Friday, March 10, 2006

Play Time

-There's an interesting article in today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch that deals with the problems high schools have in this day and age with putting on entertaining, relevant plays. The problem comes when they are too relevant, too topical, and therefore sometimes too offensive to parents and the more conservative element of our society. See "School Plays vs. Community Values" by Georgina Gustin-

I'm a little closer to this sort of thing than some because of the career choice of my son Stewart. He's been a "theatre rat" ever since he was in seventh grade, so I have been a "stage Dad" out of necessity for quite a while now. Stew is currently a third-year acting major at the Theatre School at DePaul University in Chicago.

This "problem" seems fairly easily handled in my eyes. High school stages should not be the proving ground, or test kitchen, for really controversial, or highly sexual subject matter. Yes, high schools are a learning environment, so it's important to help the student grow and learn more about the world. But, in high school, its more important for a student to learn about theatre itself. Most kids are involved in theatre at that age for the fun of it. They like performing, telling a story on stage, and the social opportunities afforded to high school thespians. Most have no intention to become professionals.

I'm remembering some of the productions Stewart was involved in at Belleville West. High school kids are still kids. At most, they are 18 years old. Playing adult roles, using adult language, and dealing with adult subject matter is still very un-natural. It is still a time when parents, teachers, and the community at large, see these young people as their children. Many times I've seen a child in an adult situation on stage and think..."How unnatural is that?" If I'm thinking that, I'm sure many others also believe the show is not working, and the adult situation is inappropriate. Yes, it's true, that those young people fancy themselves as adults and certainly are capable of adult, language, etc. But, it's difficult for anyone to make that part of life seem natural on stage...let alone high schoolers.

Stewart has already been in several productions at the university that are very adult in subject matter and presentation. Language, sexual content, bordeline nudity, the whole nine yards. That seems OK to me though, because in order to learn the craft of acting, you need to stretch yourself as a person, find what's going on in the world with regard to subject matter, and how to professionally present such material. Plus, we're talking about people who are closer to, if not, adults. And, most importantly, these people are learning to be actors. In high school, its more of an intramural or recreational activity.

While I believe really controversial material is not necessary in high school, I still wish some adults would lighten up when it comes to what they deem controversial. A few "hells" and "damns" in a high school play never hurt anyone. In Grease, which has been the most popular high school musical in the country for the past 25 years, there's a little "dirty dancing" and references to pre-marital sex that seem to send some parents into a hand-wringing and gasping tizzy.

When I say controversial material, I'm talking about cutting-edge, political agenda, or sexually-explicit type stuff. Not Grease. Of course, there are still parents who will rail at the presentation of Inherit The Wind*, and think that life, as they know it, is being challenged by some high school kids, or their teacher, who really are just trying to present a good play as best they can.

*Inherit the Wind--On a scorching July day in 1925, a trial began in Dayton, Tennessee, pitting two intellectual greats of the time against each other. At issue was a state law banning the teaching of evolution and a Dayton teacher's knowing infringement of that law. For twelve days, Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes captured the nation's attention as a media circus swept through Dayton, carrying the historical event to a world of readers and listeners. But as the trial failed to achieve its intended purpose - testing the Tennessee law - and the participants gradually followed each other to the grave, the once-famed Scopes "Monkey Trial" fell from the public eye and memory. Thirty years later, playwrights Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee published their dramatized account of the trial in Inherit the Wind.

No comments: