One day after Playbill On-Line published a story about the use of a ratings system by North Carolina's Flat Rock Playhouse to give audiences a sense of what might be inappropriate content in an upcoming show, the theatre has discontinued the practice.
Flat Rock Playhouse, which describes itself as "a not-for-profit educational institution and professional theatre," had begun rating its fare much the way the Motion Pictures Association of America rates movies: G, PG, etc. Recent productions included Fidder On The Roof (G) and the upcoming comedy, Catfish Moon (PG). The latter had its world premere at Charlotte Rep in 1996 and runs at Flat Rock July 16-26.
In a statement sent to Playbill On-Line, Flat Rock artistic and executive director Robin Farquhar wrote, "Flat Rock Playhouse has discontinued the use of the rating system mentioned in your article because it has come to our attention that its use for theatrical productions is a copyright infringement."
The Motion Picture Association of America has copyrighted all the ratings (G, PG, PG-13, NC-17 and R) except "X" as a form of quality control for the ratings system.
Farquhar later told Playbill On-Line, "We got an e-mail from someone who worked in the movie industry who said the industry don't look fondly on those who try to co-opt the offical ratings system for other purposes. So even though we're doing this with the best intentions in the world, we don't want to be brought up as some kind of test case and get into hot water over this. Instead, we'll just inform people what's in the shows or come up with a different ratings system of our own." "We've always tried to have our box office let people know what's in the show," marketing director Cae Gibson told Playbill On-Line. "We have a lot of church groups come through, and we're in the Bible belt. We didn't actually start putting the ratings on until last year. Then it was just at the box office; this is the first year we've printed them on press releases."
Asked how the theatre judges and rates productions, Gibson said, "We did Same Time Another Year which we rated PG-13, also the Boys Next Door. Our ratings are different from what you'd expect with TV or movie ratings, because people tend to get more offended and personally affected when it's live theatre. Also, people here are more concerned with language or violence, and we have a lot of seniors as well as families. We don't usually do anything that would be considered offensive or controversial."
How close has Flat Rock ever come to presenting a controversial show? "Well, we did Five Guys Named Moe but that was more a racial thing... so we had several letters from bigots and what have you. It's not really the same."
As for this season, Gibson expects little problem. "We asked the author of Catfish Moon if we could take out some of the language, and that was no problem for him, he was very accommodating on that. We knew our audiences would have a problem with words like `dammit' and taking the Lord's name in vain. We're giving Big River a PG because of the racial issues. Cash On Delivery, a farce, is rated PG-13, because it has transvestites and all kinds of weird stuff that young kids don't get or shouldn't get yet."
It's now common for Off-Broadway theatres to post signs when a show has gunshots, smoking onstage and strobe lights, while season brochures will occasionally caution subscibers that a show has nudity or particularly strong profanity. Still, an official rating system is a rarity in theatre circles.
--By David Lefkowitz