Ever since sexual assault allegations began to crop up against Bill Cosby, the famed comedian has either ignored them or issued a denial, most recently going to far as to say "a guy doesn't have to answer to innuendos." Now, it looks like we may see that line of thinking taken to its ultimate logical conclusion with The Bill Cosby Assault, a play slated for a 2015 Philly debut.
Coming to us from Philadelphia magazine scribe Victor Fiorillo, the production is currently up on Kickstarter seeking some $10,000 in funding to "tell the stories of the accusers and the skeptics through monologues, readings, dramatizations, movement and multimedia."
Producing the play independent of Phillymag, Fiorillo has gathered Philadelphia theatre personalities like James Ijames, Amy Smith and Jennifer Kidwell to develop The Bill Cosby Assaults, which still is only in very early development. It will be Fiorillo's first professional foray into writing and producing theater.
It is, ostensibly, an off-the-wall idea — one that is at once challenging and intriguing, if only for its controversial feel. But, like The Laramie Project or The Last Days of Mankind before it, The Bill Cosby Assault could well provide an important, somewhat distanced lens through which we as a society can organize our thoughts on the situation at hand. Emotion, after all, is more powerful than information when it comes to worldview.
I recently had a chance to speak with Fiorillo about his upcoming play to get his thoughts about the inspiration behind the play, the possible legal implications, and the support he's received among Cosby's alleged victims.
Check out the interview below:
Philly.com: Why choose to present the Cosby accuser stories as a stage play specifically over, say, a film or other digital presentation?
Victor Fiorillo: I've wanted to get my feet wet in theater writing and production for some time, and then this story kind of peaked. I realized that in the spirit of great documentary theater like The Laramie Project, the Cosby story might lend itself to a theater production. It's a pretty thick conversation to have, and like so many topics, the theater can provide a way into it.
PC: You've covered the Cosby sexual assault allegations for some time now. Do you see any ethical issues or conflicts of interest in mounting a play on the topic?
VF: I will approach doing this play with the same ethical and journalistic beliefs that I have in reporting about Cosby. I'm going to put the Cosby story out there on a stage in Philadelphia. To me it's just another platform to deliver my writing. There are some questions that remain to be answered about the journalistic implications of this, but I personally don't have any qualms.
PC: Will any of the donations or income from performing the play go toward benefitting charities or organizations combatting sexual assault and abuse?
VF: When I originally started pursing this with Kickstarter, that was something I intended to do, but Kickstarter makes it pretty clear that you're not allowed to solicit charitable donations. However, if this becomes a stage production in September, I will figure out a way to do that. I'm not doing this to get rich, especially as someone who knows how theater works in America in 2014.
PC: In your Kickstarter description, you say that you are "confident that The Bill Cosby Assault will be a success." What does that success ultimately mean?
VF: Success would come on many different levels. At a minimum, it would be that the play gets mounted and seen, and that it starts or continues a conversation in a productive way. This was a story back in 2005 and 2006, and then it went away. It's obviously a much bigger story right now, but I don't know if we'll be talking about it in September 2015 if not for the production of this play.
PC: Are you concerned about Cosby's lawyers getting litigious over the Kickstarter or the production? Could they be successful in doing so?
VF: I don't have any fears about Cosby's lawyers going after the Kickstarter per se. I would think that Cosby and his lawyers would have more issue with the play itself. They haven't made any legal claims against anybody at this point, and in order for them to do so they'd have to be willing to dispute the allegations and prove that they are false. Countless words have been written about Bill Cosby at this point, so if he chooses to go after my project, I will defend it vigorously.
PC: How do you plan on structuring the play? Will it be the voices of the accusers alone?
VF: It won't be these women's stories presented in a vacuum, absolutely not. For one, I don't think that would be fair, and for another, that just wouldn't make for good theater. We have to get into the many-layered conversation about rape culture and sexual assault, the media and Cosby, race, celebrity — all of these things play into the story. Cosby's voice, the voice of his lawyers, the voice of his accusers, and the voice of the many people who are skeptical of those accusers will all be factored into the play.
PC: Have you contacted Cosby's accusers about the play? Do you foresee any resistance in its production on their part?
VF: I'm pretty self-aware of how I might offend people when I do things like this, believe it or not. I've let some of the victims know that I'm working on this. I haven't received any resistance from them. The very first contributor to my Kickstarter, and the largest contributor thus far at $100, was one of the accusers — Kristina Ruehli.
PC: Do you think the play ultimately could be viewed as exploitation of these women? Have you faced that criticism so far?
VF: My hope here is that this does the exact opposite of exploit them, and I would feel horrible if any of them felt that they were being exploited. There may be some in the media or theater world that think I'm exploiting them or this situation, but that's just not really the case.