Offensive Language on Stage

When is language offensive and if Theatre and Opera are to push the bounds, to make us think when (if ever) is censorship appropriate?

When writing "Gee, Officer Krupke" for West Side Story, Stephen Sondheim attempted to be the first Broadway lyricist to say the word "fuck."

“I realized, once I thought of the title, that the song would afford me the opportunity of being the first lyricist to use a serious four-letter obscenity in a Broadway musical … [but] such language had never been heard in a musical, and here was my chance to make my mark by having a loud choral 'Fuck you!' as the punchline of a song …. All was well until we played it for the producers … I was in despair until Lenny came up with ‘Krup You!’, which may be the best lyric line in the show … ”

For those that don't know, I recently ran into the same sort of censorship.

Last Winter I wrote a short opera entitled "DINKs." The subject matter is the day in the life of a young couple, Dual Income, No Kids (DINKs). They live a busy and active life, so much so that they never seem to be able to connect (sexually).

The entire piece is designed as a parody of the lifestyle and focusing on what's really important. As the day ends they are too exhausted to culminate with their greatest desires. When they wake up the next day they realize they failed to connect, yet again. The characters shout an expletive...

Initially the piece was denied because the last word was too offensive. After some pushing I did finally get the piece performed last May. Here is an audio recording of the performance. The lyrics are available on my website. You can decide for yourself just how offensive it is.

I guess what I really wonder is, if major opera houses can put women on stage naked and/or extremely scantily dressed, why does one word become offensive.


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