Jer’s Vision, a Canadian charitable organization dedicated to fighting bullying and homophobia in our schools, approached me recently to ask if they might offer a staged reading of one of my plays at a workshop they were running for students in the Ottawa area. In particular, they were interested in “Ex Cathedra,” a play about the unexpected reunion of two lesbian ex-lovers, one now a nun and the other a high-level security official, in a totalitarian state in which homosexuality is a capital crime.
Some might wonder whether a play with gay or lesbian characters like this (it’s debatable whether you can really call it a “gay play”) is suitable for high school students. Judging from the reactions of the students who attended the reading, the answer is a resounding YES. Not only did they follow the reading closely, they engaged the actors and the facilitator with a series of intelligent and interesting questions during the talkback after the reading. One student, for instance, offered a fascinating insight into how the play was an example of the prisoner’s dilemma in game theory.
Not only did they “get” the play – who the characters were, their relationships, and the issues that they had to grapple with in the course of the play – but they wanted more. Many asked after the availability of the play and others like it, suggesting a demand for challenging play anthologies. Two students approached me to ask if they could put the play on at their respective schools and many others were excited by the news that a theatre company affiliated with Jer’s Vision will be presenting a full production of “Ex Cathedra” at this year’s Ottawa Fringe.
I hope Jer’s Vision and similar organizations – and schools! – will enable more students to engage with challenging plays and the artists who create them. Not only do the students get to debate the “real-world” issues that plays can raise, but they just might also become the next generation of theatre-goers. I hope so.