First, a word about Mike Lew’s choice of title: I don’t know that many teacher-directors, or any administrator is going to “be okay” with a play titled Teenage Dick. Without any explanatory or alternate titles, there’s too many opportunities for misunderstandings. But after reading the casting notes, I’m pretty sure Mike Lew intended his play for professional actors, not the high school market:
“Cast disabled actors for Richard and Buck. They exist and they’re out there.”
– A teacher-director would have choose this play because she knows she has actors with disabilities who will audition for those parts.
“…if it’s a choice between greener age-appropriate actors versus older comedic geniuses, feel free to “age up.”
– The youngest characters in the play are 17; that’s just a year or two younger than the oldest high school students.
TITLE: Teenage Dick
AUTHOR: Mike Lew
LICENSING ENTITY: Dramatists Play Service
SUMMARY: Teenage Dick is Richard III set in a 21st-century high school. A ruthlessly ambitious junior with CP tries to win an election.
CHARACTER BREAKDOWN: 2M, 4F (1F is an adult, the rest of the characters are high school juniors)
COSTUMES: Contemporary; dance workout outfit, tuxedo (this requires a quick-change).
SETTINGS: A contemporary American high school; classroom, hallway, gym. In addition: dance studio, bedroom, parking lot.
PROPS: Everyday objects, student council election materials
STAGING/TECH CHALLENGES: Two scenes have social media postings as pivotal components; you will need a way to display these. The stage directions call for “I Voted” Stickers to fall from the sky. Invisible characters: there are relatively few characters but the script often gives indications that this is a normal high school filled with students.
Gregg Mozgala, Artistic Director of The Apothetae, commissioned Mike Lew to write the play. The Apothetae is a theatre company “dedicated to the production of works that explore and illuminate the ‘Disabled Experience.” Mike Lew took inspiration from Shakespeare’s Richard III for Teenage Dick; there are many parallels between the two pieces, but it is not a copy of Shakespeare’s plot.
The Ma-Yi Theatre Company premiered Teenage Dick at the Public Theater in New York City.
But prior to its premiere, there’s a long list of theaters and organizations that contributed to the play’s development:
As the play begins, RICHARD bemoans the incompetence of the Junior Class President, EDDIE, while he toils away as Secretary. He’s scheming to get power, and he’s not above using his disability – cerebral palsy – to his advantage.
In English Class – studying Machiavelli’s The Prince – RICHARD is the only one who completed, or at least, comprehended, the assigned reading. CLARISSA (Junior Class Vice-President) objects to the assignment on the basis of her Christian values.
ELIZABETH, the English teacher, is goofy and trying to be cool; she agrees to help RICHARD run for Senior Class President. RICHARD decides to run a “covert campaign,” and enlists his friend BUCK, whose full name is Barbara Buckingham, to unknowingly help.
First on RICHARD’s scheming agenda is getting ANNE MARGARET to ask him to the Sadie Hawkins Dance. ANNE MARGARET is recently EDDIE’s EX-girlfriend. RICHARD’s approach is self-pitying, insulting to ANNE and…successful!
In addition to EDDIE, CLARISSA is also running for Senior Class President. While talking with RICHARD and BUCK, CLARISSA tries to get a “coalition” together, but she reveals her prejudices against people with disabilities. RICHARD convinces BUCK to take CLARISSA out of the running by sabotaging her GPA; BUCK does.
ANNE and RICHARD have a practice choreography session in anticipation of the Sadie Hawkins Dance, which ends in a kiss.
When CLARISSA finds out she isn’t eligible for the election, her subsequent freak-out reveals that RICHARD is running for Class President and ends with her in the principal’s office (“the Tower”). EDDIE verbally and physically bullies RICHARD. BUCK realizes RICHARD used her to advance his own campaign.
ANNE reveals to RICHARD that she terminated a pregnancy earlier in the school year.
RICHARD and EDDIE have a debate; the student body responds via voiceover and social media. When the debate devolves into ad hominem attacks, RICHARD makes an appeal to ANNE to stand up for him by stating they’re dating. ANNE runs away.
RICHARD and ANNE have a frank discussion about their “relationship” status. ANNE wants to know whether he’s really the “nasty resentful person” she witnessed at the debate. She challenges him to drop out of the race. RICHARD debates with himself.
At the dance, RICHARD betrays ANNE, and the play turns increasingly tragic, though in a different manner than Richard III does.
Teenage Dick is a challenging piece for actors to perform and directors to direct. It makes difficult demands on both the cast and the audience.
Lew works allusions to Richard III throughout the dialogue, most often in RICHARD’s lines. Other characters notice RICHARD’s use of Elizabethan language several times. Be prepared to have someone perform dramaturgy for a production.
In casting ANNE: ANNE is considering becoming a professional dancer; the script has her dancing, coaching RICHARD to dance, and performing a dance routine with RICHARD .
RICHARD dances with ANNE’s coaching, and performs an “adorable” and “FABULOUS” dance routine. You need to have a choreographer who can stage one!
It stretches the suspension of disbelief a little that BUCK, even while serving as TA for several classes, has access to the grading software. What kind of school does that? (However, this is a modern version of a Shakespearean plot device!)
I have assembled a partial list of “Considerations” to help teacher-directors decide if they’d like to get a hold of a perusal copy of a piece or purchase a script for their classroom/department library. These are aspects of Teenage Dick that, based on my experience and knowledge of past challenges to educational theatre pieces, an administrator, parent, member of the public, or a student could potentially object to OR request to change in the script.
DON’T change the script without permission! See this Dramatists Guild initiative for more information.
Someone may object to the very concept of a character with CP behaving as nefariously as RICHARD does.
- A character appears after death to speak with another character.
- Plenty of profanity, including the F-word, the M-F word, a-hole, plus Shakespearean insults
- There are many, many, offensive terms used for disabilities and the disabled; some of them are much worse than the ones I’ve listed here. The disabled characters use them against themselves and each other in addition to able-bodied characters using them.
- Characters claim that disabilities make it easier for students to get into college, to get scholarships
- There is a lengthy exchange using the word “spaz” and its variants
- Characters call RICHARD “Mr. Pretzels,” a “freak,” “social outcast”
- EDDIE suggests that the 4-H Club hook RICHARD up with a “hot-looking goat”
- RICHARD says that EDDIE has a “simian brain” and is a “dumb ogre meathead” (The script does not indicate that EDDIE has an intellectual or developmental disability)
- CLARISSA puts down people for being “non-believers,” “immoral,” and she says “you will burn”
- Students mock CLARISSA – in person and via video screen “tweets” – about her Christianity, saying she is “bible-thumping,” teasing her with “WWJD?”
ROMANCE and SEX
- BUCK says she wants Chris Evans (Captain America of the Avengers movies) to “sit on (her) face”
- EDDIE has suggested a “wet t-shirt contest” as a school fundraiser
- ANNE and RICHARD kiss
- ANNE and EDDIE were having unprotected sex which resulted in a pregnancy
VIOLENCE and DEATH
- The varsity football squad was allegedly hazing the JV team by “broomsticking” them
- There’s a “monster wedgie” delivered
- EDDIE “beats the sh** out of” RICHARD
- A character commits suicide; there is a symbolic scene involving stage blood
- A character commits attempted vehicular homicide
- Many threats of violence
Mike Lew also has a blog on his website, though he hasn’t posted since 2014 (understandable; he’s very busy!). His post “A Plea About Arts Piracy in the Theater” gives a playwright’s perspective on “class performances.”
Along with his wife, Rehana Lew Mirza, Lew wrote the book for the musical Bhangin’ It (music and lyrics by Sam Willmot). (The video on Project Springboard’s website is terrific!) Bhangin’ It won a 2019 Richard Rogers Award for Musical Theater. The show will receive a premiere co-production by La Jolla Playhouse and McCarter Theatre Center in 2021.
- Teenage Dick might make a good companion/extension piece for classes studying Richard III.
- RICHARD’s opening monologue might make a good audition or competition piece if you have an actor with CP.
- Mike Lew, along with Daniel Monks and Ruth Madeley, who are playing RICHARD and BUCK in the Donmar Warehouse production, comment on Teenage Dick in Holly Williams’ piece for the BBC, “Will the Disabled Ever Get the Stories They Deserve?”
- Donmar Warehouse has a well-written list of “Content Advisory Notes” – you’ll need to click on the pull-down to see it – it looks like they do a list for each of their productions.
- Here’s The New York Times review of the Ma-Yi production in 2018.
OTHER PLAYS INFLUENCED BY SHAKESPEARE’S WORKS
Shakespeare in Love (High School Edition) by Tom Stoppard Lee Hall, and Marc Norman – It’s a fanciful “what if” story adapted from Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman’s Oscar-winning screenplay!
The Bomb-itty of Errors by Jordan Allen-Dutton, Jason Catalano, Gregory J. Qaiyum, Jeffrey Qaiyum, Erik Weiner – It’s a hip-hop Comedy of Errors!
Get Bill Shakespeare Off the Stage! By Joseph Robinette – It’s a play about the theatre and about Shakespeare!
When Shakespeare’s Ladies Meet by Charles George – It’s an all-female cast one-act with no scenery!