The transitive definition of the verb “offend” is — “to cause to feel upset, annoyed or resentful” — and I argue today that when you offend an audience in even the smallest way, you have achieved an important human condition that is often missing in the live Modern American theatre experience.
Remember that it is easy to offend. Don’t be crass. Don’t offend over-the-top. Offend in quiet ways that seep instead of stick: Like star anise and ponies with ribbons in their hair — a little offensiveness goes a long
Too often today, we believe the theatre is there for entertaining and a clapping happiness when it is really at its most effective in being invisibly offensive by challenging core beliefs.
Playwrights should not intend to make their audiences singing and glowing — it is the Playwright’s mandate to compel an audience to think in different ways and to allow foreign notions to enter the conscious mind.
You don’t get people to move their emotions and their thoughts patterns by adhering to the expected status quo — you must press away to achieve momentum for that movement and sometimes the most effective way to get there is to offend a core value, a sacredly held sensibility or by challenging an established moral icon.
When students see or read a play and say they were “offended” by the ideas, I am delighted — because they had a visceral response to the material that bothered them and confronted what they thought was the truth — and that is where the learning begins and the expansion of human compassion is compelled into action.
“I was offended” is one of the best places to jump-start a critical and clinical discussion of any piece of art because it questions “Why?” and answers “Because…” — and a real analysis of the intricate relationship between head and heart begins and the necessary result in that miraculous examination is growth in compassion and comprehension.