Welcome to our Featured Play Spotlight. Today we look The Perils of Modern Education, by Matthew Webster, of which there are many! From standardized theatre tests that call for an exact number of steps in a scene, to trying to eat green in the cafeteria, to dealing with caffeine withdrawal, to giving Shakespeare advice on his college application essay. That’s right. Shakespeare. Spoiler alert, Willy is not college material.
A comedic romp through the stresses and struggles of making it through the school day. Gender flexible casting, doubling possibilities, and easy to stage.
Why did we publish this play?
Funny. Gender flexible casting. Funny. Doubling possibilities. Funny. Easy to stage. Funny. Did we mention the play was funny. The standardized theatre test is one of the best comedic scenes and it would be fantastic in an ensemble competition setting. The stresses and struggles of making it through the school day are too numerous to mention and it’s important to be able to laugh at them. This play does that to the moon and back again.
Let’s hear from the author!
1. Why did you write this play?
I had written a number of short comic scenes for different performances over the years and it occurred to me that they might be assembled into a good vignette-style script. At the same time I was working with my proficient and advanced theatre students trying to decide on a script to produce for a class project. It didn’t take long to put those dots together! In the end I chose some of my strongest scenes, adapted them for a high school environment, wrote a series of transition scenes that humorously moved the action forward and – Viola! The Perils of Modern Education was born!
2. Describe the theme in one or two sentences.
The absurdity that students (and some teachers!) face in a modern school setting. From caffeine addiction, to college application essays, to the scourge of standardized tests, the school day is fraught with perils.
3. What’s the most important visual for you in this play?
I would have to say it’s the moment when Juliet is trying to carry her balcony around after Romeo sprains his groin. It creates a great visual of the absurd lengths students are expected to go in order to pass a standardized test.
4. If you could give one piece of advice for those producing the play, what would it be?
Play the truth of the scenes. No matter how twisted or absurd, there is, sadly, a lot of truth in the challenges these characters are facing. Plus comedy is funnier when it is played truthfully.
5. Why is this play great for student performers?
Because there are a lot of interesting, unique characters for them to tackle! Some of the stand-out characters include the Silent Student (a large non-speaking role), a teenaged William Shakespeare, a girl in the throes of caffeine withdrawal, and a lunch lady who is a total Fangirl. Plus it gives a voice to frustrated, jaded, well meaning students everywhere!
6. What advice would you give to anyone thinking about performing this play online?
Much of the dialogue of this play translates quite well to an online setting. Some of the actions or specific references would have to be adapted to conform to a virtual performance, but directors and performers have my permission to make those adjustments for their production. I would love to see the creative ways they make it work!