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A Long Way Down: A Play About Teen Suicide Prevention  Rate Topic 
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 Posted: Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 02:04 pm
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BillySundae
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Mana: 
Below is a VERY early draft of a one act, 30 minute play, I've written to teach teenagers, teachers and parents about teen suicide prevention. My intention is to eventually make the play available to middle schools, high schools and youth groups and perhaps to enter it in contests.

The inspiration for the play is that I have a 15 year old son. I don't have any reason to believe he is suicidal. But I started researching the issue in part because I wanted to know the signs-- just in case.

My concerns about the portion of the play excerpted here are: do the teens (all the characters in this scene are 13-14) sound like teens?; is there enough here (as is) to catch and hold a teen's attention? a teacher's? a parent's?; is there conflict? in particular, is Raul real or 'plastic'?

Any other thoughts are also appreciated.

A LONG WAY DOWN


By Bill McCann, Jr.


Scene 1: Beside a third floor window


A bell RINGS. MARY is waiting for JOHN who walks in almost immediately after the curtain rises.

JOHN


Hi, babe. You ready to walk home?

MARY


No. I….

JOHN


Something wrong, Mare?

MARY


No. (pause) Yes.

I don’t….

JOHN


It’s okay. Tell me what’s wrong.

MARY


Okay. I’m going to walk home with Susan today.



JOHN


Sure.


That wasn’t so hard was it? See you tonight, we can study Spanish together.

MARY


Ummm, about that…

I want us to see other people, John. Suze and I are going to study together tonight.

JOHN


(lashing out)


You’re breaking up with me? You’re going to study with that lezbo Susie Stith?


MARY


Yes, John I’m breaking up with you. We’ve dated for more than two years and I want to date other people. I don’t want to be tied to one person.


JOHN


But I want to always be with you. I love you.

MARY


John, you only think you love me. We’re too young to commit to spending our lives together. We’ll still be friends. Maybe we’ll even go on some dates sometime. But for right now—I want to break up.


JOHN


So, you’re going to date Susie Stith the school lezbo?

MARY


John, you’re talking crazy. Susie isn’t a lesbian—her boyfriend goes to Male Middle.


JOHN


Yeah. Well, that isn’t what I’ve heard.



MARY



Well, you’ve hear wrong. I….

SUSAN enters.

SUSAN


You ready, Mare?

MARY


Sure.

You okay, John.

JOHN


Yeah.

(in a joking manner)


I’m gonna jump outta this damn, window. But don’t worry, I’ll be fine all the way down.


MARY


John, that’s crazy talk. You don’t really mean that do you?

SUSAN


Let’s get going. We’re goin’ by the mall aren’t we?



MARY


Yeah. Okay.


John, you weren’t serious were you?

JOHN


(seriously)


You know me. I’m always kidding about stuff like that.



MARY


(hesitating)


Yeah.


Are you ….?

SUSAN


He said he’s okay. Let’s go Mare.

MARY


Okay.

SUSAN and MARY start to exit.

MARY




(calling back)


See ya around John.


SUSAN and MARY exit.

JOHN




(glumly)


Yeah.




After they leave JOHN sinks down to the floor, and leans his back against the wall. He sits quietly, sadly for a few moments. He gets up and looks out the window. Then JOHN exits.


While John is gone, RAUL enters, puts down his backpack and looks out the window. Seeing a friend he yells out a greeting to him.

About this time, JOHN reenters with a chair that he places underneath the window sill.



 


JOHN



(joking)


Hey, you think I’d die if I jumped out this window?


RAUL




(absent mindedly)


Yeah. Sure.


JOHN climbs on the chair and starts to climb onto the window sill.

RAUL sees what JOHN is doing and pulls him off the chair; the chair slides across the stage, safely away from the window.

RAUL


Hey, are you nuts? We’re three stories up. It’s a long way down.

JOHN


Yeah. I know.

RAUL


You wantin’ to commit suicide, man?

JOHN


Well, I don’t want to live no more. I know that.

RAUL




How come?


JOHN


You ever have a girl friend?



RAUL


No. Why?


JOHN


Well, you wouldn’t understand then.

RAUL


Maybe not. Maybe so. Try me.

JOHN


Why’re you interested? You’re a Hissss panic. We don’ even know each other.


RAUL


Shoot, man. I can’t stand by and watch someone hurt themselves.

(beat)


Tell me about your girlfriend.

JOHN


Her name is Mary, Mary Fenton.

RAUL


The cheer leader?

JOHN


Yeah.

RAUL




What happened?




 


JOHN


She broke up with me. Right here. Just a little while ago.


RAUL


Okay. So what does that have to do with you wanting to off yourself?


JOHN


We were supposed to be together forever. I love her and I thought she loved me, too.


RAUL


Is that what she said? I don’t love you anymore, John.

JOHN


Yeah.

RAUL


She said, I don’t love you?

JOHN


No. (beat) Not exactly.

RAUL


So what’d she say?

JOHN


(flashing anger)




Get off my case, man.




RAUL


Whoa!


I just want to help.

JOHN


Yeah. Okay.

RAUL


So what did Mary say?

JOHN


She said she wanted to break up with me.

RAUL




Why’d she do that?


JOHN


She said she wanted to date Suzie Stith.

RAUL


What do you mean by that: date Suzie Stith?

JOHN


Go to movies and dances. Play kissey face. D-A-T-E.

RAUL


Man, I don’t know what you’ve heard but Suzie isn’t into girls. In second grade she kissed me behind the swing set. By fourthgrade I guess she’d kissed every boy in both the fourth and fifth grades. That girl is boy crazy..



JOHN


Well, she wouldn’t dance with me when I asked her to. I just assumed…


RAUL


Were you going out with Mary when you asked Suzie to dance?


JOHN


Sure. It was just a dance.

RAUL


Maybe that’s not how Suzie saw it.



JOHN



(angry)


Are you taking Suzie’s side?


RAUL


Hey, I’m not taking anyone’s side. I’ve just known her a long time. That’s all


JOHN


Ok.

So why would Mary break up with me?

RAUL


What did she tell you?



JOHN


She said we should date other people.




RAUL


Okay.


JOHN


Well, I don’t want to date other people. I love Mary.

RAUL


You said you wanted to dance with Suzie.

JOHN


Yeah. So?

RAUL


So, now you can do more than dance. You can ask her to go to the movies with you. Or to Porazzo Rink.


JOHN


I hadn’t thought of that.

RAUL


Well, think about it. Suzie’s a nice girl.

JOHN


If she wouldn’t dance with me, why would she go on a date with me?


RAUL


Man. Don’t go there. You don’t know why she wouldn’t dance with you, so don’t worry about it. Hey, she might’ve been tired of dancing. Or she might not dance at all. Or, she might have known that you and Mary were dating. There’s all kinds of reason she might not have wanted to dance.




JOHN


Maybe you’re right.


RAUL


I KNOW I’m right.

JOHN


(with a smile in his voice)


Yeah. You might be.

RAUL




You feeling better?


JOHN


Yeah. Much. Thanks….

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 Posted: Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 03:54 pm
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Poet
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Mana: 
Nice idea and an admirable intention but, man, I think you've bitten off a big one here! In the spirit of trying to help, I've actually got quite a few points;

I can see where you're coming from with the plotline (Mary dumps John, John considers the big hop, Raol saves John, Raol reminds John that he quite liked Suzie, John realises that there's more to life and feels better) but, for me, this is way, way, way too quick, and therefore can't communicate any of the major issues! I'm an ex-cop, and I can tell you from first-hand experience that almost nobody comes to these conclusions that fast - there are whopping great batches of time where they first of all try and win the partner back, then grow angry, then try and deal with it, then fail, then, and only then, does the despair bit kick in. So the timeframe is too short for me by (probably) 3 to 6 months! To paraphrase - it's a long way to the long way down!

Then there's the emotion. People in this situation don't speak as you and I, but the way they do speak often really defies logic. Strangely enough, quite often by the time they get to the on-the-ledge state, some are often quite calm; even happy. Many of them that really mean it reach a sort of resignation and even happiness that it's all going to be over soon (you got that nicely with the John joking about it).

But 'meaning it' is another issue. I don't have the stats, but I think the majority of suicides do it very, very privately, and have often never even threatened it. By and large (I think) those that talk of it generally don't do it, and those that do actually se it through do it behind closed doors (think of Kenneth Williams and Marilyn Monroe as two callsic examples). People are typically found hanging from a tree at dawn, or in bed with pills, or in the bath with cut wrists etc - as a percentage very few do the slightly cliched jump-from-the-window.

Finally, I assume that you're a male Billy - and that gives you (and me, for the same reason) a huge problem with something like this; most men write emotion really, really badly unless it's a 'personal experience' gig! I had a series of four three thousand word 'slush love romance' stories published in one of our biggest woman's interest mags in the UK, and they damn near killed me to get right! And that's why, I think, you have doubt about the voice.

If I were taking this on - and damn right I wouldn't! - I'd perhaps consider making the backplot anecdotal, and maybe have John on the 'window ledge' at the start and his lines only as voice-overs. But I'd perhaps try and set it in an environment where there were no adults - maybe a camping trip and a cliff? - so the kids have to address it, and can be saying all the wrong things; but John's 'mental' voice can then explain why he got to where he is, and why they're the wrong things to say. John's part could be silent, yet intensely emotional for it. And if you wanted to sell it to/for schools, I'd maybe leave the ending open - let the class vote on whether he jumps, and discuss why? Then you can enter the debate about what should (or should not) have been said or done.

I don't know, I could be totally wrong... that has a tendency to happen quite a bit (especially when I stick my neck out with an opinion)!

Good luck - rather you than me!

Last edited on Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 03:55 pm by Poet

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 Posted: Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 04:17 pm
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BillySundae
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Mana: 
Poet:

I think you have some really good points. Let me ask you some questions: 1. Aren't teens different than adults in how they face suicide? 2. Would a teen feel overwhelmed in a shorter period, about the same time or longer one than an adult? 3. How would the length of time required for despair to kick in (ie lead to suicide) be reflected in where and how the attempt was made?

I like your suggestion about setting the play outdoors and without adults. Unfortunately, requirements of where I am initially planning to submit the play have-- to a large degree-- dictated the settings and the characters that are involved. Do you think the play can be made to work in these settings and if so, how?

BillySundae

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 Posted: Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 04:35 pm
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Edd
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Mana: 
I was orphaned when my mother committed suicide when I was twelve.  As a gay teenager back in the late 1950s I attempted suicide twice because of the stigma attached to being gay.  (Gay teenagers even today have an alarming rate of suicide.)  I feel much the same as Poet.  This is not a topic to take casually no matter how good the intentions.  It must be explored honestly and deeply.  It is one that takes much care and emotional understanding.  To suggest you have an agenda for how you want the play to be used in high schools, already prevents you from approaching the subject matter by trying to make it fit a preconceived mold.

I try to avoid making critiques in this forum unless I am wild about the piece and certainly try to avoid bluntness.  However, in this case from someone who knows all too well the pain and the decades of recovery as a survivor and the depths to which one sinks before actually attempting suicide, I simply cannot cut you any slack.  Sorry.

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 Posted: Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 04:58 pm
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BillySundae
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Mana: 
I'm not requesting slack. Nor am I being 'casual' about it. I too have been touched by suicide and I too once considered it some 25 years ago. Furthermore, I am writing it because my son is 15 and I have seen some symptoms of it among his friends-- so I think that writing it will be helpful on many levels.

I agree that this is a topic that needs time and consideration. You've said you don't comment about something in this forum unless you are "wild" about it. So the play must have some merit in your mind. With that in mind what suggestions do you have?

 

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 Posted: Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 05:53 pm
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Poet
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Mana: 
Edd - genuine, sincere, big hugs from the UK. I can't even begin to imagine the effect on a 12 year old of his mother taking her life. I certainly don't want to do so; losing a brother in a road accident was bad enough. But maybe, without it, you would be a different person, and not have those around you that you do - and so maybe it's a Gift Of The Magi? Nuff said.

Billy - I've genuinely been thinking about this in the car all the way from work (the last thing I did before I left was post here to you, so you can work the time out for yourself!) and I have a follow-up thought. I can't answer your questions because I just don't have the experiences. But what about this?

If your motives are mostly educational and not commercial (I note you are a teacher) what if you wrote it as a 'to be delivered in assembly' piece intended to be played in five, seven-or-eight minute 'shorties'? You could then set it in the school, and maybe structure as follows;

Monday: Both John and Mary are experiencing leg-pulling or bullying (depending on your viewpoint) at school because of their relationship. Neither, maybe, is the most popular child in their class.

Tuesday: Mary dumps John (perhaps because of the peer-pressure).

Wednesday: John being interviewed by the head (?Principal?) about the falloff of his work quality.

Thursday: John getting into trouble (you call the shot - drink, drugs, theft, doesn't matter too much) (Christ, did I really write that? I hope everyone knows what I mean!)

Friday: The attempted suicide - outcome left undecided.

I really do think that if you wrote a lot of humour in at the front end, getting slightly blacker each day - so the 'kids' didn't see the back end coming - you could make so many points here, and necessary ones. Points about bulying; peer pressure; coercion danger; and, ultimately, the causes, effects and outcomes of what amounts to an enforced depression. Plus, the natural elapse of time (day by day) and the unnatural elapse of time (each 'day' could be a month, say) gives the audience the chance to (a) discuss in class and (b) think about it.

BTW;

1/ The voices. You need swearing. Iknow for a fact that even my delightful, innocent, blond haired, blue-eyed, cherubim English Rose girls (13 and 15) cuss like troopers when there are no crusties around!

2/ Small things. I met the girl who became my first wife when I was 16. At our schools (she went to a girl's grammar, I to the boy's) swapping scarves was as good as an engagement ring. We swapped scarves. I was an unpopular boy. One day I came into the Prefect's Room (I was a Prefect - hope you have them in the States and that makes sense!) to find 'her' scarf had been tasken from my locker and tied into about 50 tight knots. It took me the best part of the day to untie them. I could have killed whoever did it, and was furious for days. And that was just a scarf, for God's sake!

Final thought; why not get a bunch of willing kids together and have them role-play? I bet they write it better than you, or I, or Wesker could!

As I said... good luck. I'd love to see the outcome, and I reckon my kid's school would too!

If anyone thinks I talk too much, please just tell me to shut the f*** up!

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 Posted: Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 06:13 pm
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BillySundae
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Mana: 
Poet:

I like the idea of making it a series of shorts that can be used over a period of a week with the outcome being vague. What I have written currently would break down pretty nicely into scenes of that length and I have already given consideration to developing curricular materials to accompany it, so that idea may work. Also, I think that the idea of having kids work it out may also be do-able. So I'll work on that and see what happens. Certainly, this is not something that will be written quickly, but I do want it to fit an educational, not a commercial venue. I'm not intersted in writing a 'Night Mother type play (though that certainly is powerful theatre) but rather one that steps back and shows what leads to suicide attempts and how they can be prevented if teens and adults are educated about what to look for and what to do.

BillySundae

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 Posted: Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 09:44 pm
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Claudia
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Mana: 
I, too have been touched by suicide - seen many lives torn apart from it (given the statistics - I imagine most people have) so I do applaud your wanting to do this and get it to the schools.  I was recently involved in a lockdown at school where a student was threatening himself (and inadvertently others).  I think this is a strong cry for help - because those who do want to die - are very secretive which is why they are successful.  If you are doing a cry for help - which also is something to be concerned about - then the time frame you have worked out with Poet would work.  If you are talking about a child that is truly wants to die - then the break-up is what puts him over the edge - but he certainly would be close anyway.  I wonder if his girlfriend could mention the changes - in appearance - in study habits - in sociability that often occur before a suicide. 

 

I had a teen improv class where this came up - and we explored it because many of the students - all from different schools had been affected by suicide.  There is unfortunately a crying need and if the play could open up a facilitated discussion with the students - that could be very important.  I also tried once to deal with this in a play so keep working.   And to Edd and any touched by this horrible sadness, my heart goes out to you and to the ones who felt they couild not make it through till tomorrow.  Somber thoughts on the eve of Thanksgiving in the USA.  More reasons to count my blessings.

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