Why Theater Should Join the Dark Side (of Fairy Tales)

Here’s the second column in my series asking why theaters dumb down their shows for kids. Since this one focuses on fairy tales, I want to share it with my readers here. 

Let’s delve into a pretty common denominator in the world of theater for young audiences (TYA): fairy tales. There is no end to internet lists “revealing” or “discovering” the dark origins of fairy tales, yet it is so surprising that, once upon a time, we actually told children scary stories? Shocking!

Many of the original versions of fairy tales were told to help children and adults confront the very real dangers of their times. Hansel and Gretel is an excellent example and very likely the most well known: it’s famine and hunger that motivate the mother or stepmother (depending on the version) to convince her husband to abandon his children in the woods. Most stage productions hide that part of the tale. It is fear of the darkness inherent in the stories that can cause playwrights to move too far in the other, more saccharine direction, leading to meaningless takes on fairy tales that now feel like the norm. When we remove fear from a fairy tale — or any story — we remove its connection to our lives, and that dumbing down affects theater audiences for a lifetime. Without true connections to our own feelings, fears and joys, why bother attending?

Read more at The Clyde Fitch Report

Read Part 1: Why do Theaters Dumb Down TYA (Theater for Young Audiences)?

Caleb Foote and Angela Giarratana in “Hansel & Gretel Bluegrass” (Photo: Cooper Bates)

Hard Fantasy vs Soft Fantasy for Children

Patrick Rothfuss profile

Patrick Rothfuss image was taken from this interview.

In that Talks at Google with Patrick Rothfuss from my last post, he answers a question dear to my heart. I usually discuss it in relation to children’s theatre, but it holds. They’re smarter than you think.

Audience Question: How hard is it to make hard fantasy versus soft fantasy for children?

Rothfuss: There’s an unfortunate tendency among people in general to say, oh, I’ll just write a fantasy novel because you can just make stuff up. And that’s wrong, because that’s not – you can just do a bunch of stuff and magic will make it make sense. You can, but that’s not good writing, it’s not good storytelling, it’s not good craft.

In my opinion, similarly, people, sometimes, in the genre, are like, well, boy, I wish I could write YA because then kids don’t know what a plot hole is, they don’t care about consistent characterization, they’re not gonna call me on the million dragons ecology problem that I’ve created, this is not a sustainable eco-structure. But that, in my opinion, is a really egregious cop-out. Because in the same way that food that we feed our children should be actually held to a higher standard than the food you give to an adult, because an adult can say, blech, this is awful, or they can read the label and go, oh, this has terrible things in it and it’s going to make me sick and give me cancer. A kid can’t. 

And so you owe it to kids to actually put more work into this because it’s harder to write short. It’s harder to write simply [sic]. It’s harder to do a lot of these things, and it’s harder to write cohesive, coherent, internally coherent fantasy. And you shouldn’t go to YA thinking, oh, my, this will be way easier. I can just bang out 30,000 words and then go play World of Warcraft.

No.

I do not approve.

But then again, I have not really taken a legitimate crack at YA. I know that it’s hard, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try for it. That’s my philosophy.”

FATIMA QUEST converges in Indianapolis

May 18th an excerpt of FATIMA QUEST premiered at the Indy Convergence Open Lab Performance. The amazing people and resources given during the two weeks prior greatly moved the story forward.

I also learned that people are intrigued by the story and want to hear more, and that is even more valuable than the workshop time, in a lot of news. Thanks also to the LA Writers Center for listening and giving feedback before Indy.

Follow this blog to watch the video when it’s ready.


Image  ImageImage

a short play written on the occasion of the assassination of osama bin laden

by Holly Derr

cross posted on her blog

This Mother Jones article about how much we still don’t know about what happened in the Bin Laden raid reminded me of the short play I wrote that weekend. I was frustrated at how certain the media seemed of the narrative, particularly when their version of it confirmed their preexisting biases, and wanted to write something that reflected the real uncertainty not only about what had happened, but also about what it really signified.

Most of the details in the play come from early press reports. Most of them were later disproved. Enjoy.

A SHORT PLAY WRITTEN ON THE OCCASION OF THE ASSASSINATION OF OSAMA BIN LADEN

Scene one

OBL, YOUNGEST WIFE, and COURIERS are having tea. NAVY SEALS storm the compound.

NAVY SEAL
Surrender!

OBL grabs his YOUNGEST WIFE, uses her as a shield.

OBL
Never!

NAVY SEALS shoot him in the head.

Scene two

OBL, YOUNGEST WIFE, and COURIERS are having tea. WAR PROTESTORS, led by CINDY SHEEHAN, storm the compound.

CINDY SHEEHAN
Surrender!

OBL grabs his YOUNGEST WIFE, uses her as a shield.

OBL
Never!

CINDY SHEEHAN shoots him in the head.

Scene three

OBL, YOUNGEST WIFE, and COURIERS are having tea. PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH, in Mission Accomplished garb, storms the compound.

GEORGE W. BUSH
Hot damn.

OBL grabs his YOUNGEST WIFE, uses her as a shield.

OBL
Never!

GEORGE W. BUSH shoots him in the head.

Scene four

OBL, YOUNGEST WIFE, and COURIERS are playing cards.

YOUNGEST WIFE

I don’t know why people say they didn’t like the dress I mean it’s Westminster Abbey she had to cover her décolletage and I thought the lace was a classy way to do that she was saying “I’ll follow your rules but I’ll do it my way” but I really thought the sister was the star of the show so sweet and devoted and pretty in her own way and Harry really seems to like her even though he brought that party girl as his date I mean why didn’t he just ask Paris Hilton you would think the Queen would have put her foot down about that but I guess after Diana we all know that we just don’t know the half of what goes on behind closed doors

DONALD TRUMP storms the compound.

THE DONALD
Give me all your money!

OBL grabs his YOUNGEST WIFE, uses her as a shield.

OBL
Never!

DONALD TRUMP shoots him in the head.

Scene five

OBL and YOUNGEST WIFE are watching Three Kings.

OBL
I mean how hard can it be to find Arabs who can act. What, did they have a cattle call in Falluja and call it a day?

The doorbell. OBL opens it. A COURIER enters. The COURIER shoots OBL in the head.

Scene six

OBL is sitting at a writing desk.

OBL

Dear Ayman al-Zawahri,

I should be wanting in common civility if I did not thank you for your kindness in letting me know of an opportunity to send “postage-free.”

The wife and I have been peeling apples for her to make us an apple pudding. The man I bought her from said she was of a quick but limited intellect and she made puddings perfectly.

I guess that this day in a few years we shall all be in this drawing room comfortable. I hope it may be so. Azza guesses we shall all be gone somewhere comfortable. We hope it may be so indeed.

Yours in Allah,

OBL

OBL wrings a bell and a COURIER appears. The COURIER takes the letter and then shoots him in the head.

Scene seven

The NAVY SEALS gather round the bodies of OBL and YOUNGEST WIFE.

NAVY SEAL
You sure that’s him?

NAVY SEAL 2
Oh yeah. That’s him.

NAVY SEAL
Well. I guess that’s that.

The WAR PROTESTORS enter in mid-protest and are stopped in their tracks by what they see. After an awkward pause, the WAR PROTESTORS erupt into cheers and lift the SEALS into the air, celebrating them. They stop just as suddenly as they began. After another awkward pause, they go back to protesting, calling for the immediate withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan and Iraq. They forget about the SEALS, who gather back around the body of OBL, say a silent prayer, and then, as pallbearers, carry it out. The body of the YOUNGEST WIFE is left on stage with the PROTESTORS, who ignore it.

Scene eight

The sound of helicopters. OBL and YOUNGEST WIFE enter from the bedroom. She is in lingerie; he is fastening his robe. They rush to the window where we see lights from helicopters. More helicopter sounds, wind. A huge, window shaking bang. Silence. OBL and YOUNGEST WIFE continue to stare out the window.

OBL
A rare event.

YOUNGEST WIFE
Indeed.

The doorbell. OBL and YOUNGEST WIFE look at one another.

OBL and YOUNGEST WIFE
You get it.

Scene Nine

The NAVY SEALS gather round the bodies of OBL and YOUNGEST WIFE.

NAVY SEAL
It’s weird.

NAVY SEAL 2
What?

NAVY SEAL
I thought he would look older.

Long pause.

NAVY SEAL
This how you thought it would feel?

Pause.

NAVY SEAL 2
Not really.

Pause.

NAVY SEAL 3
Pretty much.

End of play.

CYBER Civil War

by Cindy Marie Jenkins

Artists create a map of the world together and from memory

This piece was first work-shopped at The 2011 Indy Convergence. Pre-Convergence, I asked the participants to describe an event or time in history when what they were taught was very different than what they learned later. Most people mentioned the Civil War in one way or another, so I felt we should explore that time. Some pics of our process are scattered throughout. Artists include: Christina Aimerito, Ashley Bennington, Ellen Denham, Ian Garrett, Mariel Greenlee, Zach Laliberte, Joshua Morris, Caitlin Swihart Negron, Robert Negron, Stephen Gabriel Pallo, Michael Velez & Roberta Wong.

If interested in performing this scene in any way or any context, I highly encourage you to choose the words and structure that strikes the strongest chord with your performers, as we did.

CYBER CIVIL WAR

(ROBOT TEACHER and THE CLASS enter. ROBOT TEACHER hands THE CLASS sealed documents as they sit down. ROBOT TEACHER speaks in a stilted manner but otherwise is relatively human.)

ROBOT TEACHER

Hello Class. Please welcome our new student to class today.

(NEW STUDENT meekly waves hello.)

Now you may open today’s lesson.

(THE CLASS tears open their envelopes, and ready themselves to take notes. As soon as the ROBOT TEACHER speaks, THE CLASS writes furiously. NEW STUDENT is a little behind and wary.)

ROBOT TEACHER

Our lesson for today is the Civil War. In the 1860’s, The North and The South disagreed on salvery. The North knew that it was wrong, but the South wanted to keep their tradition and finances flowing. The North tried to keep the United States together and show the South the error of their ways, but the South threatened to secede.

Christina Aimerito remembers the day that her perception of the world changed.

(NEW STUDENT raises hand.)

You have a question.

NEW STUDENT

Where exactly is the South?

(THE CLASS is shocked at this outburst.)

ROBOT TEACHER

You do not need to know that for the test.

(THE CLASS happily continues scribbling.)

Abraham Lincoln desperately wanted to free the slaves and make them full citizens, but The South wouldn’t let go fo slavery. The South grew great amount sof much needed crops, but the North had industry.

(NEW STUDENT raises hand.)

You have a question.

NEW STUDENT

What is Industry? What does that mean?

ROBOT TEACHER

You can look that information up on the internet.

NEW STUDENT

Didn’t the North have slaves, too?

ROBOT TEACHER

You did not raise your hand. You do not have a question.

(STUDENT 1 raises her hand.)

You have a question.

Zach Laliberte & Muriel Greenlea sing Dixie from North & South's POV

STUDENT 1

Did the North have slaves, too?

ROBOT TEACHER

You do not need to know that for the test.

(STUDENT 2 raises hand.)

You have a question.

STUDENT 2

Did Abraham Lincoln have slaves?

ROBOT TEACHER

(slight pause or kink.) That answer is password-protected.

STUDENT 3

Thomas Jefferson had slaves. I saw it on TV.

ROBOT TEACHER

We are now studying the Civil War. We are not studying Thomas Jefferson.

The Civil War was the bloodiest war the world had ever seen. Brother fought against brother, and families were torn apart, all to free the enslaved.

(NEW STUDENT raises hand.)

You have exceeded your questions quota.

(THE CLASS all raise their hand at once.)

You have a question. You have a question. You have a question. You have a question. You have a question. (once for every hand raised.)

STUDENT 1

I thought this was a civil war, not a world war. Was it really the bloodiest war the world had ever seen?

ROBOT TEACHER

The lesson for today is The Civil War. Soon, brave Northerners began a noble pathway to freedom, creating the Underground Railroad.

(STUDENT 2 raises hand.)

You have a question.

STUDENT 2

So, if the slaves got to the North, then they were free? They were equals?

ROBOT TEACHER

That answer is password-protected.

STUDENT 3

Wait, doesn’t the Declaration of Independence say “All men are created equal”?

STUDENT 2

Did women get to vote?

ROBOT TEACHER

We are now out of time. You asked too many questions and now must learn the rest of the lesson on your own. Your test on The Civil War is next week.

(ROBOT TEACHER closes his/her book, and walks out of the classroom. THE CLASS sits still, waiting.)