It has always been the group’s intentions to show both sides of drugs, both the positive and negative effects of taking certain drugs and differences between them. We were also eager to explain this in a way which is not ‘preaching’ to our audience or telling them what or what not to do. Our piece was aimed at older children, mid-to-late teens, as we felt that these are the people, who are more aware of what is going on in the world, and the topic of drugs is very relevant – however the current methods of drug education are quite one-dimensional. We knew this having just experienced the education first hand. All educational films and products all show drugs in an extremely negative light. We wanted to show both sides, and show that drugs do have positive effects – or at least, be better than other ‘alternatives’.
We began constructing our play with language that we felt would be suitable for the intended audience. We used words that they may understand, and slang terms which they may use. It is also the reason that we tended to shy away from using strong swear words. At this age, teenagers often have a short concentration span, and are unwilling to respond should the piece they are watching bore them. It was therefore important the piece be interesting, as well as being informative. We employed comedic scenes to counter-balance the serious scenes, such as the ‘bad’ LSD trip and the ‘wife-beating’ scene.
About half way through the production, the opportunity arrived to perform the piece (or at least whatever part of the piece that had neared ‘completion’.) to two groups of year 10 children, during PSE sessions (it is in these sessions that children often learn about drugs, amongst other things). Whilst this is slightly below our target age group, it was a useful experience and would provide us for an opportunity to receive feedback on the product so far. We could then relate it to our own experiences of what older teenagers may think, based on the thoughts of the year 10 children.
After the production we gave out feedback sheets for the children to fill in and return to us. Despite the fact that some sheets lacked seriousness, there were often some very good comments. Some of the comments confirmed what we had planned, such as them being confused as to what was happening with James walking around Ellie – and then realising that it was a ‘bad trip.’ This was the effect we had planned in order make the audience see through the eyes of a user. They also indicated that their favourite scene was the, as they put it, “Pizza and Bong” scene. Even though it was good to receive praise for a scene, from the descriptions as to why they liked the scene it was obvious to us that the scene was possibly aimed a little too much towards them, and may not be appreciated by an older audience. The language used lacked a little maturity, and the audience only seemed to remember the scene for the words “Pizza” and “Bong” rather than the contrast between alcohol, weed and the question: “Is alcohol better than weed?”
There were several responses from the audience that we expected to receive. Whilst we were eager to keep a serious tone to the piece it was important to keep some comedy within the production. This, we felt, would balance the serious issues with something that may lighten the mood, and keep the interest in the piece. The scenes in particular that we hoped would evoke this response were the “News 24” scene, which includes a very exaggerated and slow motion fight, and the “Lisa, we love you” scene, in which Lisa, is on a crack-cocaine induced high walks through the news office – and receives lots of (over-the-top) praise…when she leaves the audience realise that this was all in the mind of Lisa.
We hoped that some scenes would induce empathetic or at least sympathetic feelings from the audience. Whilst Lisa dying of heroin is a horrific and illegal thing, we hoped that when it was mentioned that the reason she died was because she had no one to help her, these emotions would be evoked. It is also used in the opposite way, in the hope that the audience will feel sympathy for the victims of drugs, for example the abused wife.
A scene that was developed towards the end stages of the production process was designed with the idea of audience interaction being the main focus on the scene. The scene is an interview with a “shamed Tory leadership contender” and the audience has an opportunity to ask questions. We realise that in a play with little audience interaction, despite the fact that some of the action occurs in the audience, it may be hard for the audience to realise that they are allowed to ask questions so we have planned a “back-up”. The actors not involved in the scene will sit in the audience and ask questions, if the actual audience are unwilling to. We also realise that some questions may be hard to respond to, and we combated this problem by giving Gerald an on-stage ‘PR’. This would allow for controlled conferring to get an answer that is suitable. The ‘PR’ could also have notes on the subject with facts and figures – should a question be asked that requires these.
Part of the idea of the production is to change the way the audience look at and perceive drugs, the use of drugs, and the users. We decided that in order to do this the audience should experience drugs from both sides…from the outside looking in, and experiencing within the ‘trips’ as if they were a part of it. The ‘trips’ are also not defined as trips, until after they have occurred; this will make the audience wonder what is ‘real’, and what is a ‘trip’? This is similar to what a user would experience – a blurred line between reality and illusion.