Diary of a Play, Day 2
Started working at dawn. Today, the apartment seems drafty and echo-y. The desk where I work sits in front of a third floor window that looks into the little sun porch. As light arrives, every window on that sun porch is shining with thick frost. That light is so cold, it’s alarming. One degree. The frost-laden windows shimmer and block the long view. I read and read my script. In rereading and outlining, I realize the immensity of what I have to do.
I comfort myself by saying this is my playwright’s mind in revision. Cold and shimmering. Hah. By 11:00 I have done nothing but establish that everything is blurred, and that shimmery moment, that’s like poof, disappeared. What am I doing writing a play about guns, and how strange is that, since I know so little about guns? And honestly, Firearms Tutorial, a play in which the science of ballistics is the metaphor for meaning sounds downright boring, and to make it worse, the metaphor has taken over like a slime monster. Note to playwright. High alert: Your metaphor is now running your show. Yikes. Who writes like this?
That said, it helps me to report to a real person so I report to friend and fellow playwright, Beth Bigler. She is my artistic consultant on the project. As I shape questions for her, they are really questions to me. I am making the problems of the play more explicit, so they are not bouncing in my head like BB’s in a can. Pun intended. The play’s about guns. Why is that hard to say?
And do you believe it? I have not yet touched the script. I’m just taking notes, outlining, thinking into. It’s all pain as I see what a mess it is. Even with all her help, it all seems impossible right now. But here’s part of my text to her. Right now, she’s my singular audience. I shape language with her in mind. Her role as audience-advisor gets me started—still it’s so slow. But here is what I wrote.
“Yes, the tutorial language is too obtuse, and even though it is richly metaphorical, it is not always aligned with a literal intention. But yes, I’m cutting a good deal of it. I can feel people falling asleep. I’m trying to discover which of those bits of language are most important and which carry enough psychological action to keep and hone. Ideas?
The EXPERT is coming along. It’s not yet on the page but he may be the most important (main?) character. He is the one who wants our lovely young couple to believe we can think about the unthinkable by simply understanding the science of firearms–so he is also projection of our own denial. His external purpose is to reveal how ballistics gives us a way to think about the unthinkable. But what I really want is for him to be the vehicle through which they realize that bullet baby is a thing that destroys, and that they love it like they love a child–blindly, without full consciousness. His journey is still foggy, but I suspect it may be to awareness of his culpability. In the failure of the tutorial, he comes to see how even the science is a way of denial. Maybe? So far, he has little action: so is he the one who shoots the child? Too easy and terrible an ending? Or is he the one who stops the shooting with his own life? Hmmm. That’s all too esoteric so I’m working to make his arc more down-to-earth. Ideas, responses?
As to the Father and Mother, that sweet young couple. Not sure if that first scene, with the repeated dialogue patterns, really gets at the obsessive protection to the point where the father feels he needs a gun. I wanted to show his drive for protection but right now, my inclination is to cut, cut, cut, even though I love the language, and instead reveal him as a father who doesn’t want to protect, then rewrite the mother in that scene as the one who is luring him toward getting a gun–she wants protection. That parallels Eve and the apple–so I’m a bit uncomfortable with that because once again, it’s the woman’s fault. It’s just the first thing that came so maybe I can fix in another way. Ideas, responses?
The food scene and the sex toy scenes were originally written as really satirical and playful, and to depict metaphor for the seduction of guns. Are they doing any real work in the play? Could they be cut? Or ideas for revision?”
What I actually sent to Beth was a much truncated and tighter version of what I wrote above. When I transferred all that to email, I saw how ridiculously worrying it would be, so I shortened the questions. Also, it’s noon. And I’m still just writing notes, questions, dancing around the issues, eating chocolate covered pretzels and making lemon tea. Thinking. Pacing. Peeing. Thinking.
Beth knows this process because she’s a playwright too. She answers shortly.
“These are excellent questions to talk about tomorrow! I want to mull on them – if I have some thoughts before our chat, I will write back, but want to give them a good think before I do. I also thought I would pass along some of the director’s questions! Yes, we have a director! Her name is Laura Stribling. She is VERY excited to work on the piece and we are thrilled to have her on board! Hopefully the three of us can jump on a call some time this week, but I thought I would pass along a few of her questions which might also help you as you start to dive in!
1. What is the role of the chorus in the opening scenes? By which I mean, how do you perceive them changing over the course of the different repetitions? What is their function? I see them getting more and more menacing – but not sure what they are supposed to represent exactly.
2. How many in the chorus? I’m thinking four ideally but understand that it may need to be smaller
3. The one section I am still having trouble with is the game section starting on p. 35. I would love it explained to me what the function of that section is. Why the games? why the non specific game – or rather the multiple game vocabulary. I think it will look cool but don’t really know how it is grounded? (does this make sense)
4. Why is the bullet baby flying from the start?”
She closes warmly.
I have a director? That’s important. That’s wonderful. That scares the shit out of me. I have got to stop pussy-footing around with notes and thinking and get into this script. Still, I have a director. An artistic consultant. People who want this to happen. I am sooo lucky. And I will ask so much of them with this play.
Get to work. Get into that script.