A controversial pedophilia-themed show that was dropped in 2016 from the Minnesota Fringe Festival — triggering a lawsuit and a leadership shake-up at the festival — is back in the lineup of the Upper Midwest's largest performing arts festival.
But instead of being called "Having Sex With Children in My Brain," the show is now simply named for its writer-performer: "Sean Neely."
"My only goal has been to perform this show, and that's what we can now do," Neely said by phone from his home in Seattle, where his family relocated.
That came as news to officials of the festival, which kicks off next Thursday.
"It's the first I'm hearing anything about the content," said Dawn Bentley, who took over as executive director four months ago after the previous leadership stepped down. "He applied to do a show about Sean Neely."
Indeed, the description posted on the Fringe website says simply: "This show is about Sean Neely."
Bentley added that the festival does not "require artists to submit scripts for our review prior to performances. The only time we'll ask for a script or a video is to help prepare an ASL interpreter or audio describer for their job," Bentley said.
While the court action made Neely into something of a free-speech hero, the suit was filed under Minnesota's consumer protection laws. Neely accused the Fringe of false advertising because it billed itself as uncensored and uncurated.
The Fringe website no longer includes those terms.
Fringe leader Bentley denied any link between the lawsuit and the change in language. "I rewrote the website to clarify what Fringe does, who we are and the people we serve," Bentley said. "I read through survey information last year and saw opportunities to clarify the language."
Neither Bentley nor Neely's attorney, Ochen Kaylan, would comment on the status of the suit, except to say it's ongoing.
A theater provocateur, Neely has become known for blurring the lines between reality and theater onstage as he explores taboo subjects in his self-penned shows.
His pedophilia show fits into this category.
"I came up with this idea at the end of the Obama administration and felt like we were on this glide path of sexual acceptance," said Neely, a father of two boys, ages 5 and 3. "There's a whole community of non-offending pedophiles suffering quietly ... who aren't able to come forward or get therapy because they might get thrown in prison or have their family disown them."
Neely said that he harbors no ill feelings toward the Fringe.
"If you're an up-and-coming producer or playwright or director, it's still the best deal in town," he said. "You can invest $450 of your own money and get maybe the greatest amount of people to see your stuff and build up your brand."