Girls who kill but don't curse
People in my plays generally don’t get murdered. But in the play I just published, The New Margo, someone does.
The New Margo was developed over the course of a year, at readings in high schools and at the International Thespian Festival and at my writing group.
The final reading used one actress I’d never met. As I was talking to her after the reading, she asked about the origin of the play. I told her that I write largely for high schools.
“Oh,” she said. “Is that why they don’t curse?” I confess, my stomach clenched a bit.
Because of course the answer is yes.
The last posts’ discussion of censoring high school plays left out the main source of that censorship: the playwrights.
High school playwrights censor ourselves. We don’t do it because we’re prudes. We do it because we want our scripts to be produced.
This is all about money.
The economics of writing for the high school market differs from the economics of writing for the adult stage. The performance royalty for a high school one-act is about forty bucks, a chunk of which goes to the publisher. This means that writing high school plays is a volume business. The only way to make money is to get a lot of productions.
So what assures multiple productions? Lots of characters, cast flexibility, simple tech. And no controversy.
Your play should not rock the boat.
Alas, the secondary school stage is a ship easily rocked. Language creates waves. Sexuality creates tidal waves. (Gay sexuality actually vaporizes the boat.)
Violence creates not a ripple. Your characters can stab, shoot, poison or strangle each other and no one will object. Indeed, stage combat is part of most theatre curricula.
The same dynamic exists in young adult literature. The premise of The Hunger Games is jaw droppingly horrible, but Katniss Everdeen never drops the f-bomb while bow-and-arrowing one of her fellow contestants.
Why we object to sex and language but not to killing is part of a larger cultural conversation, one that’s been going on for decades.
But the point is that it makes those of us who write for high school theatre into wussies.
Our product is bland.
A play takes a long time to write. (Or at least, it should.) So there’s an enormous disincentive writing anything with an edge.
I’m not sure if we need a different business model, or just braver playwrights.
But if you decide you’d to like sprinkle swear words throughout your production of The New Margo (or for that matter) This is a Test, I would endorse such an endeavor, though—since I’m a wuss—I won’t show up at your disciplinary hearing.
If you’re on Twitter, #Ifollowplaywrights is consistently entertaining and instructive.
Among the things #Ifollowplaywrights turned me on to recently, is 10000p the only cartoon I’m aware of about playwrights.