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. Owing to the volume of responses, this second posting of replies has been added. Playbill thanks all who took the time to write.
No, theatre should not have a rating system. Theatre is Art. You cannot put an age appropriation level on art. Art is for everyone to enjoy. Some may choose not to reap it's benefits and others make take it's fruits to the fullest extent. A rating system is not plausible nor appreciated. Theatre, or any type of live performance, should not have a rating system
Hey why not? Everything else has them. It would be a great help in choosing shows, as well, especially for families. People may hear about hits such as CHICAGO or RENT and not realize that they are not exactly appropriate for a 13 or 14 year old. How would I rate some of the shows on Broadway now...
Chicago PG - 13 or R
Ragtime G or PG
The Lion King G
Sound of Music G
Les Miz PG
Diary of Anne Frank PG
Jekyll and Hyde PG or PG - 13
The Life R
Miss Saigon PG - 13
Beauty and the Beast G
From Jake Witlen (email@example.com):
I personally feel that theatre should NOT implement a theatrical rating system. I feel that the people who are going to Broadway or Off-Broadway to view a show are aware of the content of a show, and are going to be wise enough to know when and when not to bring a young child to the show. I think that it is common logic. I feel that if rating systems were used in theatre, it would one impede the growth of musicals such as RENT or Jekyll & Hyde because you need to be able to serve to all audiences without the fear of people not coming because of an "R" rating. Parents know if their children can handle a show such as RENT or J&H, and therefore either take them to it or not.
My other concern would be that shows would be rated poorly. For example, would "Chicago" receive an "R" rating because of the costumes (or lack their of) when the show is a very simple one without great death or heavy plots? I think that it would receive a rating for older people, and then kids wouldn't be able to go and see it and it is such a great show--why would we want to impede children's chances to get to see a Broadway show, which can be a great moment in a child's life. If ratings were implemented, all kids would be able to see would be Beauty and the Beast, and Lion King. Now don't get me wrong in saying that these aren't spectacles, but it would not be fair for children, and it wouldn't be fair for a bigger show with a little violence or sexual tones because all of a sudden Disney has a monopoly on the children of Broadway.
Thank you for listening
Yes, I do agree that there should be a rating system for theatre. I have a 13-year-old daughter who enjoys the theatre as much as I do. However, as much as we both love CABARET, after reading extensively about it in the papers, I have come to the conclusion that this show would not be appropriate for her to see. How much easier it would have been had there been some sort of rating of the play in the theatre directory of the New York Times. A friend of my daughter's went to see RENT with her parents. She loved it, but I know her parents were feeling more than a little uncomfortable during some of the numbers. Times Square is working so hard to clean up its act, and Disney is trying to make Broadway family friendly, so wouldn't it make sense to have a rating system in place for families who enjoy going to the theatre?
From Ron Schwinn:
If such a system were put in place, theatre would be reduced to the same prime time pap produced on TV. It's bad enough that the prevalent thinking is that theatre can be produced like films, putting marketing before product. Live theatre is, historically, a forum for ideas, most of them new & highly unpopular with the elite of whatever society in which that theatre is produced. It is just such an elite who would favor a ratings system.
From C. Evans:
How do you rate a play? To be honest I'm not even sure how they rate a movie. How many times do you leave a movie theater from seeing a PG movie that contained nudity? As a director in the DC area, who has directed a few "adult" plays (Lips Together, Teeth Apart, Pippin) I feel the best thing to do a leave a notice in the Box Office. This notice should be honest and state play contains language, adult situations, nudity, etc. If someone asks, the box office should give out the information. If the audience member is concerned about seeing a play that might be offensive, they should do a little research on the play. Come on, before you fork out anywhere between $25 to $75 on a show, aren't you going to check it out first? Most reviews state such things. Is there anyone out there who did not know that Love! Valour! Compassion! contained nudity? Every review, story, etc. about the show mentioned it.
From Barry Horbal:
I don't believe that theater should have a rating system simply because it is one of the only arts that still is able to have the freedom of expressing in almost whatever way it pleases.
I don't believe that Broadway theater should have a rating system for one simple reason, it's availability is not anywhere close to television or movies. For movies, teenagers may try and sneak into a R-rated movie for a thrill, but that will cost them $10.00. Teens are not going to pay the $75.00 that it costs to see a Broadway show just to have a quick thrill. Those attending the theatre obviously have a strong interest in what they are seeing, otherwise they would not spend such a price. Thank you.
I think it is a good idea. It can't hurt anything. It just warns parents about whether or not their chid should see a certain musical or play.
From: Greg Zazal:
This situation about rating theatre can go either way, but I believe that theatre should not be rated. This is a medium of getting across a point that TV and movies lack in their effort to entertain constantly. I think that if you look at a normal movie lineup and the shows now playing on Broadway you will see that a lot of Broadway's shows are more than entertainment. They have a true message. Take for example a show like "RENT". A show like this with all its foul language and adult content would receive probably the most restricted rating a Broadway show can get. But, I think it's important for younger people, especially high schoolers, to see this show because of its content. It deals with real situations that have changed our times.
A rating system would just take away all the hard work and meaning hidden in these fabulous shows.
NO! There has to be a limit somewhere. How can the youths of today be inspired if they can't go to a play or a musical that is now "suited" for them? RENT is a musical that has adult themes within the messages of love and life. It has also inspired a younger generation to go to the theatre. In think if there is a rating system in the theatre ticket sales might just take a drop. Besides most newspapers already rate the content of the shows.
From Thom Feit, Indianapolis, IN:
It is my belief that Broadway audiences have a tendency to become more aware of the content of a show than those audience members going to movies. Yes, part of the issue become the ticket price ($50 + vs. $8).
One of the few exceptions being two years ago when my wife and I made our biannual tour of Broadway. After seeing the revival of Noel Coward's PRESENT LAUGHTER (I think that was the title) and the full frontal male nudity in the show, my wife suggest that a sign should have been posted outside the theater warning "Nuns and small children" of the nudity.
In a serious vein, I am opposed to any type of censorship. Being a high school teacher of theatre I have dealt with a wide variety of attempts to altar either the content or the staging of some of my productions. An audience has a responsibility to be informed concerning the content of a production. While as a director I do try to educate an audience, there is also a burden upon the audience.
From John Esche (firstname.lastname@example.org):
"Should theatre be rated like movies and TV? If so, why? If not, why not?"
Absolutely, emphatically and unequivocally NOT! Despite the offensive sop to right wing politicians of the recent TV ratings system, the MPAA ratings system has been an unmitigated disaster for the production of quality "family" entertainment, with 30 years of proof that unless your name is Disney, it is impossible to make a "G" rated film and have a prayer of turning a profit.
The masses take the position - as reflected in the market - that whatever is labeled as "safe" and "inoffensive" is probably also bland and puerile. Too often they're proved right.
From THE LIFE to THE CHAIRS, theatre producers hardly hide their lights under bushels; products which may not engage EVERY audience, but have much to offer many are clearly identified in every ad and all over the front of the theatres. The only thing consumers are not warned of are the occasional soporifics like THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL which may well bore a playgoer with half a mind to death, and no producer will EVER allow a rating system tied to boredom level.
"How would you rate, for example, Jekyll & Hyde, Phantom of the Opera and Oklahoma! -- all of which have on stage deaths?"
JEKYLL & HYDE - An "NT" for "nice try", on a classic story cleverly reinvented and almost rising above mundane music and abysmal lyrics.
PHANTOM OF THE OPERA - An "ALW" for "a long wallow" in an atmospheric tale gloriously over produced AND rising above the composer's lack of a called for opera satire in the opening to provide a fun if unchallenging evening.
OKLAHOMA - An R&H" for a "rich & hardy" classic where (especially in the great 1980 revival) the challenging story of a young woman's subconscious sexual conflicts is resolved in an impressive blending of "modern" integrated musical technique with characters harkening back to the earliest days of American theatre. Curley, for example, is merely an updated version of Assa Trenchert who was holding forth in the 1860's in OUR AMERICAN COUSIN!
From Paul Dixon:
The whole idea of "rating" the theatre seems obscene to me. Theatre, by its very nature, is supposed to reach out to people. By rating it, we prevent its reach. I also feel that rating is a form of censorship. We aren't censoring the material so much as we are the audience. We're keeping the audience from the material rather than keeping the material from the audience.
Moreover, on a practical level, rating systems are usually done primarily for children's sake. I think the price of today's theatre tickets do that job by themselves. If a young person is savvy enough to want to see a show in this day and age of music videos and virtual pets, then let him or her in.
From: Tommy Guzzi (email@example.com):
Hello my name is Tommy Guzzi and i think it would be a great idea to start a rating system with theater. For example high school, middle school kids, and elementary school kids are dying to go see Rent. Rent is a very deep and dramatic show and unless the kids were going with a parent that was willing to explain everything then they would not get what was going on in the show.
I am 18 years old and I still don't get Rent completely. Another show that is very popular right now is Ragtime....some of the doings in Ragtime are offensive to young audiences. I have seen over a dozen shows on broadway and have not once went to one that did not have curse words in it. They should rate them just like they rate movies,and tv....Even though theater is not very costly these days a parent should get the chance to see the violence, rape, language content of the show before buying the tickets, instead of getting to the show with their kids to find out that it is very bad for their child to watch....I think it should be used just as a guide to warn people. Another question that was raised who would do it...I would be glad to but that would never happen...but the same people who rate television and movies should do it.I do not think theater should cut down on their content but should have a warning guide before tickets are sold. please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
From Martin Ruben:
I believe ratings in general have diluted that quality of many works in film as well as television. It seems that all too often a director, writer or producer might have to compromise the integrity of a story just to receive a specific rating so that their film or television show will have a certain rating, and thereby be attractive to advertisers. If a ratings system were implemented in the theatre, I think it is possible that this might move foundations and grant-givers to wonder about content where no such requirements exist, so it would almost be a reverse effect, by saying that there might be questionable content before the initial question was asked.
A number of the theatres I have worked at have historically made their audiences aware of content or age preference at the initial ticket request, and so I think a ratings system is unnecessary. And, as you say, who would create it, who would police it, and if one believes in the cliche about what is in the mind of the beholder, I am all in favor of letting each audience member judge for themselves without prior prejudice, which is what I believe ratings to inherently be. Besides if there were ratings, how would you classify all the gore in Shakespeare?
From Justin Seidner:
I am 19-year-old student, and theatergoer. I have seen most of what is on b'way, from RENT - LAST NIGHT OF BALLYHOO. I do think a rating system is acceptable, and possibly needed. I think the goal of theater is to make itself accessible to all kinds of people, including people who are offended by certain material. Therefore, if someone wants to go see "pg" shows instead of ones with lurid content, it is better that the only see "pg" shows, instead of seeing nothing at all. A rating system isn't a hindrance, it's just good advice. Some material isn't suitable for children, and if it is, parents might want the opportunity to discuss issues before the show, rather than be surprised. Let's keep our theater audience happy. It doesn't mean that we have to censor our art, and by no means does a rating mean that we do.
From Trystan Toole (email@example.com):
The reason they started to rate television and movies was because there was an actual problem. No problems in theatre at this very moment. Call me a sick person: but when I saw CHICAGO, there was a lot of kids, and I found myself saying, "This is great! It's really great that kids are intrigued by the theatre." And I think that if theatre started having a ratings system, it would deprive theatre of artistic freedom. I saw SWEENEY TODD when I was about 12 years old, and yes, the Broadway production. You all know what SWEENEY is about, and had their been a ratings system, I would have never been intrigued by the theatre. Performance art doesn't deserve to be rated in my opinion. It's in a mere category of it's own.
As you are most likely aware, Tele-Charge already gives age advisories for the shows which it sells tickets for. It certainly would not hurt to issue such advisories for all shows, explaining what objectionable factors they might contain, but we cannot go as far as to allow a ratings system. With the introduction of a ratings system Broadway then is forced to pander to "public morality" just as Hollywood does when they edit a movie to obtain a desired rating. In a way you would be imposing censorship by branding shows with ratings which undermines the integrity of the work. A caveat as to what a show contains is fine, a ratings system is one step too far in the wrong direction.
Ratings systems don't work. Don't work for film, don't work for television, won't work for theater. They are a poor substitution for adults too lazy take an interest in what their children do with their lives. If parents took a greater interest in what their children were exposed to and did a little background research on their own, the call for ratings systems would fade.
What scares me most of all is the sacrifice of artistic integrity and content we would witness as producers scramble to get certain ratings that they feel they need to insure marketability of their product (just as film producers have to cut their films to avoid "NC-17" ratings in favor of "R" ratings). It's bad enough producers are subjecting their product to marketing research surveys instead of letting the artists maintain control over what appears on stage (I won't name names, but we all know who they are).
Ratings for theatre? No way!
As a theatre educator, parent, and long-time theatre-goer I would be disappointed to see a ratings system for the theatre. As a youngster I saw many shows that would be considered controversial, but as a seasoned theatre-goer, my parents and teachers explained what we had seen and we talked about it. My theatre-going experiences were never censored and I think it has helped me to become a more aware and discerning patron of the theatre. Even when I was young I knew good from bad and sensationalism from thematic interpretation.
My own children (now 15, 17, and 25) have been exposed to a wide range of theatre and we have always discussed the more controversial pieces in depth. They were never shocked or upset by what they saw on stage. Our theatre experiences have sparked many in depth, philosophical discussions about a wide variety of topics that we might never have had without the theatre as a catalyst. I think it's up to us to make our own (informed) decisions about what we do or do not want to see, and it is my responsibility to be informed about what I'm seeing beforehand, just as I am aware of the content of a movie, book, or TV show before sharing it with my kids or watching it myself. Treat the public like idiots and they will become idiots! I'd rather see people react strongly and negatively about a show than be so-so about some watered down piece of nothing. Good theatre should make you think!
Am I the only voice in the wilderness who believes it's acceptable to have a form of entertainment NOT specifically geared to families and children? The theater community has always done just fine being considered an adult form of entertainment with an occasional children show available. Why not continue?
From Richard M. Bartley (firstname.lastname@example.org):
As someone who has been going to shows, since I was 14 in 1977, I feel that the shows should only advertise in the lobby and over the phone, if a show has nudity or cursing. When my mother and I saw "Extremities", with Susan Sarandon Off-Bdway, there was a scene of a potential rape. After the show, my mother said she almost got up to walk out. This was at the beginning of the performance. I don't want censorship or ratings. Just some common decency. People are not born with common sense.