North Carolina's Flat Rock Playhouse describes itself as "a not-for-profit educational institution and professional theatre," -- a billing that comes with certain obligations and responsibilities. The theatre has recently begun rating its fare much the way the Motion Pictures Association of America rates movies: G, PG, etc.
Recent productions include 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.
"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.
--By David Lefkowitz