Movies have been rated for age-appropriate content since the 1960s. TV recently began rating for sex and violence. Regional theatres here and there have tried rating their shows by their own community standards, but none has lasted -- so far.
Playbill On-Line asked readers: Should theatre be rated like movies and TV? If so, why? If not, why not -- what makes theatre different?
If theatre ratings were to take effect, what form would they take? Letters and numbers? What would they "rate" -- numbers of bare breasts or genitals, or simulated killings?
Would they rate for sex? Violence? Bad language? "Adult situations?" Tastefulness? Appropriateness for kids? "Heaviness" of the drama?
How would you rate, for example, Jekyll & Hyde, Phantom of the Opera and Oklahoma! -- all of which have onstage deaths? And whose standards would be applied? The same folks' who write the reviews or pick the Tony Awards?
Would the ratings from one community be recognized in another? Would the New York ratings have to be accepted in Texas -- or vice versa?
Here are the results so far. Playbill thanks all who took the time to write. More responses will be posted April 8.
From Mark Rideout, Tulsa, OK:
Absolutely not! The ratings idea for television and film is a thinly veiled attempt at censorship, and merely abets parents in abdicating the responsibility of monitoring and supervising their children.
Theatre ratings are a dreadful idea; they can only be misleading, prejudicial and confusing, just like television and movie ratings. They can never be objective, and they will always only reflect the bias of the person assigning the ratings.
Theater has for so long been the last stronghold for free thought and open exchange of ideas. It should not be trivialized or minimized by something like a ratings system. As with any creative endeavor, theater should never be subjected to labeling that pre-judges the effort for people before they have a chance to experience it for themselves.
After all, that personal experience is what live theater is all about!
From Steven Williamson:
Hey there, and thanks for a great site (PBOL). I think, being the parent of two children, 7 and 8, that some sort of rating would be OK. While I would, and have, explained stage productions to my kids, many parents probably wouldn't. They would benefit from a rating. I would avoid rating the "number of breasts", just a brief explanation of what might be questionable. Without spoiling the whole plot, maybe a brief synopsis of the show could be posted near the box office or offered on request before tickets are bought. People need to be responsible for their own children, but a G, PG, or R would at least give them a guide and prompt them to ask about the content. Thanks for offering a chance to speak out!
From Jeremy Ellison-Gladstone (email@example.com):
From an artistic community that prides itself on being one of the most expressive, innovative, and interesting groups of artists in the world, I find it upsetting to hear that a rating system is even being considered.
Not a single one of your examples of so called "inappropriate material" do I consider to be harmful to even the youngest of audiences. This idea that parents may be surprised to find that Rent contains gay themes, drugs, and HIV, only made laugh harder at this story. Such offended parents should either watch the show several times themselves or have their limousines drop them off in the East Village for a couple hours to see the real thing for free. Do your research, people.
Maybe by reading the book "Phantom of the Opera" you could infer that there will be some portrayal of violence and death. Or better yet, talk to someone who has seen the show themselves and make your own decision. I just hope that we never reach the day when we must present proof of age at the door of our favorite musicals and plays because they are for "adult audiences only." But, to those who have reservations about getting your seats now to the hottest Broadway shows, I have done you the favor of identifying some potentially inappropriate shows.
Cats--(read the lawsuit story)
Titanic--themes of death and tragedy
Master Class--Discussion of a dysfunctional sexual relationship including a reference to male genitalia
The Lion King-- Death, and this strange idea of reproduction
Chicago--killing, very sexual choreography, offensive language
Smokey Joe's Cafe--Haven't seen it but I can tell by the title that there must be something bad
Hmmmmmm. I guess that leaves us with The Sound of Music. Maybe check that out although there is at least one reference to beer so don't take any children under the age of 21 because they won't know what the word "beer" means exactly.
please send any responses directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
Yes, I would like to see plays have a rating system. I know I'm not as familiar with the classics as I should be, not to even consider newer works, and it would be nice to have an idea of what I was getting into. (Would I want to see it with my mother? Or with a child?) I would guess the same is true for a number of people my age (40ish). We did not study much classical lit in school, and while I do try to read a play before I go see it, each production is tailored somewhat to the company, by the director, etc.
As to who would rate the plays? I don't think the production could rate itself fairly (the TV self rating system has disappointed me), there should be an independent committee. I don't think a nationwide system is necessary -- and if it's definitive enough, it should be understood by everyone. But I'm in the midwest, and I have travelled quite a bit, and I know that things that are acceptable in other areas are not acceptable here, regardless of what programmers and producers might think.
I know a couple of years ago in Stratford, Ont, I was at a production of Sweet Bird of Youth, and there were *a lot* of children. I really felt the subject of the play was a bit above them. I don't know if the parents were aware of the content of the play before hand or not. Perhaps they were, and felt the children were mature enough for it. I would have felt more comfortable with them there if I was sure the parents had had an idea of the adult nature of it.
From David Alan:
I think most people are well aware of a show's content before buying tickets, and a rating system would just be confusing and probably misleading. Would it lead to authors or even producers changing the material to get a rating as is done as Hollywood? Probably, and that would certainly be bad. Let's leave the theater alone.
As a high school English teacher and theatre lover, I must strongly oppose ratings. Imagine not being exposed to Shakespeare (homicide, regicide, suicide, violence), Oedipus Rex (incest), Tennessee Williams because unengaged minds cannot get past these situations as venues for universal themes and the human condition. Do we rate history books next? I grew up on theatre and it has been my greatest teacher. My parents were always behind me in my love of theater. We discussed all the controversial themes from "Boys in the Band" when I was a young teen to discussing "Rent" with my own children. I was 8 when I saw the film "West Side Story"; I didn't want to kill; I wanted to dance. I wanted to know what adults meant when they explained it was a modern Romeo and Juliet.
From Patrick O'neill (email@example.com):
As a thespian I can honestly say that ratings aren't needed. I always thought theatre was above that and was totally not needed. That is what separates the art of stage and the art of film. We, by applying ratings to Broadway productions, will draw us close to the genre of film. Theatre is theatre, it is sophisticated, for everyone and being for everyone, everyone has the right to know about it. However, that's what previews are for. For adults and reporters, they see the show write a review and the world is educated . . . this rating crap isn't needed. In all truth. . .theatre is too good for it. It'll destroy the art.
NO WAY, Theatre should have no restrictions!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
From Joe Cummings:
Parents should take an active role in what their children are allowed to see. Whether it be a movie, television or theatre.
Where I do not believe in a rating system for Broadway, I believe that parents should be responsible for what their children see and not see.
The theatre, whether it be drama or musical, is scrutinized enough. Leave the ratings in the motion pictures and television -- two forms of media that will never resemble the theatre.
No! No! No! No! And again, no!!!!
Aren't the television and movie ratings enough to make anyone gag! Like TV and the movies, violence would probably be acceptable and MacBeth would rate a PG while something with a few swear words or an intellectual discussing on SEX would be rated M.
I believe that there is enough information out on any given production for anyone to determine if it is suitable for their viewing or their children's viewing.
Let's face it: would you take your children or a relative's children to "Shopping and Fucking"? (Talk about a graphic title!) I'd see it (if it seem interesting), but I wouldn't be taking my niece.
I suppose it will happen in which case I will totally ignore them as I ignore the TV and movie ratings.
From Bennett Windheim:
In most European countries, movie ratings are unheard of. In America, we use movies and television as baby-sitters and send our children off to them unsupervised. Thus, ratings for movies and TV fulfill a parental function that American parents can't be bothered by. Here's where theatre differs:
1. For most people, theatre is a costly financial investment. Thus, few people go to the theatre without knowing what to expect. Due to the expense, most theatre-goers will read enough pre-opening publicity and/or reviews to make a discerned judgment about what they will spend that much money on.
2. With few exceptions (and parents know which they are), most theatre is not meant for children. Are we to prevent a 16 year old from seeing Quentin Tarantino on stage? If the teen is inclined to want to go, it's because he/she's already a fan through Mr. Tarantino's movies. (And in terms of violent content, nothing you do on stage can compete with that.)
3. Disney has been killing off its characters for decades, see "Bambi" and "The Lion King". What are those movies rated?
An assumption must be made: that those parents who take their children to the theatre, and who are prepared to spend that much money, have done their homework and are willing to accept responsibility for what they expose their children to.
If you look at the demographics of the common theatre-goer, you will see that theatre's audience is not mass, as are the other media. And you will be hard pressed to find anyone whose "moral judgment" will be acceptable to this group. Theatre's audience is traditionally more accepting of a broader range of viewpoints. And I'll be damned if I'll let ANYONE will tell me what my children can and cannot see. (I think you'll find that last sentiment to be fairly common among theatre-goers.)
Let them do what they want in Texas. There are plenty of things going on there that are totally unacceptable to New Yorkers. In theatre, as in most other things, New York stands independent and alone.
From Jennifer Matteson Butler, Pa.:
I prefer the current rating system. . . word of mouth.
From Alyssa Koblentz, Boston Conservatory:
Theatre is means of expression without limits. WHO has the right to rate what is appropriate and by what standards? Theatre is not by any means film or television, it is an art form from which should not be manipulated by a producer hoping to score high in box office sales. Theatre is an art that is slowly dwindling away if we do not grab it . By placing rules on theatre you defeat it's whole purpose; to impact, to change, to shape and to have no boundaries. Puccini was right when he said "Viva La Vie Boheme."
From T M F:
With $75 for a Broadway ticket in the 90's, why give the audience any more reasons to not attend? If this were being used a few years ago, would PASSION have received an "N" for NUDITY?!
Just like in TV or the movies, a rating system could both benefit or hurt a musical or play. A show with an MA (mature audience only) rating could bring in more people to watch it (just like the movies), and some shows could really use a boost. On the other hand, with strict ratings guidelines, does this mean younger teens can't watch shows like "Jekyll & Hyde" or "Wait Until Dark" leaving the theatre short of a full house?
From Melissa A. Hoffman:
I do not believe in the rating of theater. I feel that it is the consumers responsibility to research the show before they choose to attend. The primary word in that sentence is "choose." We are saturated with the "opinions" of invisible critics who deem what is and is not violent, foul, or unacceptable constantly. I feel that implementing a rating system could actually discourage theaters in small rural communities of performing challenging pieces because of the "Scarlet Letter" if you will. This may be considered the ramblings of an insane woman...but you asked for opinions!!!!! (grins)
From liana c. percoco:
NO way should theatre be rated. i was in fact thinking that, "will they put ratings on broadway next? that would just be the end of it. and the day they do, is the day i stop going to the theatre."
theatre is live art in its purest, most "expressial" form and it shouldn't be rated. I'm 15 and i love live theatre. i see shows like RENT, and CHICAGO, etc..which all have their share of racy or touchy matter. But if i wasn't allowed to see RENT because of someone's bare behind and the word "fuck" and the song "contact"-i would be furious. it doesn't mean it can't move me and effect me because of "adult material".
A parent of a 8 year old probably isn't gonna bring their kid to RENT. The child's gonna enjoy the LION KING better anyway. If theatre had to be rated, i'd say it should be done by the theatre's organization and producers of the show-not some "rating committee." anyway with the number of young people going to the theatre rising, why slap ratings on shows and prohibit who gets to attend, right? thanx.
I think we are going too far. What's next--newspaper...magazines?
From: Ed Price (firstname.lastname@example.org):
No, I do not wish to see ratings for plays. Why?, ratings are too subjective. One can point out several differences with PG-13 movies. Some tend to be closer to the R rating while others lean toward the PG rating. This at times can be a wide gap. I would propose a brief synopsis of each play that would give the audience some idea as to what to expect as well as who to bring, children, grandparents, etc.
In addition, a note of thanks to Playbill. As season ticket subscribers to the Dallas Summer Musicals we are regular Playbill readers. I also enjoy your well put together and informative web site. It was through the web site that I signed up for regular e-mail from Playbill and through that I found out about the trip to London in June. My wife and I will be going on this trip and are very excited.
I don't think that's a very good Idea at all. Its just dumb. Face it: in the 90s who or what kid hasn't heard a bad word? Oohhh? Plus, in plays, even if there is nudity, it's not forever. They usually don't have major sex scenes or anything like that. It's art. Most parents take their kids to Lion King. or Beauty and the Beast..disney stuff..not to chicago..or When Pigs Fly. I mean Parents SHOULD have enough common sense to either tell from the title., reviews, or ask if the show is OK for kids. They don't need a rating system.
I say no rating system! People do not just go see a show with out doing some research about it, you won't pay $75 to go see a show you nothing about. That is why all the shows are advertised in magazines and newspapers with little blurbs and descriptions, are we going to not let a 13-y-o into a"R-rated" play, and rob this child of one of the greatest art forms still around, i think not.