“I know it when I see it”
Program disclaimers are tricky things. We all know to warn people about strobe lights so as not to provoke a seizure reaction, and likewise most folks will caution the audience if gunshots are to be used. No one wants to start a panic. But what about other issues? Is it okay to “drop the f-bomb” in a show with teenage actors and teenage audience members? Is it okay to do it twice? Ten times? Twenty? What about nudity, if it’s brief and really only implied? And what is a responsible director supposed to do not about short moments, but about concepts and touchy subjects? If theatre is supposed to stir a reaction in people, directors can’t stay away from those areas. As educators we must challenge our students’ perceptions, concepts, and values, but we must balance these efforts by protecting the students from harm. We must be able to present theatre that tests the complacency of the audiences without offending them so much that our good intent is lost. Satire can be constructive criticism to some people, yet be upsetting to others in the same audience. Does all this mean we must find the lowest common denominator, milquetoast Pollyanna plays that risk nothing? Hardly, but here are some questions to consider when you’re dealing with some potentially sensitive issues in a play:
· Does anything make my actors, administrators, or parents uncomfortable?
· Does it sacrifice integrity for the cheap laugh?
· Is any type of person portrayed without dignity? This doesn’t merely refer to racial stereotypes, but to any character who may represent any group: blacks, whites, mentally handicapped, school principals, blonds, one-legged postal workers, -- you name it.
· Does it cross lines? Does it cross lines without any good purpose? For instance, do we think he’s really funny because of his harmless sex jokes, or do we perceive the character as a schmuck because he uses sexual innuendo?
· Are sensitive issues raised? How central are they?
If you have any doubts at all, if your spidey-sense is making the hairs on the back of your neck tingle even just a little bit, seek the advice of a neutral colleague. Consider your audience. Then the responsible thing to do is to put a disclaimer into the program so that the audience – and the NHETG Board – can be forewarned to expect the material in its proper context. You don’t have to give away the moment or the story, and you certainly don’t want to scare away the audience, but be clear enough that there is little room for doubt. The following are some suggestions:
Ø Potential physical dangers: Strobe lights will be used in this show (strobe lights, fog into the audience, etc.)
Ø Frequent strong language
Ø Disturbing violent images
Ø Sensitive central theme: rape (or other topic)
Ø Graphic sex images (including jokes)
You get the idea. No one likes a rude awakening. Let the audience members prepare themselves to join in the challenge. Your work will be experienced by a more receptive audience, and those few who would have to excuse themselves will also be thankful for your effort to notify them.