In part I I mainly talked about writing Here’s Your Future. What happened next?
First of all, I gave the play to other people. Not many, but apart from one exception, everyone seemed to like it. My co-director liked it and I remember well asking her if she thought any of this might be a problem. I also remember her saying “no”, being sure that everyone saw the humor of it and would agree with the criticism. I had been scared of that talk because if she had reacted differently, I would have been disappointed. But her reaction made me confident that this actually might be a winner.
When we told our drama group of students the reaction was overwhelming because they were surprised that I actually wrote our next play. And I think every one of them liked it too after reading it. One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is that I wrote some roles specifically for some our actors and interestingly all of them fought to get these exact roles, without knowing that I wrote it for them (I only told them at the end of the production). Most of them said that the play rang very true for them. I got one reaction from another teacher who thought the portrayal of teachers was too negative. But apart from that, everything was fine. I insisted early on that it shouldn’t be mentioned anywhere that it was written by me. It was my play, but I didn’t want to use that more than necessary.
We started casting, which went well enough, aside from the normal drama of some people fighting for certain roles. Then we started rehearsing and I will never forget the feeling of hearing the lines I wrote spoken by other people on stage for the first time. It was really, really exciting. I rewrote some things, which I had always thought was one of the biggest advantages of being the author, since you could easily adapt to the circumstances or, if they made sense, the wishes of the actors. Anyway, everything was going really well. Almost too well after The Crucible, which had an incredible amount of chaos and drama behind the scenes. But Here’s Your Future just sailed along smoothly. Until.
Well, two things happened before the play itself became the issue. The first thing was that earlier that summer there was a project week and one group made a little movie in which they parodied the life of a student. It was just a silly movie and I agreed to play a small part in it. Well, weeks later, the movie had to be taken down from the internet and was considered problematic for the school’s image. I didn’t see any problem and I think no one would have thought anything bad about the school for having a video like that. The other thing happened in March of 2012. The final class of this year had their traditional Abizeitung, a kind of yearbook for all the students who graduated this year in which they all present themselves and reminisce about their school career. And in which they tell some truths about their teachers. For some reason the students this year were especially, well, honest, although most teachers thought they had been really mean. Anyway, that’s another story, but it was kind of a scandal for the school, leading to many discussions and basically repercussions for future graduation classes until today. It was really absurd to me, but somewhat expected.
The day after the Abizeitung came out, my play suddenly became an issue. It was the first of many apparent coincidences that didn’t feel random. From now on I’ll try to not talk about any specific persons, just to avoid any possible trouble. Let’s put it this way: after months of rehearsals, I now had to explain what the play was about and once I did and it was read, the first reaction from the powers that be was: no way, this cannot be performed at this school.
Again, we’re talking about months of rehearsals and about two months before the play was supposed to be performed. I had never intended to insult or really provoke anyone, just to make people laugh and think at the same time. So why was the play such a problem?
People would think it was about our school, adding more fuel to the bad reputation that had supposedly been generated by that movie and the Abizeitung. Everyone would assume it must be our school and compare the characters to teachers they knew, although nothing in the play was ever intended to remind people of this particular school.
School and teachers were portrayed too negatively. People would think school isn’t good or teachers are incompetent. Let’s just say that not one student or parent had a problem with that.
It was me who wrote it. Well, you see, if this was just some play by some unknown (or known) author who was not at the same time a teacher at this school, no one would think any of those things. Had I used a pseudonym probably nothing would have happened.
Obviously, none of these arguments convinced me, not even slightly. And I argued, like, hard. My main point was that none of this would really matter. People would laugh about the comedy, some would agree, some would disagree and after the last performance it would be over and more or less forgotten. I made it very clear that anything trying to stop the play would only increase the attention it would get. There were many, many conversations had. I was asked to rewrite the ending, so that it was more of a happy ending, in which the message should be: “Well, but school isn’t so bad after all, right?” I was asked to set it in the 60s. I was asked to cut certain scenes (the teachers’ conference, for example). As devastated as I was by all of this and as much as I wanted to bring my play to the stage, I didn’t move one inch back from one principle: I would not rewrite one single word of the play. This, I said, would be censorship. The answer? If this were censorship, the play would never see the light of day (one of many sentences I heard around that time that made think I was somewhere else, like East Germany or the 50s of McCarthy).
One of the most absurd aspects of all these discussions was that they proved the play more right than I could have ever done it myself. I couldn’t believe that they didn’t see that. They didn’t want school to be shown in this negative way and tried to stop it in exactly the way school acted in the play. Isn’t that what some call irony?
After the first conversations we were also told not to tell our drama students about any of this. But how could we go on rehearsing if we didn’t even know we would ever perform it? And how did we actually manage to perform it? That will be the topic for the next (and probably final) part of this story. It is also the part where the craziness really starts. So, if you think this seems impossible, tune in again next time.