Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Family Friendly Standards

One of the things OHPAA prides itself on is production of "family friendly" live entertainment. So I was a bit surprised when someone commented that they thought our current show, The Foreigner, "violated OHPAA's standards." I've never seen The Foreigner any where else, so I don't know if other productions of it have included offensive content, but I have no problem taking my children to see the Empress Theatre's production. In fact, my five under-twelve children have seen it three times. I suspect the comment was made based more on reputation than on the actual production on the Empress Theatre's stage.

The Foreigner does present the Klu Klux Klan and a scheming minister as the bad guys. And it uses deception as a major plot device. And there is the matter of a pregnant debutant...

Okay, so...

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat presents attempted fratricide, slavery, the deception of Jacob, and the summary execution of the baker; not to mention a half naked Joseph cavorting about on the stage. And what about that whole scene with Potiphar's wife?

Shakespeare's classic Much Ado About Nothing is all about deception and, oh yeah, eveasdropping on other people's conversations, though sometimes the conversations were designed to be overheard. The false accusation that Hero is "a committed stale" who knows the comfort of "a luxurious bed" is equally a depiction of a moral question. (Don't even get me started on Midsummer Night's Dream and the whole sleeping with the donkey thing!)

What makes the character of Owen Musser different than the character of Borachio? How is the Reverned David Marshall Lee different than Prince John the bastard. How do we find the scheming of Joseph's brothers to be acceptible on the stage while rejecting the scheming of Owen and David as improper content?

Guys and Dolls is all about gambling and depicts a crap game in a sewer. My Fair Lady uses the deception of passing 'Liza off as nobility and Alfred's panhandling of Higgins. In Oklahoma Curly suggests that Judd suicide and Judd has his "glass," presumably pornographic, in the smoke house; and don't overlook the knife fight and the "trial" Curly goes through after he kills Judd; or anything at all about Ado Annie...

Arranged marriages, Tevye's dream and a pogrom in Fiddler on the Roof; Sound of Music deals directly with the German takeover of Austria, and the von Trapp's flight from the very racist and brutal Gestapo. (As racists working under Hitler, the Nazi's did more damage than the Klan ever imagined. The KKK is ugly, the Gestapo was ugly, efficient, and had state sanction.) Polygamy and sexism are central to the plot of The King and I.

Yet each of these shows is considered a "classic" of American Musical Theatre.

Where and how then do we draw the line? What content is objectionable? What content is acceptable?

OHPAA is actually in the process of developing a formal set of standards, and we'd like your input as to what they should be.

Please leave your comments, but I ask that you follow a few simple rules: first, if you are going to comment on Foreigner, tell us if you've seen the Empress Theatre production of The Foreigner or if your comments are based on some other production. Second, please explain why you think a particular bit of content is objectionable as family entertainment, and whether or not you would consider it objectionable in other contexts. Finally, no dis-ing a show just because you don't like it; keep the comments centered on what type of content you consider appropriate for families and what you consider inappropriate.

I won't promise to post all coments, but I will promise to pass all on-topic comments on to the board and the standards committee. And I will post all comments that further a healthy discussion. And lets all keep in mind that not everyone will agree on every point.


Anonymous said...

I feel that there needs to be a compromise somewhere. You cannot have a story without opposition, and opposition is usually brought about by evil plans from a villian in a show. One of my favorite quotes is "You can't paint a masterpiece without using a few dark colors". I think that the Empress should be more open to performing shows that are both family friendly, and maybe some that may not be for the younger ones. I feel that Sweeney Todd or Little Shop of Horrors would be great on the Empress stage, yet they do have some darker themes or language,(which can usually be changed if you write and ask the publisher nicely), but have great morals to them. If the Empress just sticks to completely clean shows, they will be repeating the same shows every other year. I think that all they would have to do is advertise at the beginning of the season, or when they announce the new season what contents it has in the show, and if certain people feel that they might be offended by that content, then they don't have to come. Just like films, certain content disturbs people that doesn't disturbs others. I am offended by nudity and sex, but not so much offended by bad language. It might be totally different for someone else.

Also, I was in attendance at a Work In Progress show. One of tha actors mentioned a urinal in a scene because of the way one of the other actors was standing. Someone got offended and shouted out foul, and then stormed out of the theater. To everyone else, that wasn't offensive.

It is hard to define what family friendly is. The Shrek films are considered family frienly, yet they have bathroom humor, innuendo, and mild language. However, I would feel perfectly fine with my three children watching Shrek. If that is considered to be "Family Frienly", then I think WIP shouldn't be hounded on never usuing any bathroom humor every once in a while, or a tounge in cheek innudendo that will go over kids' heads anyway. They are a great team with lots of talent and they are a later show, so they should be given a little more freedom, but still be respectful and keep it "family friendly".

Thanks for listening to me.

Ginny Williams said...

I took my 12 year old to see the show, we homeschool and the Empress has offered us an inexpensive route to enjoy drama and has allowed us to learn about what goes into a show. I myself had never heard of the foriener prior to seeing it at the empress, and for unknown shows, I watch it first, then take my son if he would like to go.
We talked about the KKK prior to the show, as it is unfortunatly a part of our American history. He was a little nervous about being scared by them, and asked me to warn him before it was time.
He Loved the show, he laughed, he giggled, and when the time came, I gave him a heads up as to when the KKK was going to come out and where they were coming from. He had some great questions after the show about the Clan, and I took the opportunity to explain more to him as he asked. I found it to be a great learning opportunity for him.
I have never questioned the content of Empress productions, and believe that the Empress has done a wonderful job keeping things family friendly. I will continue to attend along with my 12year old, and when questions come up, will take the opportunity to teach him about it (whether it be a dark park of history, famous authors and their often difficult ways of writting, or biblical goofyness)
Empress... you are simply Marvoulous darling, simply marvoulous.

Tad said...

Ginny, I think you make a great point! Without conflict there isn't much story to tell. With the conflict there is an educational opportunity.

The Foreigner deals with racist, white supremicist, and nationalist ideas by showing how Owen judges Charlie based on his belief that Charlie is not "one of us" when in fact, Charlie's whole character, as seen by Owen, is fabricated. Betty, on the other hand, doesn't think that Froggy is a foreigner, even though he comes from Brittain. In the end, both Owen and David are brought down by their own prejudices. It's a wonderful study in prejudice.

And BTW, Little Shop of Horrors, is tentatively on the schedule for October 2009, pending our ability to secure the rights to perform.

Manelle said...

I thought The Foreigner was hilarious but I know my mom would not like it. Why? Because it contains words like "hell" and "Damn" She is really offended by words like that, as well as taking the Lords name in vain. Your never going to get her to like anything that has words she finds offensive. That's just the way she is.

Anonymous said...

The playwright has the final decision as to the language in a show. They put words in to explain feelings and emotions. There is a big difference in motivation and emotions between the two phrases "Lets get out of here" and "Lets get the hell out of here". The theatre can ask for permission to change words and they may or may not be given permission to change. Brigham Young stated when the first theatre opened in Utah that if there was smoking, drinking or swearing in the script there will be smoking, drinking and swearing on stage. I believe that the Empress does a wonderful job at making sure that the most offensive words are removed. If we are trying to "protect" the children they hear worse words on TV and in the school yard.

Tad said...

I missed that one. The Foreigner does have some mild language issues.
Language is an issue for some folks; my mother-in-law and Manelle's mother would probably agree on the words she mentioned. On the other hand, they were a part of my mother's normal vocabulary. I personally find the objections somewhat pharisaical.
But that raises a sticky point... What words do we allow or what rule do we follow in determining whether to allow a word?
I remember giggling in 5th grade when I was asked to read a passage from a history book that included the term "Colter's Hell" as the name given the region now called Yellowstone National Park. Fifth graders just weren't supposed to use that word, and I was embarrassed.
But should we exclude the word 'hell' from our shows? Or should we exclude shows from our stage that use the word?

Anonymous said...

If you start to clean up all the words where do you stop? Besides the most offensive words which the Empress has deleted from their shows. Do you start to clean up anything else that people may find offensive? Anyone smoking? drinking? kissing? references to slavery, abuse, children out of wedlock, other religions? If you do your theatre will fail. Theatre is intended to bring new insights and understanding between people. If you dont have Potiphars wife, Joseph never lands in jail and you have not show. If you dont have the oppression in Fiddler on the Roof between the Jews and the Gentiles, you have no story. Life is not a picnic and we have all lived through our own trials. Isnt it nice to go to a show that good triumphs over evil. That the KKK is rounded up and the evil plot spoiled, that Joseph is reunited with his family, that Albert finally understands what is important, that we all could go down a "garden path to hell" if we are not careful like the lady in the Mystery of Edwin Drood and this list could go on for each show that the Empress has done, since I started seeing them anyway. I believe that the Empress has the right idea to have a family friendly environment, however, if you attempt to scrub everything that someone might find offensive you will so few shows to choose from. And this will lead to a loss of your audience, your donations, your actors and the quality of the shows that have been ever increasing this season. I urge you to use caution when you decide what is appropiate and what is not.

Tad said...

As I read through that last comment, my initial reaction was that it merely restated my original questions without really adding anything to the discussion. But then I thought about it for a moment. The commentor seems to think that if we offer fare that is "too clean" we will have little to choose from and and our endeavor will fail for want of an audience. On the other hand, the whole idea of offering "family friendly" fare is to match our offering with our audience.
So, to reframe the question, what standards does our audience want?
But before we can attempt to answer that question, don't we need to define who our audience is?
This is a very important question for me, because our marketing will be vastly different if we are trying to attract LDS Families with children than it would be if we were trying to attract a more liberal and "sophisticated" adult audience. (And the overall demographic within 5-10 miles of the Empress Theatre is not real easy to pin down.)
Or does it matter? Is the reason Joseph did so well based on the show's reputation, and The Foreigner is not doing as well because nobody is familiar with the show? If that's the case, then why not repeat the same popular shows every four to five years?

Joline Walgamott said...

I am delighted and fascinated with the feedback from everyone. Thank you for taking the time to comment! I feel as though all of us are essentially on the same page as to what we consider to be "decent" and "family-friendly." I am completely comfortable with all of the opinions shared and believe that the Empress will continue to please our audiences.
I can hardly wait to read more of your comments and I want to say "Thanks Tad" for being an excellent moderator!