some of the festival’s other shows are rated NC-17 for adults only.

The Fringe Festival in Minnesota reportedly did not let the artist perform a monologue from the viewpoint of a convicted pedophile, and he later sue the festival.

Fringe festivals attract performers from around the world, and the artists are chosen by a random lottery, and organizers promote the festivals as being uncensored and unjuried.

For the past several years, the Jefferson Park festival has been held at different venues in the commercial district. There are normally about 50 differed shows, including some shows that are designed for children.

In his weekly newsletter, Alderman John Arena (45th) said that he remains a strong supporter of the festival but that he will not be attending the “A Virtuous Pedophile” show. Several years ago Arena helped recruit the festival to his ward, as it used to be held elsewhere in the city.

“Chicago Fringe Festival’s announcement of this year’s lineup has sparked important conversations. While the Fringe Festival has always been known for being challenging and unpredictable due to the lottery selection process, a show with the deeply offensive and repugnant title and theme of ‘A Virtuous Pedophile’ crossed a line for me and many of our community members.

“Art is a medium that is occasionally uncomfortable, provocative, and triggering. When art challenges us the most, it is important to remember the significant role it plays in our society. And ultimately, the best response to art we find disgusting and offensive is to reject it in the marketplace of ideas.

“While some might attend, as is their right, I won’t be viewing this provocative show. But I hope you’ll join me in welcoming the 49 other shows that Chicago Fringe Festival will bring to our community later this month,” Arena wrote.

Arena’s office reportedly received complaints about the festival.

“There are no controls in place,” a resident said of the festival’s content. “What boundaries will be pushed next year?”

The resident said that she opposes censorship but feels that are more appropriate venues for the festival given the family-friendly nature of Jefferson Park. “We have block parties and neighbors wave at each other,” she said. “Do we have to be a destination for alternative art?”

“This is not a censorship issue. It’s a sensitive issue,” the resident said. “Pedophilia is not behavior we want to promote or want to normalize.”