After a speedy drive from Los Angeles with four albums I just bought rotating in my CD player (Badly Drawn Boy's One Plus One Is One, The Presidents of the United States of America's These Are Good Times People, They Might Be Giants' No!, and The Thrills' So Much for the City) and Diet Coke With Lime coursing through my veins, I rolled into Menlo Park at exactly 3:00PM this afternoon to rehearse Oskar and the Bully. The play, which will tour elementary schools (K-5) in the San Francisco Bay Area pretty much forever (I'm actually not kidding), was commissioned by TheatreWorks and Palo Alto Unified School District.
In researching bullies, victims, bystanders, and definitions of bully behavior, I was surprised to learn that, as much as I was bullied at school, I did a fair amount of bullying myself as a youngster. Remember that time in middle school when I went up to Frank Johnson (not his real name) and asked, "Hi, Frank, I just started the I Hate Frank Johnson Fan Club. Do you want to join?" Or how about that time I drew a movie poster based on the life of my classmate, Elizabeth Hovel (not her real name), which I titled "Hovels of Hell"? Man, I was a mean bastard. I hope that I have grown and changed over the years (and that I am now meaner and more clever). (I'm just kidding, Palo Alto Unified School District, I'm just kidding, keep those checks coming!)
The actors, director, and stage manager were terrific, and I was writing new pages for them just minutes before our very first invited reading in front of TheatreWorks and PAUSD staff. I was thrilled at how enthusiastic and positive everybody was, especially for such an early draft. Since my M.O. is presenting issues in a subtle and funny way without clobbering people over the head, it was a relief to hear that folks were on the same page. With these educational theater programs, you never can tell if you're going to run into people who think kids are idiots and you have to club them with obvious messages and lessons, as I have been instructed to do before on other projects, much to my dismay. (That's a whole other story I'll have to relate to you some day.)
If grown men and women are this slaphappy about Oskar, then five-, six-, seven-, eight-, nine-, and ten-year-olds—who, if you remember, are my biggest fans—are going to love this new play, the second in a trilogy. The first piece was about literacy; this second one is about, of course, bullying; and the third topic is still up in the air. What do you think should be next? Race? Sex? Gay? Or how about racial gay sex? When do kids learn about racial gay sex nowadays?
[Attention Read and all the guys at Maybeck High: "Don't ever get involved with a French girl.... She'll make your life miserable." Word.]