Charlie Foster, A Play About Swimming and Theatre
After seeing a production of CHARLIE FOSTER last Friday night at Metro Arts, http://www.metro-arts.org/ I was motivated all over again to try and get this play out into the high schools of American and beyond. Since the Newtown shootings, something in me has changed, as I'm sure something has changed in all of us. Of all the shootings, violence, and mentally ill incidents that happen in our country, there was something about this one that really struck something deep, like a death occurs in your family that you can't stop thinking about.
After watching President Obama's speech yesterday in regard to the bill on background checks, I was also struck by the magnitude of the issue, and the fact that although ninety percent of the population is in favor of this bill, there is a good chance that it will not even get a vote. Something very disturbing is happening when something with that kind of popular support cannot get through because of the power of one lobbying organization. It seems very evident that we are becoming a country that is controlled by the lobby of big business, and NOT the American people.
I also watched a discussion of this matter by a group of people who have been effected
by gun violence, many of them parents of children who were lost to school shootings. I was moved by one expression that came up over and over again. "Our lives will never be the same." So, time, and no matter how much of it passes, the loss of these parents of their children has changed them and the trajectory of their lives forever. What about the rest of us? How many children have to die before we reach a tipping point?
CHARLIE FOSTER is not a play about a school shooting. It is not a play about mental illness, rather, it is a play that focuses on the death of a teenager who no one cared about until he died. It is about a teenager who wanted nothing more than to fit in somewhere somehow. The play covers the incident of his death, and how he was perceived. I wrote the play for several reasons, but my main reasoning was how cruel high school can be, and how peer pressure can change the actions that are contrary to our instincts, which for many, it is to be kind and caring to everyone. While growing up, my mother always stressed the importance of being kind to those who were less fortunate. I didn't have the best home life either, but there was lots of thinking happening around me at home, and lots of testing of human kindness and values. Although I was troubled in many ways as a teenager, I was also a leader, and had the capacity to influence those who followed. For much of that period, I moved easily between groups of people, and remember being kind to the kids who were obviously picked on and abused. For whatever the reason, I could sense that what I did and said could make a profound difference to that Charlie Foster kid. That kid who was dirty, poor, and probably abused at home. But there were times that I adhered to the mob mentality, and understood what a powerful lobby it was. When I was a freshman, there was another kid who was literally roping these kind of disenfranchised kids, with a lasso, and dragging them to the ground. I stopped it, but not before that dreadful fight after school which cost me a bloody nose and two weeks of suspension. How could I explain to the principal that I was protecting other kids from a bully? I couldn't, and even if I did, it would have cost me much more later. Yes, high school is cruel indeed, it's like being a fish in the ocean, all of us, swimming to survive, and the sharks are so ever present. The rest of life is similar, but we do learn somewhat how to survive without getting totally swallowed by the sharks, or do we?
I also wrote CHARLIE FOSTER with the input of teenagers I was teaching. What were their concerns? What did they think about in regard to other students who were struggling? I was fortunate in that the five years I was developing the play I was working at an art school where many of these troubled kids found themselves—for the very reasons the play addresses. Kids whose parents had lost some hope about what to do with their child. Kids struggling with their sexual identity, kids who had been in trouble, either with drugs, abuse, and many of them autistic. Once I learned to listen instead of just teach, I was met with an understanding that was profound. I would bring in pieces of writing, watching and listening to the reactions of each of them. That is why it took five years to write, because I wanted none of it to be wasted. I learned that teenagers are often opposed to things they do, but all it takes is one charismatic kid who is in trouble to take a whole lot of them down a perilous road. Or one kid who is NOT charismatic, who is in more trouble than anyone understands. As a teacher, I did learn to treat and teach both kinds of kids, and CHARLIE FOSTER was a play that I used many times to address both of these kinds of kids, as well as being fearless to bring about the thoughts that teenagers often think about. They fear and think about death in a way adults often deny. They think about what will happen to them if they take a wrong turn. They think about each other, and how it would be to walk in someone else's shoes. They wonder who will help them navigate through the thoughts that arise in them. Many of those thoughts they keep to themselves because they believe that no one else thinks them. They wonder what will happen, how they will navigate through this world. CHARLIE FOSTER doesn't answer all of these questions, but it does allow for the thoughts to arise, to critically think about the big questions in life.
As I said earlier, Newtown did something to me that I can't quite arrest. I suppose it is
urging me to somehow take action in a way that I have learned how. I miss teaching, and do believe that I belong in a classroom. After ten years of teaching, I came to a place where I could not understand what was happening to me, and why I could no longer teach. Now that I know that much of it stems from a metal hip still on the inside of me, perhaps when its gone, I can entertain thoughts of teaching again, but perhaps in the meantime, I can bring attention to a play that can answer some of the big questions that teenagers ask. It's interesting to understand, how one can work on something for years until it becomes a polished piece of art that can make a difference, and can guide it through the proper channels to capture the attention of an audience, and still remain stalled at the starting gate as CHARLIE FOSTER remains. I've thought of the many reasons this could happen. Could it be that the play reveals too much truth? Are the questions it asks not classroom appropriate? I've thought about that, and have come to believe that in this present age, the classroom is the only place some of these questions will EVER get addressed. And, it is risky for a teacher to bring up matters of life and death, but haven't we reached a point where we must to keep our kids from killing each other? It's a brave new world, and teaching has become a profession that demands that we raise the questions that are residing deeply within our children.
My brother Dan came over yesterday and we discussed all of this, and we are ready to get the word out there. He has a website called Deep Magik, how to write a fantasy story He is teaching me how to maximize my need to write about it, and we are in the process of developing a website where this can happen. Charlie Foster needs to play in our high schools, of this I am convinced. I only have to see another Metro production of it, and watch the reaction of the audience to know that this play can help lend a hand of things that we all need to be discussing with our kids, they deserve that. They deserve honesty in the classroom to become honest themselves, and they deserve to be taught that loyalty and love is not just something that is taught at home, if it were, we might have far to little of it. This play can help.
We have discussed doing a touring production of CHARLIE FOSTER, perhaps in the fall, when we have raised the level of awareness in regard to its power. I'm not saying this to advocate the brilliance of the playwriting, for this was a play that was developed by the kids themselves, I was only the scribe that was fortunately in the right place at the right time. CHARLIE FOSTER, A PLAY ABOUT SWIMMING AND THEATRE can be purchased at Dramatic Publishing, Dramatic Publishing, Amazon, Charlie Foster, A Play About Swimming and Theatre or a few other book outlets, and its worth the read, I think, and really worth the discussion that ensues because of it…