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Don Zolidis

Don Zolidis

Whenever I talk to theatre groups, I’m inevitably asked which play of mine is my favorite. Now, most writers defer and talk about how they love all of their children equally (not true), but I always have an answer: Snappy’s Happy Half Hour. I wrote it my second year of teaching middle school theatre, and it provided my favorite theatrical moment ever.

Snappy’s is the story of a live children’s television show where all the actors quit moments before broadcast and the techies are forced to act. It’s kind of like A Midsummer Night’s Dream meets Noises Off meets that horrible Barney show. In fact, watching the Barney show and nearly going insane was what provided half the inspiration for the play. The other half came from a trip to the local costume shop for another show, where I saw twenty Easter Bunny costume heads stacked up in some kind of macabre, sick display of giant rabbit hunting. Immediately, I thought: I should write a play with all bunnies. Unfortunately, I didn’t have that kind of budget. I only had enough money for two bunny costumes, but then, being the twisted person that I was, another thought occurred to me: I should have the bunnies fight at the end of the play.

Anyway, I did the show with a really talented group of seventh and eight graders who shared my twisted mentality. We made four different sets, since the set was annihilated at the end of each performance. I had two kids cast as Wally the Rabbit, both of whom were troublemakers in their other classes (but hey, one boy got to play a Hell’s Angel named Tank who was working for children’s television on work release, so it fit). At the end of the show, both giant bunnies fought each other. I choreographed the fight to last for something like five minutes. They careened around the stage, kicking each other, getting each other in headlocks, until finally using the set of the show, complete with the cardboard Happy Trees and Happy Sun, to attempt to destroy each other until one of the bunnies is pummeled into unconsciousness and his head is ripped off. You know, typical PBS fare.

We were lucky enough to perform for the entire school. The show was very funny in the beginning,  but when the rabbit battle royale started, it went to another level. Now, you have to understand the audience here. We had about 600 6th-8th graders who had been released from learning Math or Science or Texas History (yes, it’s an actual class), and marched to the auditorium to watch the theatre classes perform. It’s a nice break.

So the rabbits start punching each other in the head and I swear the audience, some of whom were familiar with the two kids in the costumes, believed an actual fight had broken out. We spent a lot of time on that fight – those kids spent a lot of time on that fight – and it was believable to everyone involved that my two students had simply lost it and were now intent on destroying the theatre program. The audience started screaming. It was the loudest thing I’d ever heard.

The teachers freaked out.  I heard one of them shouting, “It’s not funny!” which offended me to no end. How could this not be funny? Finally, one bunny is knocked unconscious, and the winner tears the loser’s head off, emits a primal scream, and flings it to the back wall. It was a thing of beauty.

If that scene had been on television, or in a movie, it wouldn’t have had anywhere near the same impact. Because it was live, and because it was dangerous, and because there were hundreds of kids in the audience just waiting for the chance to explode a little, it was like lightning. And it felt like that was why I did theatre: to teach adolescents how to dress up like rabbits and destroy things.

Production photo from Snappy's Happy Half-Hour
This photo is not from my actual production (these costumes look way better), but I will note that this middle school also has a stupid hardwood floor just like my middle school did. Who thinks this is a good idea to put on a stage?

–by Don Zolidis

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