New Bedford's Zeiterion Theatre has fumbled in its decision to cancel the scheduled appearance of the world-renowned Edwards Twins. The arts are about taking risks, pushing limits and offering sometimes provocative performances that challenge the mind and generate discussion. The "Z" has instead folded like a house of cards, caving to political correctness and opting instead to play it safe.

The Zeiterion brass has canceled the Edwards Twins May 2 performance, citing concerns about the use of "blackface" in past performances.

"The Edwards Twins are impersonators and, although they were not impersonating artists of color on our stage, they do impersonate them at other venues,” the theatre wrote. “Our community let us know that the fact they use blackface at all is what matters,” according to a statement from the theater.

The Edwards Twins are not just "impersonators." They are "master vocal and makeup illusionists" who become and perform as legendary stars such as Barbra Streisand, Elton John, Cher, Billy Joel and yes, Ray Charles, Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder, to name a few. Some of these performances require the use of skin-darkening makeup to complete the illusion.

The "Z" statement continues, “Blackface perpetuates systemic racism, which contributes to the marginalization of black people, and the marginalization of anyone jeopardizes the safety of our community. The use of blackface by any performer regardless of their stated intent is dehumanizing and to dehumanize any group of people does not reflect the values of the Zeiterion.”

This is not blackface. Blackface is when a white person creates a caricature of a black person by using very dark or black face paint with their eyes and mouths circled by white paint as was popular with minstrel shows and vaudeville performances early in the last century. Blackface was used to get laughs at the expense of black people. What the Edwards Twins do is to honor great performers, white and black, by becoming those performers. That is not blackface; it is talent and respect for the artists they impersonate.

The Zeiterion Theatre, fearful of being criticized for being politically incorrect, has not only deprived the community of an opportunity to see a wonderful and spellbinding performance by two very talented performers, but has shown a true lack of dedication to the arts and the rights of free expression.

Today, the freedom to express yourself as an artist in New Bedford has been shaken to the core. It is truly a sad day when the arts community cancels or refuses to book performers who might be perceived by some as being controversial.

This is a solemn day for the arts community in New Bedford. Tragic, since we've worked so hard to establish New Bedford as a community that supports its artists.

Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at barry@wbsm.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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