Speech & Debate
October 15, 2008 - December 7, 2008
By Stephen Karam
Directed By Jon Kretzu


This added attraction to the 2008-2009 season follows three young misfits in a Salem, Oregon classroom as they discover that they are linked by a sex scandal that has rocked their town. It’s an IM and text messaging world, where grown-up ideas mix with childish will, high school ambitions and teenaged bravado. With a nod to musical comedy – including a musical version of “The Crucible” – Karam takes a peek at what, if anything, it means to be an adult.


Derek Herman

Jennifer Rowe

Adrian de Forest

Allison Frost*

Scenic/Lighting Designer
Van McQueen

Sound Designer
Rodolfo Ortega

Costume Designer
Claudie Jean Fisher

Properties Designer
Mina Kinukawa

Stage Manager
Elizabeth Esch Brown*

The Synopsis
Three Salem Oregon high school outcasts who have previously never met are curiously connected by their affiliations with a local sex scandal whose introduction results in the school’s first Speech and Debate team. Would-be drama star Diwata posts a video blog implying that she knows something about the scandal. Howie leaves his phone number on her site, insinuating he knows something more, and Solomon contacts them both to get the inside scoop for the school paper. As more secrets are willingly and unwillingly revealed, the stakes get higher. The three students realize that they may have figured out an angle to have their voices heard.

The Playwright
Stephen Karam is the author of Speech & Debate, which was produced off-Broadway by Roundabout Theatre Company as the inaugural production of Roundabout Underground. It was nominated for a 2008 GLAAD Media Award for New York Theater – Broadway & off-Broadway. He is the co-author of columbinus, which ran at New York Theatre Workshop following a co-production by Round House Theatre, Perseverance Theatre and the United States Theatre Project. It was nominated for a 2006 Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Resident Play. Karam’s last two plays, Speech & Debate and Girl on Girl, debuted as workshop productions at Brown/Trinity Playwrights Repertory Theatre. His plays have been produced at Arena Stage, the Kennedy Center, the New York Music Theatre Festival, Perseverance Theatre, Roundabout Theatre Company, Roundhouse Theatre, and Stark Raving Theatre. He is a winner of the NYMF Director’s Choice Award, the Blank Theatre Company's Young Playwrights Competition, YPI's Playwriting Competition, and the Kennedy Center’s ACTF Award for Musical Theatre. A graduate of Brown University, Karam is currently working on a new play commission for the Roundabout Theatre Company and a screenplay adaptation of Speech & Debate for Overture Films.

From an interview with Stephanie Mulligan, Literary Manager, Artists Rep:

SM: I hear your play was produced at LA Theatre Works. How was that? Was it a full production?

SK: LA Theatre Works records plays and then broadcasts them on the radio (before a live audience at the Skirball Center in L.A.). So it wasn't a full production, but definitely a one-of-a-kind experience. In addition to the actors (who perform in front of their microphones), there is a Foley artist on stage. My favorite part of the experience was how, in so many ways, audiences listen much, much better when asked to use more of their imagination. The audiences were fantastic and tracked every beat of the story.

SM: You're working on the screenplay of Speech & Debate now. How is that going? Do you find yourself connecting to the work in a different way?

SK: This is tricky to talk about since I'm just beginning. And you know Hollywood – I may be pulled off the project by the time this interview goes to print! Here's the thing: the only reason I'm doing this is because I think that by pulling the play apart and changing things quite a bit, the story could make a great film. Really. I have no desire to turn a good play into an okay movie. So, that's the trick, I think, of adapting your own work. Not being so protective of it that you can't see the big picture. I was like, "If we're doing this, let's not just loosely adapt it – let’s make it its own special thing." S&D is a play, so if I tried to just quickly translate it, it would fail. It's theatrical. I now need to make it a movie. And I've got some good ideas.

SM: The language of your play reflects the shift in our way of communicating with one another. This is an email interview, so you get to be reflective and selective about your reply. Are you much of a blogger?

SK: I'm not a blogger at all, nor do I even leave comments (so far, anyway…never say never). But I LOVE reading blogs. They are part of my daily reading. I'm often inspired by how much great writing (and yeah, bad writing) can be found online. I have some good friends who blog and I look forward to their entries every day. I try to NOT read blogs if they are talking about my writing and I NEVER read message boards anymore. I'll be the first to admit I don't have a very thick skin. People saying great things about you is garbage for your head, and people saying bad things about you is garbage for your head. It's kind of lose/lose. I used to enjoy reading them until previews of S&D when someone posted comments attacking the show (always a mood booster) and then attacked one of the actors because they were convinced he was altering his voice – changing it in a way that really put them off. The person kept posting: "Why would he make the choice to use such a weird speaking voice? Why would he talk like that?" It was his real voice! Duh. At that moment, I said goodbye to the boards.

SM: To what extent are you "child" of this culture of email, texting, IM, etc.?

SK: Well, when I was a teenager in Scranton, PA, I was all about chat rooms on AOL. No texting at that time (I'm from Scranton…I didn't have a cell phone until I was 22!) We don't need to discuss what chat rooms I visited.

SM: As you make your way in the writing world, what would you like your work to do for the theater and the world?

SK: Well, I write because I love telling stories. What impact my stories have/will have on people…who knows. I do know that good stories can affect change and move people in amazing ways. I don't set out to do anything other than to try and tell good stories.

Production History and Awards
Speech & Debate received a 2006 workshop production at Brown/Trinity Playwrights Repertory Theatre in Providence, RI. It had its world premiere at the Roundabout Underground in New York on October 29, 2007, where it was twice extended through February 2008. Speech & Debate was nominated for a 2008 GLAAD Media Award for New York Theater – Broadway & off-Broadway. It was also produced at American Theater Company in spring 2008.

Recommended for adult audiences. Mature themes, sexual references.

*Member of Actor’s Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States

+Equity Membership Candidate
++Member of Artists Repertory Theatre Resident Acting Company

Production Sponsor:
Hugh & Mair Lewis

The Reviews...

"Tremendous creativity in the concept and clever writing. Courageous, outrageous acting that seemed very real to life - it moved me."

"Highly funny, understood the angst of being a teenager, very creative use of space. Basically a winner all around."

"Amazing actors! I found it hard at the end to remember that they weren't really the high school kids they portrayed."

"Great humor, excellent new cast, thoughtful issues, small venue - overall great theater expericence!"

"The staging was perfect. I had the feeling of being in a classroom. The actors were very good."

"Good dialogue, enjoyed that story was "local" and contemporary, enjoyed acting & timing & musicality."

Click here to read the press reviews.

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