Some of my fondest elementary school memories are of field trips to Honolulu—we lived on the North Shore of O’ahu—to experience plays, concerts and ballets. I’ve always wanted to write a play for young audiences and to somehow pass on what was shared with me all those years ago. When I was asked to write a play for Plan-B Theatre’s Free Elementary School Tour, I was both excited and terrified by the possibility.
I started thinking a lot about my elementary school self. And then I decided to write about her. You see, I’ve never considered myself an attractive person. I don’t know that it’s ever been a bother or an issue; it’s always been a fact. My mother is beautiful. My sister is a knockout. Also facts. If I ever manage to find regular success in this crazy career, people may know my name. But even if I do achieve some level of fame, I’ll never be one of People’s 50 Most Beautiful. Mostly that is fine. When you’re not pretty, you find other things at which to excel. You emphasize other traits and cultivate talents. You don’t spend time gazing in mirrors; you wander the hall while you brush your teeth. You don’t sit around and say, “I wish I were beautiful,” because it’s not the most important thing. Somehow, though, in the strangely alienating yet invasive world we live in, after centuries of artistic and scientific advances—a person’s worth still manages to swing back to beauty. So much for the eye of the beholder.
Even in the tumult of growing up, when life should be a blissful blur of fruit snacks, library books and kickball games, a child’s value hinges on appearance. On looks, on image. Really? How can a child grow up to be a healthy, functioning human being when society tells him or her what s/he should be and yet, in the same breath, that s/he will never match up?
In crafting The Edible Complex, I wanted to deal with those questions: how a child might consider issues touching on body image; and how adults can influence children simply by example. I wanted to use humor and imagination to give those questions resonance, and to tackle them from a new angle.
I have never in my life been on a diet. It’s very possible that I should do so. To say that the late night combo of binge writing, Coke and pizza has led to the healthiest of lifestyles is a lie so farfetched it’s not worth telling. Maybe I’m the last person in the world who should tell kids that healthy eating matters. That looks, damn it all, are not everything. And even though looks really could matter less, it’s one of the hardest things a child can ever come to grips with: that s/he just isn’t one of the pretty ones and s/he never will be. Then again, maybe I’m exactly the right person.
If you’re in the fourth grade or about to turn 40, it’s vital to feel safe and secure in who you are. So much of that starts when we’re children. My hope is that The Edible Complex, will be a good influence on boys and girls.
Now I’m going to get some ice cream. Want some?
Melissa Leilani Larson is an award-winning playwright and filmmaker. Plan-B previously performed her play Pilot Program.
The Edible Complex, by Melissa Leilani Larson
Plan-B Theatre Company’s 4th annual Free Elementary School Tour travels to 40 schools in six counties this fall. One public performance on will take place on
Saturday, October 8 at 11am as part of Repertory Dance Theatre’s “Ring Around the Rose.” Tickets are $5 for ages 3 and up (kids 2 and under are free). The Edible Complex is accessible to children of all ages and genders. Details and tickets: planbtheatre.org