High school movies are the best. I love the powder keg you get from compressing a bunch of hormonally charged and emotionally insecure creatures somewhere between children and adults in one location and letting them simmer together for four years, and the intense drama and hilarity that comes out of treating everything like it’s the highest possible stakes (especially when you realize just how silly and small it was in hindsight). Those “coming of age” stories were a huge inspiration in creating Teenage Wasteland, an improvised epic teen party that takes place in that strange land between high school and college, when the person you thought you were and everything you were so certain was important suddenly has to face an uncertain future of becoming something else entirely. Here are some of my favorites…
1. Can’t Hardly Wait
This was really the spark that started it all for our show. It came out the summer before my own senior year in high school, and I was immediately charmed. The characters are broadly drawn and the antics are wacky, but there’s real heart and emotional resonance to what they’re going through. Everybody wanted something, everybody was searching, and everybody found so much more than they were originally looking for.
2. Dazed and Confused
A glimpse into a bygone era that seemed both cooler and more dangerous when I first saw it. There were no hazing rituals between middle school and high school for me and my friends, but it was also much more difficult…er, I mean IMPOSSIBLE to get our hands on beer or drugs. Rebellion seemed so much easier back then, but also like it mattered more. And all I wanted in the world was to have a night like that, to feel like one of the cool kids, drink a beer, smoke a joint, kiss a girl, get in a fight. Don’t we all?
3. The Breakfast Club
I watched a lot of movies as a kid, but this is the first one I remember all the way through. There’s no party, but when I was creating the show, my mind kept being drawn back to these five kids in detention, and how simple and strong it was telling their story over the course of one day in one location. I wanted to emulate a lot of that form and structure, and how it treats its characters. Everyone thought they were just one thing, including themselves. But that intense focus on character and relationship showed they were so much more (the problematic gender politics of the resolution of Ally Sheedy’s character arc aside. “Be pretty and not weird so boys will like you!” Ugh…).
4. Say Anything
I WAS Lloyd Dobler in high school. The weirdo loner with a penchant for trench coats, martial arts, rambling monologues, and Peter Gabriel. And I had an incarcerated parent, so I related to Diane Court as well. There’s an overwrought romanticism to them both that only teenagers can get away with. The “big party” is a relatively small part of the film, but it’s a turning point for both of them and I loved that notion of transition, that you could go into a night like this and become something else or someone else by the end.
5. 10 Things I Hate About You
Another film where the party is a small part, but the charm of the characters, the playfulness of the tone, and the notion of plots and schemes pushing romance and relationships around is as timeless as…well, Shakespeare!
Phrases come and go. I mean, who still uses “Kowabunga dude!” No one. NO ONE AT ALL. But given enough time, phrases once silly and annoying can become shiny and new again. Like a vintage penny. A shiny vintage penny. So here’s some phrases I found while learning how to talk antiquated for A Deed So Dark. Pick one. Start using it. Be cool and antiquated with me.
A big public fuss over something. The term comes from Ballyhooly, Ireland where the residents became well-known for arguing outright in public. Soon, the British Parliament used Ballyhooly as a way of criticizing their arguments saying that they were as bad as Ballyhooly. In America the “ly” got dropped and the term Ballyhoo became associated with an exaggerated fuss over nothing.
Example: “Were you in coffee shop after the show last night? The cast was in a ballyhoo over how it went down! “
As far as farming goes, chicken feed is the poor quality wheat or corn given to chickens. Soon, city folks started using the phrase in regards to our lower denominations of coins.
Example: “I’m sorry to tell you that improvisors make chickenfeed in this town.”
Over a Barrel
In the old days, punishment often meant that a person could receive more than just tar and feathers or a public whipping. In order to prevent him from escaping during the punishment, he was tied to an over-turned barrel (top body bent to the curve of the barrel while feet remained on the ground.) Thus leaving no escape. Today the term “to have over a barrel” means that someone is in a position in which there is no way for them to escape an unfortunate outcome.
Example: “My troupe mate sure did put me over a barrel for denying his offer in the Threefer last night. That’s the last time I disrespect the reality of the scene for sure.”
Dead as a Doornail
Before the days of the electric or mechanical doorbells, anyone coming to your house would pound a metal knocker that was nailed to the front door. The nails holding this metal plate on the door got a lot of wear and eventually would fall out. Thus, a totally withered or failed project or hopeless situation is considered to be as “dead as a doornail”.
Example: “That callback is dead as a doornail.”
Lock, Stock and Barrel
In old days, a rifle (or musket) had 3 major parts: A lock, a stock of wood and a metal barrel. Each part was totally useless without the other one. They had to all work together or not at all. Thus, when a person chooses to put everything 100% into an decision, action or commitment he is said to be doing it “lock, stock and barrel.”
Alternate origin: Lock stock and barrel also referred to buying a farm. Lock meant the house, stock was all the animals, and barrel was the rain barrel (meaning all the trivial junk). Thus it was everything on the land at the time of sale that was sold. If the previous owner left something valuable behind it was yours, as it had all been sold lock stock and barrel.
Example: “That new imp commits lock stock and barrel. Damn ya’ll. We gotta use her in the next mainstage run for sure.”
Example: “God he’s good. He takes offers lock stock and barrel.”
This phrase comes from an old riddle often told in old rural country stores. The question: How many blue beans does it take to make 7 white beans? Do you know? If you don’t then you are said to “not know beans.” The answer is: 7 blue make 7 white. When you peel 7 blue you get 7 white. The term today about “you don’t know beans” refers to anyone who doesn’t know anything that should be common sense or general knowledge.
Example: “The staff at The Hideout Theatre sure do know beans about teaching improv.”