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Select the OAP That is Right for Your Students, Your School

By Luis Muñoz, Theater Director | Thursday, October 27, 2016 9:48 AM

Producing quality theatre begins by selecting plays of literary value and theatrical merit. The theatre teacher is responsible for choosing scripts worthy of the educational experience involved. If English students must study the best literature, so must theatre students and theatre audiences be exposed to the best dramaturgy. Theatre is a reflection of life. When students experience superior plays written by outstanding authors, they learn, through character exploration, of the physical, mental and emotional development of the human personality, of people’s motives, reactions, standards and ideals, all of which enriches the students’ lives and helps them gain poise, social understanding, self-awareness and self-esteem.

Plays worthy of presentation in secondary schools are plays which may be accorded a place in dramatic literature. Such plays are legitimate teaching tools for expanding the literary, theatrical and social horizons of the students, challenging the talents and artistic abilities of the participants and offering a vital and important message of social and redeeming value to the adolescent and adult community. Such plays help fulfill the objective of aesthetic education.
- “A Play for All Seasons”

It is important that you ask yourself a simple question when making play choices, and it’s not, “What?”  The question that really has an impact is, “Why?”  It is important to understand that the selection of material not only has an impact on your program but on theatre education as a whole. Are we doing this particular title to make a point, to satisfy a personal desire or to give our students a positive educational experience? 

Make sure you pick material that will challenge you and your students. Don't force square pegs into round holes. The pegs end up rough along the edges. Pick the play with your students in mind. Be careful not to set them up for potential failure by selecting a play that you are wanting to do for your own needs. Find something that they can do and do well. Don't neglect scripts for young audiences. There is a treasure of excellent literature designed for the younger audience. A few years ago I had a conversation with Dr. Coleman Jennings, UT-Austin, and discussed the need to promote the production of theatre for young audiences. Don't assume that all that's out there are the standard fairy tales and legends, although these are legitimate choices. There are incredible new works dealing with  a wide range of issues that pertain to our youth that deserve careful and serious consideration. Good theatre is good theatre whether its target audience is 8 or 80.

Last year questions over language, theme and suggestive choices were at the forefront of OAP discussions. It is the duty of each director and the administrator to make responsible selections for the student. This is not a question of censorship but rather the responsibility that we have to provide our students with a vehicle with which they can become better citizens and artists. Is there a place for “profane, indecenct and obscene” language in this contest? Not under our rules. Is hate language, bullying, insulting relevant and necessary at times? Yes. One need only look at “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Zoot Suit.”

Make sure that you have a very serious discussion about your choice of script with your administrators and that you have their SOLID support.

The Standards Rule says that you “shall” remove the language, scenes and action. Remember that  your Ethics Code in Section 1034 begins with “the Academic  Meet
Code requires  participants to:

(1) Participate in the OAP contest with the spirit of fairness and sportsmanship, observing all rules both in letter and intent.

The UIL staff has implemented several new procedures and policies this year to help our administrators and our reading committee.

First, our reading committee is working with a new evaluation report form. Readers have been asked to mark through and note any profane, indecent or obscene language or actions in the printed text. Those items are listed in the “approval or disapproval form” and sent to the director and administrator at the campus. Scenes that raise questions about their potential staging will require that the school submit a description of the staging within two weeks before we give them an approval or disapproval. The administrator will be made aware of this request. After two weeks, the submission expires.

Second, the Community Standards Compliance Form requires that the administrator indicate the date he or she saw the performance as it is being presented at that level of contest. This form must be submitted BEFORE each contest.

The other question that has to be considered is whether or not this is the play that best represents you, your students, your program, your school and your community. Don’t put your program and theatre in our schools in harms way by not making careful and educationally sound choices. Use common sense.

Get in the habit of reading, reading, reading. It is only through a thorough knowledge of dramatic literature that a director can make responsible choices for their students. You can’t make sound and educated choices without knowing all of your options. Another great resource is the annual “Texas UIL One Act Play Contest Participation List.” This document lists the entries by school, director and title for a particular competition year. Many of these teachers are willing to share their cuttings. These can be downloaded from the UIL website (under Resources and Forms).

Read reviews (local papers and websites) and watch play performances on television and videotape. This is particularly useful for those living in rural areas who do not have the access to live theatres. Check out the “New York Times” online. There was a time when PBS was the resource but cable and satellite have changed that. Networks such as A&E, Bravo, HBO and Showtime carry several recordings of live performances. Some of them are excellent.

I remember a  quote I heard many years ago: “A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something.” With a solid foundation in dramatic literature, a recognition of your strengths and weaknesses as a director  and a knowledge of the student and technical resources available to you, you'll start getting “hunches” about the plays that are right for you.