Stage Combat with Teen Theatre

I’ve been tweaking the website to make my “Theatre-for-Teens” page a little more user-friendly.  I haven’t focused on publishing (MFA Playwriting programs emphasize producing and networking), so I want to make my page for teens accessible and approachable.

And as I tweaked, I realized I probably should address something – there’s something of stage combat in every play. This is intentional. I swear.

Swords: And Then, She Picks Up the Sword, The Untitled Pirate Play, Space Carl (plus lasers), [a different] Romeo & Juliet, Nameless in the Desert, Third Street, Basement Demons, Icarus (ish)

Hand-to-Hand: Two Truths and Lies, Icarus, Deleted Scenes from Fairy TalesVery Best Coffee, The Twelve HuntsmenThe Jungle Book

A couple years ago, after we spent hours choreographing a sword fight, a student told me, “I thought I trusted (her scene partner) before, but now I REALLY trust him!” And at that moment, she articulated something I had a sense of, but hadn’t put into words myself – that stage combat required and, thus taught, trust.

And I do love it. Spectacle. Conflict. Tension. If done correctly, if done safely, it’s undergirded by trust. Stage combat teaches the opposite of what you’re pretending to do.

Theatre is, of course, built on trust, so this is hardly a revolutionary thought; however, it does highlight that the dramaturgy of purpose for doing a play goes beyond the audience. Theatre for teens is about the art, it’s about theme and story and character, and about the experience of the actor.

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Dramatic Structure

I’ve been obsessed with this clip of a little boy asking Pete Buttigieg a question. I realized why: this video is a masterclass on dramatic structure

  • Starts in medias res
  • Illustrates characters through voice and action. Everything anyone says or does shows who they are.
  • Quickly establishes world and stakes with the parental request, “Ask your question.”
  • Introduces complication.
  • Escalates the complication
  • Has a strong, surprising turn at the climax (the boy jumps from the stage), which is fitting with the ‘bunny’ theme
  • Aces the dismount with Pete’s “button” line.

Note: Chasten, Pete’s husband, is a gay middle school theatre teacher.

*****

In honor of Pride Month, I was on Jimmy Chrismon’s THED Talks again to discuss the LGBTQ+ Romeo & Juliet.

Note to self: never read the transcript of your own interviews. The marbled mess of incomplete sentences and dropped in ‘likes’ will make you crazy.

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Pride Month is over.

Long live Pride!

Praise for THE TWELVE HUNTSMEN

This email from a theatre teacher / director is better than any review I could have gotten. Note: I redacted the teacher’s name out of an abundance of caution for someone who mentions having LGBTQ+ kids in their school.

(Find the Twelve Huntsmen here.) 

Hello Brian,

I just wanted to let you know that we recently closed our middle school production of The Twelve Huntsmen up here in MA, and it was a huge success. We had an all-middle school tech crew (and cast, of course), and we managed to work out the randomization of the text and all the exciting challenges that provided…and  stage it on a 3/4 thrust, all of which were new experiences for our young actors. The audience and family members were completely impressed, our students absolutely blew your fantastic script out of the water, and they were SO proud of themselves for taking on such a unique script.
I wanted to thank you, especially, for the work you did in creating this script and getting it onto NPX. I read MANY plays written for this age group and I am consistently disappointed in what I find. It’s a rare playwright who is tapping into the unique voice and views of this generation. I work at a school with a large population of young women and a large population of students who identify as LGBTQIA+, trans, or gender non-conforming. I feel like your script was a magical unicorn in a forest of mediocrity that was the perfect mix of smart, sassy, dark and hilarious, and I am so grateful to you!! Looking forward to following your future work, and just know you have some big fans up here in western Massachusetts.
With gratitude,
(Theatre Teacher)

Happy Pride!

On ye olde facebook, someone in the theatre education sphere asked the community about creating a supportive environment for LGBTQ students, especially if the parents are not accepting. There were some fantastic responses, such as getting a “Safe Place” sign, which is easy and effective. And the person who said, “Love your kids. They will know” makes a graceful point. I had a cross-country flight ahead of me, so I had the time to think and come up with my contribution.

I am posting it here. I want to be able to look back on it and hold myself accountable, and I also think that much of this holds true for making a space for other underrepresented groups. As a mixed-Latino playwright, I also see how only a few of the bullet points below would not apply to, you know, work by mixed-Latino playwrights.

Again, other theatre professionals had some fantastic thoughts that I was adding to, so this is by no means a comprehensive guide.

 

Some Thoughts on How to Be Supportive of LGBTQ+ Theatre Students

1. Mention the gay people in your life. For a gay kid seeking a trusted adult, this is code for ‘this person is cool with gay people.’

2. Look at how your program can be supportive of gay and trans kids.
– Are there gay characters in your plays? How are these characters treated? (While I love The Laramie Project, it’s also about dead gay kid. What impact do you think you’re having if the only gay representation in your program is as a victim of a hate crime?)

– Are you producing plays by gay playwrights, and if so, are you examining how their identity informs the play? (If you’re doing The Importance of Being Ernest without acknowledging that it’s making fun of straight folks from the point of view of someone who was later jailed for being gay, you’re missing a HUGE piece of the play.)

– Are the plays you’re picking strictly from a straight person’s POV? Even plays with gay people are so often lensed through a straight person’s point of view. I love Rent, but this queer world is through (straight male) Mark’s eyes. I’m not cautioning against doing this, but I am suggesting that you make the space to acknowledge this.

– Does the play rely on stereotypes and assumptions? What shortcuts is it making? (Our Town literally has the line, “Almost everyone get married” – which was exclusionary to gay folks when we couldn’t get married and REALLY HURTFUL TO HEAR – is the play making a statement, intentionally or not, that’s built on the assumption that everyone in straight and cis?)

– Are you relying on canon plays, which are generally written by people with an antiquated notion of gender and orientation?

– Are you doing gender-blind or cross gender or gender-conscious casting? What is your casting saying about gender and sexuality? Do you have an idea of what a “leading man” and a “leading lady” is – if so, what assumptions are you making?

– If you have a trans kid whose parents are not accepting, are you casting them in gender neutral parts, or are you casting them in parts that will aggravate their dysphoria? (Here, too, can gender blind casting help.) Is the program and/performer bios honoring their pronouns (or intentionally avoiding this when it will trigger transphobic parents)?

– Are you thinking about the production process from the ground up? I am a playwright, so I make the plays with my students, and so pretty much every LGBTQ+ character we have came from the students originally. This is obviously not feasible for every school, but you can create spaces for LGBTQ+ students to advocate for their stories and help make creative choices.

– Are you creating the space to have the conversations? These conversations could be about what the play is saying or doing. These conversations could be about the kids negotiating their identity and experience in relation to the play.

Now, I wrote a gay Romeo and Juliet for and with my middle schoolers, which we produced, and this was a big deal. But you don’t have to make LGBTQ+ identity at the center of your work to make a play that’s inclusive. I wrote a play where most of the characters are aliens (and I realized aliens can have one, two, or ten genders) and the humans have gone through body switches. I did this so literally anyone could play any part and this would reveal nothing about any character’s gender or orientation. This is not what the play is about – it’s a dorktastic science fiction hero’s journey romp – but the world of the play is intentionally built for gender blind casting. It’s a play that is neither about gay people nor does it make heterosexuality the default.

Space Carl page is LIVE

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The SPACE CARL page is now up.

And the play is on the New Play Exchange. 

I haven’t quite figured out the best language to describe it. It’s a campy, comedic romp through the stars, but I also have moments where characters are devastated and vulnerable.

I also don’t want this link to my interview on THED TALKS to disappear from the top of the page yet.

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SPACE CARL has launched

And thus, there’s a new play for teens in the world. Battle tested, it works, though I’ll still revise it based on our production and post the final chapter to Carl’s story this summer.

Y’all. I love this one. I love them all, and this one is a particular kind of awesome in the key of “I care about this kind of thing.” A poem in an alien language stops a battle. Every time someone dies, they talk about how they met the love of their life. There’s an element in the play that is 100% random and improvised every night. We have aliens who share hearts and brains, aliens who can switch bodies, a ship that’s a total jerk, and so much more. The heroes on their hero’s journeys even miss the climax of the play. I love that.

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