Monday, March 30rd, Shirley A. Huston-Findley’s play-writing class.
I gave a talk about writing play scripts and being a playwright. Several of the students in the class had attended the Lights Out reading and a couple had participated in it. So it was an easy matter to describe the “process” for LO — especially since the play is/was based on a description given to me by a friend who was an eye-witness to the incident, circa 1983. I wrote the play in ’84 but I can still hear my friend’s voice, telling me about what she had seen. There were some good questions after the talk.
Tuesday, March 31st, Devised Performance session.
So this was the third of six sessions and the second one dedicated to the New Play. I’d had the weekend and Monday to work on new scenes for this script. Somewhat to my surprise I found that my characters, who have been stuck in limbo for about ten years now, were still able to move and speak. But not a whole lot: the script is sort of about language and origins, so in the opening scenes it’s something of a challenge to get any kind of intelligible speech out of them (the characters)! Shirley’s students were, however, very accepting of what was put before them. Even though I had given them no idea whatsoever about what lay ahead in the play, they read their lines with dignity and engagement. All in all, it was a very good session.
Thursday, Apr 2nd, Devised Performance session.
Now, finally, there’s a little more meat on the bone (of the script). I worked all of Wednesday and there are now three completely new scenes. The characters have a lot more conversation. Rather than read sitting down, Shirley asked her students to move around, holding the scripts. This gave them more to do and was perhaps more fun for them. Seeing them moving was also very useful for me. The characters definitely came alive in a more rounded way. I’ve not just been adding lines at the end, but continuously up-dating the earlier scenes as I’ve gone along. So the situation (in the play) is evolving in several directions at once.
After our session I also had a chat with three of the students about their prior experiences with improvising and workshopping scripts as a group. As I am entirely unused to collaborating with other people, it was interesting to me. What I’m doing isn’t really the same (because I’m still the only person writing the script), except in the sense that the script is taking shape via the interaction. If I were here for longer, we may have been able to explore each character’s back-story and that would undoubtedly have fed back into the final result. Still, as I write new scenes, I can see tendrils of all the conversations and stray remarks that we’ve had so far, peeking in and out of the dialogue in the play.
Friday, Apr 3rd, Two Talks.
The first was in Prof Dale Seed’s Green Theatre class. Green Theatre involves, as its name suggests, applying ideas of sustainability and eco-awareness to the practice of theatre. The students had been set the task of reading HARVEST and Dale’s reason for wanting to include it in his class was that the play is built around a potentially disastrous and inhumane global trade. I shared my three favorite Harvest stories — how I happened to think of the play (on a visit to Madras, seeing patients in a clinic near my parents’ home, recovering from kidney transplant surgery), what someone said at one of the meetings I was invited to (a cynical but realistic older lady, covered in diamonds, stood up and said, “This is all very well, but if anyone of us needs a transplant, we’re just going to get one in the usual way.”) and finally, the story told to me by a friend of how she found herself caught up in a very Harvest-like situation, including having to fatten up the potential donor, when her desperately sick aunt needed a kidney transplant. Eventually, though, the aunt recovered without surgery! So there was a kind of happy ending there.
In the evening I gave a talk with slides on the subject of Cultural Hybridity and the Artist. It sounds rather grand and obscure, but really it was just me carrying on about being an artist/writer who grew up in different cultures, feeling equally rooted and rootless wherever I go. The signs of this hybridity are especially obvious in my artwork, which was why I used my slide-show (some years ago I put together a bunch of images that I can use for purposes such as this talk. I vary the content based on what I’m asked to talk about), IN TRANSIT. The two pictures I’ve posted here are of the introductory image. The one the screen at the venue looks a bit faded; the other one is a jpeg of the same image. The audience was small, composed mostly of Shirley’s students and a couple of other interested (and interesting) people from the college, so the discussion that followed was quite lively and broad-ranging.
And after that, I came back to my charming home-stay apartment and spent three days immersed in writing the next few scenes of this suddenly-almost-complete New Play! It’s such a surprise to me to see how much it has evolved from the handful of pages (literally, like maybe 10. Now I have three times that amount — but it’s not the quantity, it’s the content that surprises me) I started with.
That’s all for today. Tomorrow is my second last session. On Thursday is the last and then on Friday – we’ve all agreed to this – the students will participate in an informal reading, to a small audience of fellow students, of however much of the play I’ll have finished by then.