Monday, November 14, 2011

The Kiss That Got Me Censored

I wrote a one-act play about two teenaged boys falling in love titled Johnny Ramirez Really Wants to Kiss Me. It's a sweet, innocent story about a new relationship blossoming between Alex Wilde, a misunderstood misfit, and Johnny Ramirez, his after school math tutor. The play is not sexual in nature. It's not shocking or obscene. There's no nudity. No profanity. No violence.

But, there is a kiss.

Actor Gilbert Villalpando, who originated
the role of Johnny Ramirez.
In 2006, the script was selected by Stage Q in Madison, Wisconsin for their festival Queer Shorts. The play received a wonderful world premiere, directed by Erik Weinke, and starred Gilbert Villalpando and Nathan Figueroa.

A year later, the play received a New York premiere at the 78th Street Theatre Lab (thanks to producers Frank Blocker and Sydney Stone). The show was directed by Jon Michael Murphy and starred Chris von Hoffman and Bobby Abid.

In April of 2008, the play was produced in Boston by Another Country Productions, a wonderful organization run by an incredible, very passionate woman named Lyralen Kaye. My little play went on to win their Best Play Award in a slam-style performance contest.

Late in 2009, Lyralen contacted me regarding a new pilot program she had developed called Slams4Schools, in an effort to bring diversity-themed theatre to local area Boston schools. She selected Johnny Ramirez Really Wants to Kiss Me for the program.

In early January of this year, 8 plays (out of 37) were contracted to be performed at an all-male Catholic school (who will remain unnamed to protect the guilty) in a suburb of Boston. The plays were assigned to student directors, cast, and the rehearsal process began with a planned performance date of April 6.

In early March, I received an email of concern from Lyralen. She was having problems with the school about my play. I shot back an email asking for clarification - what problems were they having exactly?

Although the play had passed through a rigorous selection process, the administration wanted the kiss taken out of the script, references to the kiss to be omitted, and the physicality between the two characters (again...the kiss) to be struck.

Lyralen defended my honor and my work. But, in the end, the play was pulled from the festival completely.

Two days later, the school cancelled the entire event.

I was forwarded an emailed copy of a plea written by the student (the only openly gay - and Latino - member of the selection committee who was determined to direct my script) and given to the school's administration.

This young man's words broke my heart.

"I am in no way trying to offend anyone; I am just trying to get my voice out there...I am a junior...and former director of Johnny Ramirez Really Wants To Kiss Me, the play that attracted the most discussion at our school because of a stage kiss between two guys. Growing up I did not always fit in I was always told I was too girly, or too skinny but who hasn’t faced some sort of bullying. I believe with these plays we could’ve brought our school to new heights in acceptance of people in general....

I came to choose this school because I saw it as a place where I could make a change and affect lives somehow. I just wanted to address the way the slam was taken away from those who worked so hard for it. We were called into a room with members of administration, who I don’t think had anything to do with the process...We were never given a real reason why...We were angry and had a reason to be angry because all of our months of hard work and training were taken away in less than an hour. It was said that some plays were too inappropriate but weren’t the plays chosen and approved through faculty? I couldn’t help but feel guilty that the play I chose was the reason why the whole slam was canceled...

I am most angered because I saw this as a really good opportunity to help my colleagues become more tolerant in these issues I care about...In conclusion, I would like to remind you that we all have the power to change things at this school, no matter what..."

As an educator myself (I've been a teacher for almost a decade), I was disheartened by the school's decision specifically because of the broken message it sends to young people - especially those who need a play like Johnny Ramirez Really Wants to Kiss Me in their lives (truly the reason why I wrote it).

Sadly, the battle with the school was lost. They refused to reverse the decision and the plays remained unproduced.

Until now.
Another Country Productions have since scheduled the plays to be performed under the collective title SlamBoston UNCENSORED at the Boston Playwrights Theatre on November 14-16, 2011.

For the first time in the history of the play, this production was directed by a woman, Caitlin Ann Stewart-Swift. The show will feature performances by Francisco Marquez and Matthew Ian Eriksen.

This story is far from over. Discussions have recently started about adapting this script into a feature film.

And, when it is, I can promise you...the kiss will happen.

1 comment:

  1. I remember this script well; a lovely treatment on adolescence and navigating a first kiss. Relatable for all --- so I thought. At one point there was talk of Michael (forgetting his last name: was a dancer, very good-looking, dyed Lucy's hair pink) playing one of the roles. Anyway, I think you should wear your censorship like a badge of honor. Think of the company with whom you can count yourself. As for the young director, I hope he can channel his anger and passion into his next project and being part of the postive voices (like yours, like mine) that help change the world.



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