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Director's Notes

crystal-ball.jpgI went to a production of Blithe Spirit last night at a local high school. It had a Director's Note like none I've ever seen. Most Director's Notes for plays fall into the following categories:

  • My Artistic Vision - These are always amusing, typically arrogant, and often portend disaster for the next 2 hours.
  • Thank You So Much - This is what a director says when he or she can't think of anything else to say. Also often portends disaster.
  • Wink Wink, Nudge Nudge - The director makes little inside jokes that you just had to be there for. Your friend in the cast will explain it after the show through hails of laughter. Smile and nod.
  • I Have a Masters Degree - Hey, the director spent a lot of time and money getting that degree. Might as well put it to use. Yawn.
  • The History of this Play - Blah, blah, blah. Start the frickin' play already.

This page long "note," however, read like a paper on British-Indian relations in the middle of the 20th century when Great Britain was divesting itself of its colonial possessions. When I got to the bottom of this dissertation it was all because of two lines in the play that disparage Indians and how they decided to leave the lines in even though they are "offensive" and how they do "not in any way condone these beliefs."

I rolled my eyes.

I had never seen Blithe Spirit, though I knew the gist of it. Fabulous dead wife returns from the dead to haunt living husband and domineering living wife. So it was fun for me, considering the lengthy disclaimer in the Director's Notes, to see what this Catholic High School thought wasn't worth disclaiming...

  • Alcohol Abuse - The characters are constantly drinking and it's a major theme of the play, but, on the whole, apparently better than racial slurs.
  • Wife Beating - The dead wife mentions how her husband struck her with a pool cue but that she still loved him. Better than calling Indians lazy!
  • Occult Practice - Summoning people from the dead, while strictly forbidden in scripture, is still more acceptable than racial epithets!
  • Tobacco Use - Considering the current civic obsession about smoking I'm surprised that there wasn't a disclaimer about people smoking in the 1940s being the social norm, but apparently casting aspersions on Indians is worse!
  • Adultery - There's plenty of discussion about infidelities and trysts and indiscretions and other naughty extra-marital behavior which kinda made me blush coming from the mouths of 16 and 17 year olds, but apparently that doesn't merit a disclaimer.

Oh, and not only did these brief comments merit a full page disclaimer, but were the main topic of the opening curtain speech which went on for several minutes. Nothing about how hard the kids had worked on the play or how fun the play was to do. Nope, the director seemed bent on making sure no one was offended.

And that, unfortunately, is what it all comes down to... making sure no one is offended. And, of course, this is evidence of social psychosis. Because we can't control what offends people any more than we can control what makes people sad, or happy, or angry. I mean, sure, it's good to be considerate, but it's a slippery slope to start apologizing for certain things and leaving other issues out. And if we can only do plays that don't offend anyone well, there goes Shakespeare, Moliere, Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, and, well, just about any other playwright of note.

So, to all the artists out there, I hereby give you permission to make art that may offend me. Go for it.


In discussing this with my children we were reminded of Peter Quince and the Rude Mechanicals in Midsummer Night's Dream and how they devised a very lengthy prologue so as to not offend their audience or frighten the ladies.

Shakespeare knew the score.

Great piece!
Just wondering--was the director a student? Was this composed by a student? If so, it might just reflect an adolescent's crusading nature and lack of nuance, irony, or self-awareness. We've all been there!
If this was all from someone over the age of 30, well.... I'm glad Simon and Emma have a father who can guide them in this kind of critical thinking!

P.S. Your "blush" comment reminded me of my senior yr of h.s., when there was a big stink over the drama teacher's desire to produce "Grease," with its sexual content and teen pregnancy sub-plot. I forget how that ended, actually--some sort of compromise.

PPS Heh-heh. Shakespeare, 21st cy PC...guess there really is nothing new under the sun.

Leah, the director was staff and appeared to be a 40-something year old woman. I think I would have been a little more merciful with a student.

Oh, I'm sure you would have been. I actually had started writing when that popped into my head and I added it. 40-something woman, huh? Sheesh.

We had a similar and equally ridiculous situation down in my neck of the woods last year regarding a high school production of Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians" which garnered a lot of media attention after a local NAACP official threatened to lead an official protest of the play. And it was less because of the word "Indian" in the title than it was the fact that the original title of the play apparently used the word "nigger" instead. Only no version of the work ever published in America has ever carried that version of the title!

You can read more about the insanity here

Only one thing truly offends me: offended people.

Leah, that reminds me of the inquisition of Jennifer Cundiff, the airline attendant who playfully reciting, "Eenie, meenie, minie, moe; pick a seat, we gotta go" as people were milling around the plane. The original wording instructed people to catch a dark-skinned minority by the toe. Cundiff didn't say the word; she had never even heard that rendition. Nonetheless, two offended women (one of whom claimed the rhyme gave her seizures!) sued Southwest Airlines. (SW ultimately won.)

It's no accident one villain in Harry Potter is a pink-clad woman whose surname is a variant of "umbrage."

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