The creative freedom to be ‘dirty’

Disclaimer: This post includes adult language and content

I remember when I was in high school, a top contender for our spring musical was ‘Sweet Charity’. Some of the ‘powers that be’  thought it was a little too mature for high school kids, with the main character being a ‘lady of the night’ and all. In high school, I never wanted to do the typical ‘Guys and Dolls’ and ‘Oklahoma’ and thankfully, neither did the fabulous men who ran the drama program.  I have grown up to respect and even adore some of the classic musical theater shows but as a kid, you couldn’t get me to go near them. They all sounded the same and all had a pretty similar story. Girl and guy meet, one falls in love while the other pretends not to care, usually acting rude or unfavorably to them (now a days we call this, sandbox syndrome) They fight.  Something ridiculous happens with the ensemble stories, usually ending in a major ensemble number such as Sit Down Your Rockin the Boat or the Farmer and the Cowman  and then poof, the lovers get together. Blah blah blah. Most kids, no matter what age, have their first experience with theater in a school setting where context has to be monitored and regulated. I get it. There are a lot of people to please when it comes to school districts, school boards, teachers, faculty and parents. However, when you are working in a tuition based theater program that requires enrollment to survive, the most important people we have to please are the students.

For the past 2 years, heads have turned when I’ve mentioned the shows I am choreographing with the teenagers. Spring Awakening turned a lot of heads since it is most famous for a sex scene at the end of Act 1, where the leading female character shows a breast (not in our production). We had kids coming out of the woodwork to audition for that show. However, the worst one in my opinion was Wedding Singer. I thought it was going to be a fun, 80’s show with great music. Nothing over PG13. Wrong! The opening scene of the show consisted of a monologue about doing ‘blow’ in the bathroom with a transvestite and a bottle of alcohol. We cast a 14-year-old in that role. Every night I cringed. Some nights, I didn’t walk in to the theater until after the opening scene. But again, we had a decent amount of kids audition and a nice size cast. Also, the parents have been nothing but supportive of their kids doing PG13 to R rated material. I thank my lucky stars every day the kids I teach have the coolest parents. The kids want to be edgy. They want to find ways to shock their parents, their friends and themselves. They want to sing rock music and do inappropriate things they would never do in real life (I hope). When I was their age, I totally got it. I wanted to do Sweet Charity.  Now that I am the one teaching the material, I still get it but sometimes I wish our season was The Sound of Music, Oklahoma and The Pajama Game.

This season, we have moved into an entirely new genre of mature. Racism, homosexuality, stereotypes, talk of porn and cursing mostly done by the mouths of puppets. Avenue Q is meant to bring you to tears of laughter with its unique way of discussing taboo topics. I saw the show on Broadway and actually peed my pants. It was this show that paved the way for the ever so popular Book of Mormon. The score is incredible, the writing is hysterical and there ends up being a lot of charm to what, on the surface, can seem like a comedy skit. Originally, we were slated to do the school edition, which edits foul language, unnecessary mature content and length. However, the kids were pretty stubborn about changing all the school editions ‘shoots’ back to ‘shit’ and all the ‘oh no’s’ back to ‘fuck’. One particular song also made the production staff think twice about the school edition. The song ‘The Internet is for Porn’ sung by many of the men in the show about their favorite thing to do on the internet, was changed to ‘My Social Life is Online’. The same exact melody, put to words discussing Facebook and Foursquare. We all hated it. We all made fun of it. We all knew the kids could handle a little talk of porn. So back in it went, with the thought that we would change a few lyrics here and there to make it less shocking.

In rehearsal, I sit squirming in my chair like an embarrassed parent not wanting their kids to grow up too fast. I admit, I don’t have a strong heart when it comes to things like this but in my defense I have known some of these kids since they were 10, 11 and 12 years old. To listen to them talk/sing about masturbating, porn, sex or even having an alcoholic beverage makes me nervous. The kids think it’s funny when I turn red.

“The Internet is for Porn’, is really meant for clever shock value. The character who sings the lead in the song is labeled as a pervert from the second we meet him. His hefty one liners include ‘Me up all night honking me horn to porn porn porn’ and ‘Why you think the net was born? Porn porn porn’. Obviously, the kid playing this character ‘K’, is loving every minute of this. He is on the older side of this group and is at the point in his life where this stuff is not only funny, but relatively true. He is going through a bit of a sexual awakening, so to speak. Being in Avenue Q is a way for him to go through it with the safety of lines and a script to follow. I enjoy his spirit, his pride, his spunk and his individuality despite the fact that he loves to make me uncomfortable.

One particular line in the song was bothering me. ‘Grab your dick and double-click for porn’ just seemed like a little too much. Alright kids, we hear you loud and clear. You want to be edgy. You think this is fun. But please spare some of the people who still view you as innocent flowers the trauma of listening to you scream about grabbing your dick. I started to come up with alternative lyrics for this line, with the directors go ahead of course.  While I was coming up with an alternative line, the team had also decided to cut two numbers from the full version of the show that we both unnecessary for the story line and a little over the top contextually. One was about being loud whilst having sex and the other was an explicit description of a fake girlfriend. Honestly, they just weren’t necessary.

None of the kids were thrilled about this but no one gave me more grief then ‘K’. Every rehearsal he would throw some sassy comment my way about changing things. He would passive aggressively mention that he didn’t think we should cut songs or lyric changes. I didn’t know how else to explain to him that we cut them because a. they are unnecessary in this setting b. we have to think about the audience (your parents) and c. this was a full production staff decision. In the 3 months of rehearsal, no such luck convincing him any of these points were worth while.

Last week, I finally changed the line ‘grab your dick and double click’ to ‘here’s the trick just double click’. A good compromise, I thought.  He very cleverly changed it to ‘double click and change the lyric’ during the run through just to spite me. It was funny. He’s quick that one.

When I gave him a note about it afterwards, his immediate response was:

Lexie. You are getting in the way of my creative freedom

From now on, I will try to hide my blushing behind my script and deal with the fact that they grow up too fast.

One thought on “The creative freedom to be ‘dirty’

  1. I seem to remember, Lexie, that as a HS freshmen your role in the musical involved a striptease while reciting Biblical poetry. Talk about walking a fine line… especially for a former Catholic school girl.

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