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Saturday, February 16, 2013

HIGH SCHOOL IS KAFKAESQUE: How and Why I Wrote "Confession: Kafka in High School"

From a production of "Confession: Kafka In High School" by Aitkin High School


I love every play I have written.  They are all flawed, of couse, but each one is special to me.  However, if I was forced, absolutely life-dependent on an honest answer, I would have to say that, in my heart, I believe "Confession: Kafka in High School" to be my best published play so far. 

So, I was living in Dover-Foxcroft, and had finished directing and starring in a production of "Little Shop of Horros" at the Center Theatre (a production I'm very fond of).  I met a great deal of people who were interested in reading my plays and who began to encourage me to submit my work.  In truth, I hadn't finished a new play for quite some time, but, after fixing up my play RUMPLESTILSKIN THE R-DAWG, HIP-HOP MINSTREL and submitting it, I decided it was time for me to start working on another play.  After all, it had been at least two or three years since I had written a play.  But I had friends now, people who were genuinely interested, people I wanted to impress (which can be a great motivating factor), and a desire to really see if I could, after wasting so much time, actually pursue what I had studied at Bennington. 

So, one night in late December, after I had already submitted Rumplestilskin to a few places, I found myself with a bout of insomnia.  I had been hired to direct the one-act plays for Foxcroft Academy, where I had been a student once upon a time.  I started to think of my own life in high school and how, so often, I felt pretty much powerless, like just another cog in a machine I had no real control over.

I have insomnia intermittently, and often it is a terrible experience not being able to sleep.  But I am truly thankful for this particular bout of insomnia.  I opened up my laptop, opened up a new document, and made a title page:  CONFESSION, a one-act absurdist play by Bobby Keniston.  And then I wrote the play in about two and a half hours.  And then I slept pretty well afterwards.

"Confession" (the original title) poured out of me as a fully-formed idea, so I have to believe that aspects of the play had been forming in my subconscious for some time.  I know I wanted to write a play that could be used for high school one-act competitions.  But the story itself?  I had no idea it was waiting around in my brain, looking forward to being typed out.

Confession: Kafka in High School is about a young man named Connor K (huh... get it?) who wakes up in the conference room of his high school, still in his pajamas, sleeping on a table.  He is greeted by his Principal, the formidable Ms. Delisle (rhymes with Bell Isle), who offers him some breakfast before accusing him of a crime.  The problem is, Ms. Delisle will not tell poor Connor what crime he supposedly committed.  But it seems pretty serious.  Ms. Delisle makes it clear that Connor will be in very big trouble until he confesses.  Along the way, Connor is confronted by his parents (his mother a weeping mess, and his father only able to say the words "You.... you!"), a peer mediator, the gorilla-like assistant principal, and, finally, three representatives of the "Free Connor K" campaign. 

Connor, who had always kept his head down at school and avoided any kind of cofrontation, now appears to be the center of the high school universe, all because of some incredible act of rebellion he performed.  Only, he can't get anyone to tell him what he did, and is pretty sure he didn't do anything. 

I had a great deal of fun writing the play.  I am fond of the characters, and the absurd touches in the script.  I absolutely love Connor's father who only speaks in variations of "You...you!", and Mr. Demetri, Ms. Delilse's yes-man assistant (she literally makes him perform a gorilla dance and make sounds like an ape).  I giggled a great deal while writing it, but I also felt a genuine connection with Connor's predicament, and enjoyed watching him go from confused and scared and pass through a variety of emotions toward anger, and ending with a monologue that strengthens his resolve to confess nothing. 

Certainly I was inspired by Kafka while writing the play, but there were so many more of my favorites who kept creeping into my mind--- Edward Albee, Ionesco, Pinter--- just to name a few.  As I read it now, I am proud of creating a work that I think helps take the absurdity of those writers, often with their existential themes, and makes them relatable to high school students. 

A production of "Confession: Kafka in High School" performed by Wellington Heights Secondary School


Why is it my favorite?  Well, there's the gorilla dance of course.  But aside from that, I think I'm so fond of "Confession: Kafka in High School" because it says a lot of what I feel about education (both from the student and administrator's perspective).  I think the character of Ms. Delilse is one of the finest parts I have ever written for an actress.  She truly has some lines that still surprise me when I read them over, such as, "No, Connor, my favorite thing about your generation is how easy it is to separate your from your ideals.  My generation didn't give up our ideals until the world crushed us down, or we grew tired of sharing apartments with twelve other people who couldn't pay rent because there was no market for their free verse protests.  Your generation loses its ideals with the next commercial break."

By the way, I had a lovely fourth grade teacher named Miss Belisle, and my Ms. Delilse is in no way based on the kind teacher I was fortunate to be instructed by in her reading class. 

I think the reason it truly shines through as my favorite of my own is because, of all my published plays so far, I think it has the most palpable dramatic arc (something I'll be talking about in my playwriting tutorial), and is just the right length.  Nothing seems gratuitous to me.  I think the structure works, absurdity or not. 

After that night of insomnia, a very dear friend read the script out loud with me.  She loved it, too.  I changed exactly one line, and then submitted it. 

Incidentally, the day after Rumplestilskin was accepted for publication by Brooklyn Publishers, Confession was accepted for publication by the good folks at Playscripts, Inc.  Talk about a great couple of days!  To have the first two scripts I submitted in quite some time picked up by two different publishers was pretty amazing.  Playscripts is a great company, and were very kind about my script.  They did ask me to change the title to something like Kafka in High School or something along those lines.  I compromised by making that the subtitle, but now, looking back, I wonder if perhaps they hadn't been right.  Maybe I should have thought of something like High School is Kafkaesque or Kafka for the High School Experience, but at the time, "confession" just seemed so vital to me.  Of course, I'll never know if it would have sold better otherwise, so I guess it's not important. 

Along thse lines, while I am grateful for every production the show has received, I do feel perhaps it is a bit of an underutilized gem (though I have absolutely no complaints at the many ways Playscripts has helped to promote it, and, it has received more than one production every year it's been in print, something I can't say for all of my plays).  I don't know--- in a way, I thought it had some of the same interesting humor that a play like "This is a Test" used to great success. 

I'm a little worried that this post is coming off as a bit self-congratulating, but I'm really not trying to.  In a way, because of the manner in which the play is written, I sort of still feel surprised that I wrote the thing whenever I take a look at it.  I can almost read it like I would read a friend's play and say, 'Wow.  Great job."  Considering how critical I am of most of the stuff I write, I can't feel too guilty about really liking this one a great deal.

If you have any other questions about Confession:  Kafka in High School, feel free to comment below or contact me at theater.is.a.sport@gmail.com  If you would like to read a script preview or order a copy, please visit this link:  http://www.playscripts.com/play.php3?playid=2076

Also, I was quite proud to learn that Playscripts chose to include Connor's monologue from the play in their collection Actor's Choice:  Monologues for Teens, Vol. II.  I don't feel bad plugging this book, becaue it contains wonderful monologues by so many talented writers.  I was truly surprised and honored to be included in the volume with them.  You can take a look at that book here:  http://www.playscripts.com/play.php3?playid=2495

Okay, thanks for reading this edition of Theater is a Sport!  If you would like to learn more about who I am, you can visit my facebook playwright page--- https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Bobby-Keniston-Playwright-Page/148232788536601  And if you want to become a fan of Theater is a Sport on facebook, click here:  https://www.facebook.com/#!/TheaterIsASport

Thanks again for reading.  See you tomorrow with a blog post about whatever I desire...

Until then, remember:  theater is a sport.

2 comments:

  1. Great job! Another enjoyable blog.

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  2. Not just becaause I am Bobby's dad, but I've got to agree if this isn't his best, it certainly is one of his best. I enjoyed seeing done on stage. The character are real and believable, and the situatioin is delightful to watch unfold. He HAS to believe in his work especially this one.

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