May is drawing to a close, and I’m in Davis, CA, to see a production of my The Jungle Book the high school company Acme Theatre is producing in the park.
I’m screenshot-ing their website to preserve the teen-designed marketing imagery they’re using.
I scrambled to make it out to California after the Skybridge graduation, but here I am, bearing (ha!) witness to the awesome fact that you can make art with young people.
It’s a bare-bones production on a hillside, and in a small town, it’s bringing out hundreds of families, many with small children.
I took this picture about a half hour before the show started.
Here’s the review from the local paper: http://www.davisenterprise.com/arts/jungle-book-a-delight-to-kids-of-all-ages/
The play touts an overt environmentalist message – Mowgli finds that his beloved countryside has been destroyed. I’m not subtle, and I should be criticized for making something obnoxiously agitprop, but I felt such noisy commentary would hide the stealth project. The play is also about someone struggling to find his place in a series of communities that are not for him. I’m queer. That’s my life. And it’s the life of many queer teens.
Consider this: all of those parents and their kids on that hillside saw a queer piece of theatre. And that’s just cool.
I’ve become a preacher for the idea that Theatre-for-Teens should be treated with the legitimacy we offer to theatre for mature audiences. I’ve struggled to get my Austin community to see my work for teens, and so I’ve had to refine my thoughts on the matter, and can go on at length about this (and, God-willing, an essay I wrote for Howlround will eventually come out about it). Theatre-for-Teens, when not treated as a legitimate art form, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The results are bloodless rehashing of tired canonized plays OR lazy new crap.
But there’s hope. Thanks to the success of YA novels like Harry Potter and the Twilight series, YA fiction has been recognized as legit for years, and teens have defined popular music for generations, so I believe that Theatre-for-Teens will take a turn, and specifically queer theatre for teens, as teens more and more recognize the normality of the queer experience.
And here’s a shameless plug: buy the book version here
Speaking of new plays for teens, a week ago I put up The Untitled Pirate Play with my middle school students.
While [a different] Romeo & Juliet remains the most risk-taking play I’ve written, as it was a gay adaptation of RJ with two twelve-year-old boys playing the leads, The Untitled Pirate Play brought my department to the level of production values I’ve wanted for three years. I could go on at length about my students, but I try to avoid commenting on them here too often; suffice it to say, they fucking killed it.
And it’s hella fun.
Carl, who lives in his parents’ basement, wants adventure! And so he stows away aboard the USPS Hubris, a ship owned by Captain Winterford Greenery III. Greenery has a mission – rescue a herd of corgis gifted to him by her majesty the Queen from a band of pirates that have taken over a merchant vessel. He is joined by his first mate Cankle and a crew of sailors, all named “Jim.” These Jims are not what they seem – they are a pirates, led by the fearsome Captain No Beard…
As the play goes on, Greenery loses his ship to the pirates and stumbles onto a secondary story involving a wandering island and creature named Caliban. Meanwhile, No Beard goes mad with power, killing most of his sailors.
I’ll be making a page for this play when I decide whether or not I retitle it. The Untitled Pirate Play fits it well, as it’s essentially an intentional mishmash of pirate tropes, but I may want to see what other stories Carl has in store, in which case something with the titular weight of the Junie B. Jones’ series would make more sense.
A message to graduates
Stay single as long as you can. It’s harder to be single than partnered, as any single person who catches a cold or needs a ride to the airport can tell you, but the easy road is likely to lead to a boring life. Go on adventures. Figure out what you like, what you believe, what will fuel you, and how you can participate in your community. Volunteer for shit. Think big thoughts. Make things. Make mistakes – don’t do anything you can’t undo, but don’t be afraid of catching cold by dancing in the rain. Never settle. Beyond all else, don’t become a “we” until there’s a recognizable “you.” I’ve seen my friends lose themselves in others. Or rather, I’ve experienced the disappearance of people from community, kidnapped by the comfort of boredom, anesthetized by television and video games. But the benefits of being single are not small; I’ve been blessed with the abilities to develop my passions, to live my values and chase things that I think should be chased. Cultivate yourself. Cultivate yourself. Fight for beauty. Now live.