THE WRESTLING SEASON
Commissioned by and premiered at the Coterie Theatre, Kansas City, Mo, January 2000, directed by Jeff Church.
The breakthrough play of the Millennium, developed at The Kennedy Center’s New Visions/New Voices in 1999 and featured at New Visions 2000/One Theatre World, a National Festival for Young People and Families at The Kennedy Center, in Washington, DC. Winner of the 2001 Distinguished Play Award from the American Alliance for Theatre and Education.
“This important new play reveals the search for identity that is at the heart of growing into healthy adulthood. Every high school student can benefit from it.” – Sidney Horowitz, Ph.D DAPS Yale University School of Medicine, Dept. of Psychiatry.
TENTH ANNIVERSARY PRODUCTION AT THE COTERIE!
American Theatre – November 2000
Wrestling with Taboos: An interview with playwright Laurie Brooks.
Interview conducted by Russell Scott Smith
As the frontiers of the theatre for young people have expanded in recent years, traditional taboos have fallen quickly. Today, children’s theatres regularly present work that deals with divorce, domestic violence, disease, death, racism, war, poverty—the whole range of painful, complicated realities that exist outside Peter ‘Cottontail’s garden. But one taboo has held fairly firm: sexuality. That changed last February when Kansas City’s Coterie Theatre presented the premiere of The Wrestling Season. Meant for audiences 13 and up, the play focuses on tow high school wrestlers who are rumored to be gay lovers and examines the effect of peer disapproval on other characters as well. After the play is over, the actors remain on stage, in character, to respond to questions from the audience. Playwright Laurie Brooks, the mother of three daughters, is currently playwright-in-residence at New York University’s program in educational theater.
RUSSELL SCOTT SMITH: Were you worried that people would be upset about the subject matter of your play?
LAURIE BROOKS: Oh, yes. There’s such an aura about what can he presented for young people and what can’t. There’s an attitude that if you put it on stage, young people will do it. But the opposite is true. This play represents young people who are anti-models. They often make mistakes and they don’t necessarily do the right thing. But that doesn’t mean that the young people in the audience arc going to emulate them, Instead, the play gives them the chance to stand up afterwards and say, “I don’t think he should have done that.” Or, “If it were me, I would have done it this way.”
RSS: Is that what you include in the forum?
LB: The forum offers the beginning of dialogue. And young people are just crying out to talk about these things. At the Coterie, the forum was supposed to run for about 30 minutes, but it could have gone for an hour or more. The kids were cheering; they were disagreeing. And you could watch some of them rethink their positions.
RSS: Did you script answers for the actors to use during the forums?
LB: We couldn’t have. The forums were never static. Each one was different and totally spontaneous. The actors had a vocabulary of responses that they built up over time, but it wasn’t scripted.
RSS: It’s interesting that you left the ending so ambiguous.
LB: There are many who believe that theatre for young audiences is all about teaching a “lesson” but I think it’s about raising questions. I think one of the best things we can do to help young people think about the complications that make us human.
RSS: Did The Wrestling Season grow from any specific incident?
LB: It came out of a couple of years of work that I did in high schools in the early 1990s. I worked with young people to devise scenes that showed conflicts they dealt with every day. As you can imagine, the same topics came up again and again—issues of identity, gay issues. I wanted to somehow write all these ideas into a play. Then I happened to go to a wrestling match, and there was the metaphor laid before me.
RSS: Why didn’t you make one of the characters clearly gay and struggling with that?
LB: We made a conscious choice nor to do it that way, because sexuality is not as clearly defined as we would like it to be. It’s very difficult to put labels on anybody. I’ll admit that in early drafts, I tried ti that way. But I didn’t want this to be labeled the “gay play.” My feeling is that it’s about that and more.
RSS: Why do you write for young people?
LB: I guess there’s a part of me that never quite grew up. I still struggle with a lot of the same issues that young people face. And I find young people beautiful. I love to be around them. I’m entranced by their vulnerability. Their searching. Their pain.
RSS: How do you keep in touch with kids and how they speak?
LB: Mostly by hanging out with my daughters and their friends. That’s very important to me as a playwright, and of course my daughters are in every play I write in some way or another. In fact, if you track my work, you can watch my kids grow up.
RSS: Did your daughters make any contributions to The Wrestling Season?
LB: Yes. For example, my daughter Joanna had a very interesting suggestion about the character Melanie. She was the one who said, “Maybe Melanie likes the rumors.”
RSS: Are there still taboos that can’t be crossed in youth theatre? Are there any lines that you won’t cross personally?
LB: That’s a tough question, because I wouldn’t want to censor anything. But whenever we present work for young people, I think it should have some redeeming value. I think it should be helpful in some way.
RSS: Why is it important for youth theatre to produce plays like The Wrestling Season?
LB: I think we have to reach young people in their own territory. It’s patronizing for us as adults to say: This is what you should do. Kids can smell didacticism a mile away, and they’re very turned off by it. A better approach is: “Here’s a story. Now, what do you think about the characters and their actions?
Russell Scott Smith is a New York-based freelance writer.