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From Bill – Dialing Back to Find the Drama

May 21, 2012

The Young Playwrights’ Festival is such a time of joy for us here at Touchstone, a time of play but also of challenges. We’re in the art business here, and we see in the colors and conflicts of these short plays an opportunity to create genuinely memorable dramatic moments that help us understand better what it means to be human– particularly human and ten years old or so.

Bill rehearses with his cast for “What Happens in the Club Stays in the Club” by Rosy Vargas of Lincoln Leadership Academy

But sometimes, it’s not so much fun: it’s sad, shocking, or just distressing. This year, the play I chose, the play I was given, was written by a twelve (now thirteen) year old girl, and it included drug use by a stalker who threatens the female protagonist with a box knife, throws gasoline on her, and shoots his brother. This is a young girl’s nightmare, and it’s very well-written. But what are we to do with it? It’s not fun; it’s not cute. It’s just downright hurtful, for the most part. Yes, we recognize that, as they say, the best adolescent literature is full of death and suffering (Think Old Yeller, or Harry Potter, or The Secret Garden), but we also know that, for the most part, our audience at the Young Playwrights’ Festival will be made up of children seven, eight, nine years old. How do we honor what this young adolescent has done without subjecting the entire audience to toxic levels of violence?

There’s a challenge.

I won’t say specifically how we handled it, but we did dial back the violence a lot. And it’s interesting to see what happen when we do– we end up beginning to be able to see real human beings at work, real characters, not just psychopaths. And there’s something to learn in that.

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