After describing the writing process and detailing what happened during rehearsals, today I’ll tell the final part of the story, which mostly revolves around the actual performance of the play and the aftermath.
I don’t know if it’s clear that all these conversations and the uncertainty what would happen, was a very nerve-wracking experience. All the work put into it already, trying not to back down, while also not risking the whole venture – it was not easy to deal with all of this. I talked to many people at that time about all of this, my co-director of course, my family, some colleagues. I even called my father for help (which turned out to be a rather frustrating experience in the end). The reactions were odd. Almost anyone outside of school could not believe that this was really happening, that in our time a play could be considered too dangerous to be performed. Some teachers thought different, although I never really talked to many of them. And the questions didn’t stop? Should we give in and change stuff? Should we just pretend to give in to the demands and then perform the play as we intended it? Should we perform it somewhere else, outside school? Were we ready for all the trouble this would cause?
At some point it was decided that we were allowed to perform the play. It was absolutely clear that this only happened because not allowing it would cause too much of a controversy. Even to them, it became clear that this whole story could not be kept secret anymore and if we had to come out and say that the play was banned, would make people talk even more about it. I said it many times then that they shot themselves in the foot, somehow, because if they had just from the start said: “We don’t like it, but go ahead” the talk would have been much less. But through all this back and forth (and everything that would happen then), the publicity was huge already. Everyone was talking about it even before the dates had been announced. In this regard, we really won a battle.
But no one just said we could simply perform the play as intended. There were demands. Instead of making it some undefined school, we had to make it look like some American school with a name and a mascot and everything (which was never mentioned in the dialogue, which remained unchanged). One scene was changed but only in that one character spoke the lines intended for another character. And one character’s hair color had to change which until today is the aspect that comes up most often when people ask me about it, like a rumor you’ve heard but can’t really believe (which I love, that the play in a way has become like an urban legend – only that everything is true). I agreed to all of this and it didn’t feel great but at this point I really was just happy to get the play on stage. And it didn’t change anything of the intention of the play.
In the weeks leading up to the premiere, a number of things happened that really increased the craziness factor more than anything before. Instead of the usual three performances we could only do two, with no explanation. Costumes were changed without anyone telling us. Posters advertising the play disappeared. We put them up again. They disappeared again. We put them up again. They disappeared again (in my mind, the image of a teacher taking down those posters is still one of the most unbelievable moments of the whole story). A notification for the play on the school’s website (which happens for any cultural event here) went up and disappeared within a day. Students were told not to advertise the play in their classes. It became apparent that it was tried that no one would know the play was happening, a real attempt at silencing the whole endeavor. Which in turn made people only talk about it more (which should have been obvious).
Finally, it was time for the premiere. After all we had been through, it was hard to believe we actually got that far. We were almost sold out, on both nights. The performances were excellent and seeing the play on stage, in front of people, hearing them laugh (or sigh in case of some) was one of the most exciting and satisfying things in my life. I mean, after all, I did it and it worked. Ignoring all the drama surrounding it and just looking at the play itself, blasting away with a dozen Thermals songs, it worked. No one could ever take that away from me. The students went out and had the play printed in book form as a present which nearly made me cry. After the performances students and parents came and unanimously said the play was good and right about school. Of course, almost all of them had heard some of the stories.
But what about the teachers? Well, some were nice about it, others were unhappy. It still amazes me that so many couldn’t see the humor in it, the absurdity we all live and work in every day. Teachers complain about school all the time, but vocalizing that in a play seems to be too much for some. One thing that was somewhat unfortunate was that after the play, I wasn’t in school because I was on paternal leave for some months. Which lead to a certain disconnect because I wasn’t around for anyone to express their dislike (or like) for the play.
That also was not the end of the story. Some months later I was told that I wouldn’t be able to lead the drama group any longer. Just imagine that. I was really too dangerous to put another play on stage. Officially I took a yearlong break (a story I never repeated, I explicitly refused to pretend this was my decision). And when I felt ready to maybe be part of the group again, over two years later… well, the final word on that isn’t out yet.
Immediately after the play, when I came back to school, things felt different for me. In the beginning I was really paranoid, constantly thinking that any colleague could be against me. Which might be true for some, while others somehow hadn’t heard about any of it. Some didn’t care. Some didn’t want to deal with it, afraid they might be too involved themselves. I became somewhat of a recluse in the teacher’s room, focusing on my lessons and my students, which always turns out to be worth it more. I haven’t written another play or even more than some lines of dialogue, mostly because the thought of never having any of it on stage depresses me. I have ambitious ideas for at least two plays but I’d be just as happy directing some other plays, too. I really love teaching, but directing, as stressful as it is, is really a dream come true. Which is why maybe my heart is still somewhat broken for all of this. But I certainly am not about to give up. I learned that people go to great lengths out of fear and ignorance. This really changed a lot for me, but the most important lesson is really to stick to your vision and not let anyone fuck with it. It’s your future after all.
I hope this story was enjoyable and instructive. I left out some details as I could really could tell more about some of those backroom conversations but also about the production of the play. Maybe I will write a book about it someday. Or, another ambitious idea that fascinates me, a play about it. I wouldn’t have to change much to make it funny and shocking, reality would fulfill this job quite well. But for now, over 3,000 words should be enough.
Again, I’d love to hear any feedback.