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Monday, March 4, 2013

Young Adult: Why is Theater for High School at a Different Standard For High School Literature?



Good evening ladies and gentlemen and welcome to Theater is a Sport.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and I'd like to thank you for stopping by and reading my thoughts tonight.

First of all, don't be frightened by the big "R" rating at the top of this post.... this blog is intended for students and adults alike, so I will never abuse that and suddenly go crazy with my almost natural penchant for profanity (I kid, I kid).  Last night, in my blog post about Death and Pez, I wrote how I had to make a few changes in order to be published in my market, which, primarily is youth and high school.  Death and Pez was the first of my plays I was asked to make changes to for that purpose, but not the last...  Frankie and the Gingerbread Boy jumps to mind as another.  The funny thing is, neither of these plays, were they a movie, would have been rated higher than a PG (or at the very most, PG-13) in their original forms.  Still, while it is all right to explore some darker themes in my market, it appears to be a huge No-No to have even the slightest appearance of adult language.   Forgive me, let me correct myself--- Young Adult language.

I work for a school, a high school, and I also happen to have a very good memory of my own life in high school.  And, I don't mean to shock anyone or ruffle any feathers, but I have some news for everyone out there--- many, many high school students have been known to swear and use vulgur language.  Sorry to have to tell you this.  But it is the truth.  I, myself, could have quite the "potty mouth" when I was in high school (and, yes, I still can now), and I was not considered a "bad" kid.... in fact, I was at the top of my class.  Very respected.  But, when I was hanging out with my friends, my language could turn as blue as the sky.

What am I getting at, you might ask?  Well, as a writer for the high school play market, I cannot write a scene between two high school students and have the dialogue reflect how so many actual high school students talk.   Well, at least, I can't do that and expect to be published for the high school market.  Or, if some high school publisher were brave enough to publish it, it would not receive a wide audience... perhaps a couple of "brave" high schools, but that would be about it.    This is a fact I am always conscious of when I am writing a play for the high school market.  I sometimes  try to push the envelope a bit, but never enough to get past a PG or PG-13 rating.  Can't imagine even trying to reach for an R.  That wouldn't pay the bills. 

I'm not complaining, not really, but I do find it a little curious.  One of the highest ranking and bestselling novels of 2012 was a Young Adult novel called The Fault in Our Stars, by Printz-winning author John Green.  Time Magazine called The Fault in Our Stars the number one book of the year, and, I also believe it to be a very moving book, and I find John Green a talented and important writer for Young Adults.  His first novel Looking For Alaska, was compared favorably (and justifiably) with The Catcher in the Rye, his second novel An Abundance of Katherines is an interesting post modern look at the road trip and the teen relationship, his third, Paper Towns, is a fascinating high school mystery of sorts, and Will Grayson, Will Grayson, a novel he co-wrote with David Levithan, is an interesting story dealing with teenage homosexuality.  Every one of his books feature characters who talk frankly and bluntly--- his characters ruminate about sex, drop four letter words, and misbehave in many ways.  If there were film adaptations, they would not escape an R rating without some cutting. 

And yet, I am not saying John Green should not write the way he does.  I applaud him, and several other writers for teens, for being honest in their work.  Furthermore, John Green is doing great things with his fame, organizing people through YouTube for important projects to "decrease world suck", and, in that regard, making a true difference. 

The only point I'm making, is that if I tried to be the John Green of high school theater, I would not be published or produced.  Don't get me wrong--- John Green has faced his share of controversey, and there have been bans threatened on his books.  But, he is published, lauded, and widely read. 

Grown up professional theater could certainly have teenage characters talking like they truly talk--- but it can't happen for high school theater.  I understand it--- I do.  There is a big difference between a student reading books with inappropriate language, and standing on stage spouting inappropriate language.  It is in the performance where the difference lies.  Mom, Dad, Granny and Grampa don't want to sit in the high school auditorium listening to little junior using language that would make Quentin Tarantino blush (or cheer).  It's the way it is, and I write to be published and produced, so I have to follow these guidelines.

Still, some days, I would love to let it all go, so maybe students would say I write as honestly for teens as John Green does.

Thank you for tuning into Theater is a Sport.  If you would like to learn more about me or become a fan, follow these links below:
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I'll see you tomorrow with an all new playwriting lesson!  Until then, remember:  theater is a sport!

1 comment:

  1. I found your comments on the dilemma of writing for a High school market to be interesting. I'm an English teacher and I've read all of John Green's books. I'm also a judge for the Maine Drama Festival. I think the reason why plays are held to a different standard than Young Adult Literature or films, is because young people are saying these words, acting out these adult themes. Adults can look the other way when children watch and read Twilight or Hunger Games, but when you see a student speaking these lines it seems that the school is in some odd way endorsing this behavior. Even if the action portrayed is meant to be a cautionary tale, or displaying what NOT to do, when these things are acted out it takes the theme to a new level. I've attended many one act plays, where the adults in the crowd were shaking their heads, wondering why the school chose that particular piece. -particularly plays that have abrupt violence. Of course the parents do not have the benefit of working with a director/teacher to understand the themes and ideas at work.

    I'd also add that the level of tolerance has a wide range within the state. A play that might be seen as Rated "R" in Dover Foxcroft, might be seen as acceptable in a college town like Orono. Every community's different. I recall that last year there was a fair amount of controversy surrounding Skowhegans play choice that featured several deaths in a primitive civilization.

    Also because Theatre is a collaborative art form, the nature of a play forces everyone involved to partake in the product - regardless of personal, family, religious views. If you are in the play, you are promoting/sharing the message.


    So that's why I think plays are held to a different standard.

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