I am writing a play about, among other things, awkward teenage experiences. I sent out a questionaire to my friends on Facebook to inquire into their connections to Shakespeare, and to ask incredibly nosy questions about their high school romantic experiences. I am deeply curious about all of them, and have absolutely loved the responses I had today. I'm still hoping for more, but my greatest discovery so far has been the absolute universality of Teenage Awkwardness. Despite the fact that I very carefully wrote my whole entire teenage life down on paper as it was happening, or immediately before it happened to insure that it WOULD happen, it was still far more awkward than romantic. More frustrating than gloriously joyful. But boy...when the joyful parts came, I was more than ready, and welcomed them with open arms...and awkwardly placed noses and intercepted notes and misunderstood comments. It was all part of the package.
The play deals with Romeo and Juliet, and as much as I admire the poetry of the play, I want to just slap the two of them upside the head. Really? Poison, Juliet? Married at 14 to a fickle boy you met like twenty minutes ago? Come ON. But still...one thing that chimes through is that teen love is without sense, without limit, and utterly without the belief that anyone can possibly understand the depth of feeling that pulses through your particularly hormone-laden veins. I had two boys that I "loved" in high school - one, unrequited, ill-advised, and really only created in my mind because he once danced with me to Frankie Valli singing "You're Just Too Good To Be True" under twinkling lights at the South Shore Music Circus. It was ridiculous, but I was Sixteen, and it was Time to Fall in Love. That was a disaster.
When I really truly fell in love, it was with the Boy Next Door, the one who had been waiting for me, who was right there all along, the one who...insert 80's romantic pop ballad song lyric here. But is was real and true and as deep a feeling as I've ever felt in my whole entire life. How lucky I was to have that, but how inevitable for a girl like me, born of showtunes and romantic novels, to have been blessed with such a relationship. Would I have taken poison for him? In retrospect, I certainly hope not. But had you asked me circa 1989 as he kissed me behind the lighting booth in the high school auditorium...hell, yes. And I would have offered my diary for the script of the teenage movie of the week that you could have made of the story.
So...while I am doing my best to try to make the script of this play as non-corny as possible, I will attempt to honor that other universal theme - that teen love is messy, awkward, embarrassing, laced with ridiculous moments and a particular delicious rosebud sweetness that never, ever comes again.
Below is the survey I posted, if you care to chime in.
My Dear Friends,
I am writing to ask a favor of you. I am currently working on a theatrical project for my high school, and I am seeking some very specific input. I am writing a play loosely based on the You’ve Got Mail/The Shop Around the Corner/In the Good Old Summertime formula of being in love with a pen-pal whom you actually despise in real life. It’s set in a modern high school, specifically in an AP English class working on an advanced study of Romeo and Juliet. I am looking for some perspective – both current and revisionist – about the experience of reading Romeo and Juliet in particular, but Shakespeare in general. I am asking you, if you are willing, to share your points of view. You can answer some or all of the following questions, or simply write back and say “No, thank you.” Either way, I hope that you will allow me to use some parts of your opinions in my play. I’ll totally give you all the credit.
The first few questions are about Shakespeare, but the last ones are about high school experiences in general, from the humiliating to elating. Again, you don’t have to answer all of them, but any little tidbits that you can offer will help to deepen the reality of the play. Oh, you can just reply here if you don’t mind sharing your answers, or cut and paste and reply to me privately in a message. Totally up to you!Thanks so much for participating!!
1. When you hear Romeo and Juliet, what are the first images that pop into your head, positive or negative?
2. Did you read Romeo and Juliet in high school? If so, what did you think of it? Has your opinion changed as you’ve gotten older? Did you relate to any parts of it? Did you really read it, or fake/Cliff-Notes read it?
3. If you read it in school, did you do any projects or writing activities in class that made an impression?
4. Have you ever seen a film or stage production of Romeo and Juliet? What did you think of it?
5. Did you ever use any aspects of Romeo and Juliet, or Shakespeare in general, to impress a guy/girl you liked? How?
6. If you are gay, did/does that have an impact on your experience of the play? How so?
7. Do you have a favorite Shakespeare play? If so, which one is it and why? If not, why do you think that Shakespeare did not connect to your life?
Here are the more personal questions:What is the craziest thing you ever did for someone that you had a crush on?
What was your first kiss like? Was it romantic? Tender? Awkward? Embarrassing?
Did you ever have a secret crush that you were afraid people would discover? Why did you keep it secret? Did you ever end up telling the person, or did you get caught in your feelings by anyone?
Describe a negative elementary school experience with a peer that stands out in your mind. Did you ever have a fight with a kid that made you absolutely vow to hate them for all eternity? Did you keep that vow, or forgive them later?
Anything else romantic or traumatic you would like to share? Names and circumstances will be changed to protect the innocent or guilty, but it might feel awfully good to purge the energy from that by seeing it enacted on the stage!! Thanks for your support, my friends.