Last year, after a couple of near misses taking my Year 11 class to theatre shows potentially unsuitable for them, my students asked me “why aren’t there official ratings for live theatre?”
Depending on the age of students you are taking to the theatre, offensive language can sometimes be a concern. The F word is very common in the theatre these days, but I wonder if readers of The Drama Teacher have noticed as I have in recent years the increasing acceptance of the C word in contemporary theatre?
On occasions, nudity is another issue, but thankfully not that common. Of course, it all depends what shows one attends. In my experience, genuine displays of violence are rare in mainstream theatre, most likely because the special effects of film do not always translate to the live theatre stage.
At first glance, adult themes in theatre shows may not appear unsuitable or offensive for teenage drama students. Sometimes these themes are displayed indirectly, with offensive action occurring offstage (as in Greek and Roman theatre) and merely referred to on stage. But recently I saw a mainstream contemporary play with the themes of adultery, (unkowing) incest and murder in the plot. The makings of a great tragedy are also sometimes too much too for teenage audience members to handle comfortably.
While no one would deny the responsibility of ensuring the suitability of shows school students attend rests with the teacher, it also lies with the theatre companies themselves. Notices of suitability should be advertised on theatre company websites and in communications with teachers in the case of school group bookings. But shouldn’t general suitability information regarding plays in a theatre company’s season be on the main pages of their website, as well? This is sometimes, but not always, the case.
So why the absence of industry standards for live theatre suitability? While films are released to government classification authorities in advance of general release, the same may prove difficult for live theatre shows.
If the public believe ratings for theatre shows is necessary, then they should be implemented. Guidelines can be borrowed from existing examples for film and television, such as language, violence, adult themes and nudity warnings. Perhaps age suitability needs introducing also?
In the words of one of my students, “If video games have advisory warnings for adult content, then why can’t live theatre shows have the same?