the atrocity of this future world

A fellow playwright whose advice is impeccable helped nail one aspect i’d been trying to bring out… how to rationalize Vera running instead of staying put and trusting the system. There’s something fishy about it, they way they won’t admit how much damage the rebellion is really doing, won’t even allow the rebellion ten minutes onscreen. Her mention of the Rebellion is censored. The society they live in, despite its benefits and amazing possibilities, is also built on lies and death. There are a couple of possible atrocities they could commit. Sacrificing Mortals to add to their extant virus information – so they can track viruses across the Cities… that’s one possibility. Or perhaps there’s a worse, 22nd century form of genocide. Well that’s a happy thought. How cheery this play is. It’s just non-stop wads of cheer.

Open Rehearsal

The focus was to honor all of the actors with a script worthy of this group, you made it look great and sound great and you should hear that as soon as possible.

Always thank the one with the thankless task first. So thank you to the hard-working and *fluent* Karin, doing the thankless task of reading stage directions. Larry gracefully switching between BEARER 1 and DAMIAN. Colleen, the Russian embassy needs a translator. Joe, you put Chiron in a Leisure suit and gazillionaired like a gazillionaire… imagine if it were “three-sexillionaire” (3 with 18 zeroes). Kimberly you made everyone want to take Japanese drugs (big surprise). Kirsten you found the cuore (heart) of Vera. Chris you picked the damn script up cold tonight and brought us the character of Net. Matt, you got us in there. Courtney made sure people found the place. Thank you all.

The play is by no means finished, but what we heard tonight was material that will for the most part survive, possibly cut down (cutting is a favored way to improve a script).

The actors took the material and were able to fly with it. That means the indirection is there, the voltage is in the wire and actors can take the material and make it their own.

The hard work is starting to pay off. But coffee break’s over, time to get back on my head.

An early draft is out there

Sent the early draft – pre first draft – to the cast for the open rehearsal. It’s 9 scenes, from the fugue at the beginning through 8 more movements. At this point, if I hear it works and it’s off the beaten path, that’s what I need to hear. If it doesn’t work, I’ll fix it. It’s a complex piece and it’s lucky there are so many seasoned players in the group; what they got tonight is a workout… but it’s going to be fine.

Questions I plan to ask Friday –

1. Are we starting to get the stuff across?

2. Some characters are boldly drawn and others are a little blurrier, depending on how close they are to the focus. Who are these people?

3. The story moves against a world hanging in the background. Mortal Coil is a whole world, but if you live in a world you don’t go round talking about it, you’d just live there. Are the rules of the world clear?

… and surely more questions will come.

Open rehearsal Friday March 12, 7:30 PM

Mortal Coil will have its first public presentation by Praxis Theatre Project NYC at an open rehearsal Friday, March 12 at Champion Studios, 257 West 39th St., NYC, 7:30 PM. If you have been reading this blog and now plan to attend, please shoot me an email at jude@pipeline.com, as seating is VERY LIMITED.. Plus, if you email, I’ll get you on the mailing list so you can keep abreast of things – there is an open reading and workshop run of the play coming up!

Back to pages!

La Vita Nuova

Small details can be important. Example, Vera receives messages that appear in her mouth; someone or something has rewritten her genes and activation sequences. Among the genetic changes, her body is manufacturing messages on rolled up paper, which are brief snatches in Italian from Dante’s La Vita Nuova. Net is there to translate these for her (until he’s not).

These messages foreshadow the stages in her character’s evolution as she changes from human into whatever the changes made to her genes designs. La Vita Nuova.

Now it’s about pages…

There is an open rehearsal scheduled for March 12. I’d like the cast to have at least two days with the script beforehand. Admittedly some things are still going to be rough, but many things will also be exactly the way they’ll be in the finished script.

For about two weeks now, I’ve been focused on only one thing: Turning pages out. This has been a full-time, 3-day a week job (I also work a full-time job in the computer industry, so it’s been a balancing act).

There are already 55 pages done, all keyframe scenes are in except the climax. Following please find my writing schedule for the next two weeks. Scene shapes are also done for the scenes that stitch the keyframe scenes together, so now we just have to write those. Page counts are very approximate.

(Hopelessly quotidian! But writing is more than just thinking stuff up. It’s bone-crunching work.)

Monday 3/1 – The party – (6 pages) Desperation 1 (4 pages) and Desperation 2 (6 pages) –

Tuesday 3/2 – The Road 1 (5 pages) – Weird creatures

Wednesday 3/3 – The Road 2 (5 pages) – Lotus Eaters

Thursday 3/4 – The Road 2 (5 pages) – Lotus Eaters

Saturday 3/6 – The Road 3 transition (3 pages) and Donna Morgan death scene (9 pages)

Sunday 3/7 – Entering the Safe House (5 pages) meeting Kate (5 pages)

Monday 3/8 – Rewrite climactic scene (8 pages) and complete Scene 1 (4 more pages)

Tuesday 3/9 – Review and tweak Opening and climactic points (2 more pages)

Wednesday 3/10 – Research and weave in poetry quotes, fill in jokes, gaps and expletives, Proofread

and TURN IN DRAFT to CAST and MATT

When I deliver on this schedule we’ll have double the number of pages almost – 111 pages – but still be well under the two-hour limit. If I fall slightly short of that, I’m not going to kick myself. Nor will anyone else.

I know, if I’m going to be *this* entertaining, you might as well tune in to “American Idol.” Or better yet, go out and see a bunch of other great new plays – too bad Melissa James Gibson’s Suitcase just closed, that was a good one.

taking shape

Shape is one of the most important things in a play, at least for me. Let’s define shape as the overall pattern of motion for the plot and character arcs. There needs to be a unity of shape for a play to contain beauty. By unity of shape, I mean the principal character’s arc must be the force that molds the play’s shape and the shapes of individual character arcs must reflect the overall shape of the driving plot in the play. And the shape must move in a harmonious fashion. Even ugly beauty involves some form of harmony; even dissonance requires discipline or it’s just noise.

Shape in a play is not static, it must move. It is a four-dimensional shape, taking definite boundaries and filling its countours with detail, but also moving in time to gradually transform from one static shape to another.

Successful directors work this way as well; several directing textbooks talk about “picturization” which is seeing a play as a gradual progress through possibly tens or even hundreds of static pictures. These pictures add up to a time-based experience of shapes in motion. When most successful these shapes are evocative and not literal. Most of the time when an actor complains about a scene being too on the nose, they are referring to this dynamic. By the way, audiences rarely say a scene’s too on the nose, especially at readings. It’s always an actor, director, another playwright, or stage manager, even a designer who will point these things out to us. Or we just notice it ourselves. But audiences always say in talk backs they want everything to be crystal clear. Really they don’t want that, they’re just telling us they have a hard time reading the music off the page, and that’s completely understandable – they haven’t made a life of interpreting plays.

Each individual picture should evoke a particular sense of dynamism (potential movement) as well as status (level and forward/backward position control status – downstage and higher up take higher status than upstage and lower down.) This is a gross oversimplification for the purpose of making a point, and I don’t mean by this definition to denigrate the importance of voice. But the visual sense dominates our way of perceiving change, and change is what theatre is about, and that’s got to count for something.

When determing the shapes of characters in the play, it’s important that the shapes of secondary and incenting characters should *not* be identical to that of the play overall. Instead the shapes should either support or contrast to the central shape. Oversimplified, if the principal character is moving in a downward direction in terms of their status, other characters should experience upward motion. For example, as Vera’s fate apparently moves downward, that of her husband, who’s exploiting her downfall for his own ends, moves upward in inverse proportion. Now, the husband is not a principal character in the play, at least not in terms of overall pages where he appears, however he’s important to show the progress of destiny in the play.

Size of notes vs. size of scenes

Of the near 50 pages written so far, there are 15 pages of scene drafts and 35 pages of notes. The scenes are more like experiments in actualizing the world of the notes. What are the notes? An amalgam of character analysis, plot points, metaphors, setting ideas, modes of conveyance, hot objects…

The opening sequence is critical, reduced again to outline (dialogue is relentlessly cannibalized) it reflects the structure of the whole play – there are three full-cast scenes planned and this is one of them. There are these 9 terrific actors, and they should all be onstage as much as the story will carry that.

The basic movement of the opening scene is: She’s editing a documentary, with the aid of software agents, for presentation to the network for whom the program was commissioned. During the course of the editing, parts of scenes are repeated and augmented; there are no rules of objectivity in 2129 journalism… in fact, a show is a success when its opinions most closely match the prevailing course of opinion – that’s ‘objective fact’ for the time (unlike today’s journalism – so dispassionately objective ;-)) Simultaneously she’s presenting the final edit to her mentor, who notes what’s missing – the very thing that will make the show a coup, an interview with Kate Anthony, head of the RU. A building explodes nearby. A body’s carried in…

Sure it sounds like a plot machine… the towering freaking inferno… but just wait…

to be continued…

Conventions – arriving at them and using them

Can’t think of theatre as a limited form. It’s got the same possibilities and presence of limitation as any other medium. Comparing theatre to film has resulted in some makers of theatre thinking that theatre can’t achieve what film can – can’t match its scope, can’t be as visual, can’t depict the fantastic as well.

The problem to solve is how to create a depiction of the ideas for the future, real in a way, without any of the CGI/SE palette that film has… and without having to EXPLAIN them… those are the limitations, and so within those strictures, i’ve come up with a whole bunch of strategies, some borrowed from avant/garde, some invented.

In truth, it’s film that’s limited. The great CGI effect that looks so cool today will be passe in 5 years. Whereas the theatre’s use of special effects, lo-tech and relying on the human imagination… why, those will remain cool, possibly forever.

So achieving, for example, a play with scientfic imagery that takes on an almost mystical set of properties can actually be done better in the theatre – where the special effects that lie in the mind can never go out of date.

So for example, rolled up pieces of paper appear in her mouth with messages to her written on them – her genes were reprogrammed to create the paper, ink and actually write the messages (deposit the ink in a predetermined pattern on the paper). Objects and tools are imbued with intelligence, have ideas, opinons and strong feelings about how well we use them.

The story trinity

There are three stories woven into this play.

The story of the documentary she is making – the answers to the core questions she’s been asking all her life – or perhaps sometimes better questions. Though it’s created in multiple installments, it’s the core of her being that’s explored and revealed; the play’s world reflects these values. Specifically the questions are about the nature of the world they occupy, and how they’ve deluded themselves; she’s the artist, a needed tonic for her day. She’s not always right – in fact, she’s mostly wrong and the truth has to give her a good nip before she can see it. The beliefs she holds at the opening are surely the result of having given up on achieving any of her lifelong goals. But this makes her feel alive; alive for the first time in ages, because she’s going to die. Each actor in the company has to have a part in the documentary at the opening; a 5 or 6-stage journey.

The poisoning plot, which is the cover story for her journey through seven checkpoints – there are seven characters besides Vera and Internet (he’s with her almost in every scene until he can’t be there any longer).

What’s really going on; what grab for power is this and what she’s going to do to bring them to justice and not let them win out.