The Story of "Here's Your Future" (I)

I mentioned Here’s Your Future, the play I wrote for the school drama group, several times but never detailed how it came to be and what happened afterwards. I always wanted to tell that story (in fact, whenever I tell that story I say I could write a book about it), but for one thing it’s very long and for another, there are many details I probably can’t tell. I got into a lot of trouble at my school and I’m still working, so I have to be careful what I tell about things that were talked about behind closed doors. I would like to talk about them and some day in the future I will, but I’ll be cautious for now. But it is a good story, a cautionary tale if you want and definitely a life-changing event for me. So, here goes part 1, which will mainly focus on the writing process.

In 2010 I became part of the English Drama Group of this school and together with my co-director we performed Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. There are a lot of stories about this performance too and even now I’m immensely proud of what we did there, accomplishing my goal of breaking out of the confines of school theatre and trying to do something new. The best proof that this worked is the fact that many people had no idea what the play was actually about because of its language, but still enjoyed the play a lot. We threw everything at them we could think of and I worked laboriously to provoke reactions and get people to think. We weren’t sure how we could follow up on that success.

Here’s Your Future started at a concert by The Thermals, one of my all-time favorite bands. I had seen them several times before but this time, sometime in spring of 2011, during one of their songs I had a flash of inspiration. An image appeared in my head, a group of students sitting behind desks and changing directions on stage. It wasn’t more than that but suddenly I knew what I had to do. Instead of finding another play to reinvent I would try to write one myself. Now, as I explained in Why I Love Writing, my writing career was full of failed attempts but I never really achieved much and I had never tried to write for theatre. But the inspiration was there and it was so strong that I couldn’t let it go. It was a vision and as I said it before, vision is everything. This initial vision carried me through the next year (and beyond in a way), through all the troubles that lay ahead, of which I had no idea at the time.

In the summer holidays of 2011 I set out to write this play, from start to finish, not knowing if I was able to do that. I made a loose plot structure that involved school, depicting students who tried to rebel against the school system. I was aware that this might be a little bit controversial, but I didn’t think this would really be a problem. My focus was on the students because I knew I couldn’t write about a teacher who does things differently, since this would look awfully narcissist. So I developed two characters for my story: Karen, a rebel type of student who provoked teachers but didn’t have a vision (named after Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and Sophie, a quiet, isolated student who sensed that something was wrong about school but didn’t know exactly what (named after my first daughter’s second name, who was born the same year).

I put them in this situation, which was a bit exaggerated but was based on my experiences in school both as a student and a teacher: boring lessons, pointless information, arbitrary punishment, focus on authority and so on. I wanted to see how they deal with that and then gave them an inciting incident to shake up their world. The incident came, after all, in form of a teacher, who tells Sophie “the truth” about our school system. I relied heavily on Daniel Quinn’s My Ishmael for that but as much as the play is a comedy, her words were what I absolutely believed in. I’m not completely happy with that story device, but I couldn’t think of anything else that could make them see. I only saw this because of Quinn’s books, but a book is even more boring on a stage. There might have been other ways, but I chose Mrs. Merrill, not as a proxy for me necessarily, but as a disillusioned, bitter teacher who puts her last hope on this student.

The rest of the characters more or less came by themselves. Mr. Authority, my favorite character, came to me as the ultimate satire of authority. For other teachers I mixed different teachers I’ve known over the years. The plot was a bit harder, especially the ending. At some point, the students want to try a new kind of school system, but I couldn’t figure out how the school would allow them to do this. The best I could come up with was blackmail, another device I’m not entirely happy with, but I was running out of time. The ending itself was difficult too. At first it was a happy ending, with teachers and students joining each other in harmony, creating a new system. That became the biggest revision, trying to make it a bit more realistic, but still with some hope.

A big problem was writing realistic teaching material that people would use in class, especially about subjects I didn’t know anything about. I also weaved in many Thermals quotes, which even today might be the most awkward thing about the play, but I stood by it until the end. I also made fun of The Crucible in the play and I just loved the contradiction of it, because I obviously like the play. But I still thought it’s worth making the point that you can make anything boring in school.

It took me about 3-4 weeks to write the play and I enjoyed it a lot. And I was happy with it, I thought it was funny and had something to say. It was the best I ever felt about something I had written. Now I only had to hope others would like it too.

To be continued…

Oh, I decided to upload the play here. I'd be especially happy about any feedback.