After a few days doing other things I’m back with I Love You Baby, pondering space and time. The play’s been there in the background like someone extremely attractive and interesting at a dull party, who you know you’re going to talk to later, but who can be confidently left to emit pheromones next to the buffet table until it’s time to lock on. Today I’ve swooped in on the play, set down the stuffed olives, shed the financial expert who doesn’t come up for air, and pushed us both onto the liberating veranda to ask cautious questions, flirt mildly, and make tentative decisions about the future.
While I was away, in moments I could snatch to tantalise myself with the play, I settled on five characters, a place and a plot and these things can all sit dormant and quietly inform other decisions for a while as the two major lynchpins of dramatic construction are honed- Where is it? And when is it? (Including when’s subdivision- how long is it?…)
Being a director as well as a playwright has it’s advantages, though I try not to hold the big cone too often while working in the imagined activity as pragmatism has it’s place, but it can’t all be about ease of entrances and lighting bars.
Similarly producer mode, in cliché form a hard-nosed, cigar-chewing, bottom line-citing, bums-on-seats ‘lets talk about billing and profile’ machine isn’t that helpful either in the early stages of creative development. However both of these roles lurk in the background of this early ideas formation landscape providing the occasional whisper and nudge to the playwright.
After an intense debate between these three job roles in the board room in my brain (Somewhere between the swimming pool and vegetarian restaurant, I don’t stay there long) the following first round key decisions were made and actioned by all departments (There’ll be some more along at a later date when the board meets again and they’ll be dutifully followed):
The play will be in one place (No set changes)
This place will have flat white surfaces in it (For digital projection purposes)
The play will be made for end on performance in middle scale venues
The play will happen now, today, it’s contemporary
The play will be two hours long including an interval
The board took these decisions because:
This is cheaper to get in to theatres and to tour, saves a lot of work for stage management in an interval and also conserves an audience’s valuable patience. Unless you can do a National/West End/RSC fly the scenery in and/or have a huge chorus of singer/dancers/supers on (And run the risk of bettering the show itself) or deliver a stunning performance poet doing something amazing in the bar, probably naked and with fire, to take your mind off the furniture being moved next door it’s the road to nowhere. Scene changes are rarely interesting or necessary unless Ibsen or Chekhov or Shakespeare insists and there’s a not a clever way of getting around it. So decision made. One dazzling set which can be transported in a long wheel base transit van will suffice.
Self-explanatory. A key part of the plot. All will be revealed in time…
There’s a recognised dearth of work on the middle scale and I have spaces in mind and early conversations have been had.
It’s very now. To tell the story in a different time frame would make no sense. Generally the more compact the time frame the tighter the drama so I’ll aim not to be too rangy (Days and weeks at most rather than months).
Long enough for an audience to feel satisfied with the bother of going to theatre and to carry five ‘real’ actors and one virtual character, a lot of plot, music, physicality and visual spectacle.
And so on the other side of all that we now know where we are and how long it will take.
Below is what I will be looking at inside my head while I’m writing (Or something like it) and this is the space that the characters will come in to. Eventually I’ll communicate this to a designer, but for now, it’s mine and the characters’.
I Love You Baby takes place in Samantha’s penthouse apartment in Manchester.
But we won’t bring the characters or plot forward just yet, as I said they’re there, in the background, ready to enter when the world of the play has been explored, what Stanislavsky would call the ‘given circumstances’ (The things the actors work very hard to unravel when there’s no playwright around).
Many years ago I developed an interest in Second Life (It became vaguely addictive so I uninstalled the app). Second Life was, around the turn of the millennium, the premiere virtual reality interface for the casual on line gamer and offered the opportunity for individuals to enter a user-created world, and influence it. This concept of influence and creation was the driver and it began with the ability to create your own avatar.
The player is empowered to create a version of themselves, transgendered, taller, shorter, with completely different characteristics who arrives in a new world, runs, flies, crosses oceans, build houses, trades and makes and loses money, interacts, has sex and commits crimes (Some very shady and frightening areas exist). The raw excitement, adventure and breathtaking novelty of these ‘games’ and concepts is plain to see. There’s escapism and amazing creativity here- an opportunity to feel both skilled and creative- you are the designer, the writer, the architect and prime mover in your own universe, you are a polymathic genius ruling your own pixilated Olympus.
In the age of communal isolation when we’re all empowered by technology why not fill the gaps for ourselves?
I was attracted to Second Life during a period of tedious recuperation from an insignificant illness when being rendered immobile meant the on screen activity made long days bearable and often thrilling.
Samantha’s brother Clarence, during a period of change and uncertainty, creates and develops a relationship with an avatar called Baby.
But, as already stated, the characters will come later…
Not infrequently I’ve sat in front of a post show Q and A audience mid run and been asked ‘So how did it all start? Where did the idea come from? Has it changed much along the way?’ and experienced a complete and total, slack-jawed ‘eyes on vacation’ hard drive wipe out. In that tense moment of inquisition- you wrote the bloody thing you’re supposed to know- fragments of memory might pop up, an early production meeting, an image, talking to a designer, the tea-ringed top page of a an early draft amid filmic shouty echoes of chewy financial conversations with banks, funders and unyielding cash machines (One sided and expletive riddled) but never a clearly delineated concise, witty and entertaining outline of how a title became a bunch of creative people, became a rehearsal process…And became a show. At that point generally I look down the line of -much more ably loquacious- actors on the stage and ask for a take from one of their points of view while I consider a check up for early onset Alzheimer’s- and hide behind a post show ginger beer and feigned cough.
Writing, developing, directing and producing a play is a constantly moving and changing process, engaging many different voices and inputs, in an intrinsically collaborative yet highly disciplined process. Theatre-making is socialism, communism and utopianism all rolled into one (With the occasional rogue tyrant and revolution thrown in as you would expect) all rounded off with lights and sound and clapping at the end. It’s a big fat idea rolling down a hill with lots of people giving it a good whack for momentum. As the originator in this instance I’m a playwright, but there are all sorts of ways to do it, the letting go of the idea is as important as the coming up with it in the first place, and this duality, if it’s working well, leads to the kind of amnesia highlighted above.
I have a very good feeling indeed about this play.
I don’t always, but I like the fundamentals of this one. I’m going to be very happy to live with it for a while. A play about transition, life, death, love and what it means to different people because from where I’m standing (And occasionally lying flat on the floor exhausted by it all) it means so many complex things to so many people and yet we’re all supposed to share an understanding of what ‘it’ (Love) in its romantic/sexual/familial/spiritual form is. We’re all increasingly isolated (We’re told) because of our new-found love for technology, and yet we remain desperate to conform to ideas which at least one other person in the world shares. What does love mean in the age of political and personal fragmentation?
So if I were somehow transported into that future Q and A that question is, I suppose, where I would start. That’s where I am right now. Asking the question, looking through the window, walking, thinking, gently interrogating it while pretending to be listening to conversations about other things, watching box sets, swimming, eating early summer ice creams, and driving.
At the same time I’m framing and shaping- because that’s what playwrights do, we’re idea and emotion wranglers, coraling all the feelings and thoughts around the themes, into character-shaped gated folds in imagination fields, ready to drive them forwards into the structure, the shape of the play- and a plot worthy of carrying it all, and an audience, along.
If this blog does nothing else it will provide me with a record of a process which I generally forget, as it’s very much a moment by moment experience, just as the dialogue in the eventual play patterns moment by moment thought, and exists in the ‘now’.
Because currently the work is only mine, I’m just pre draft one, this is the sole point in the process where I’m working as an individual artist. It’s calm and quiet and wonderful. Just me, thought and ultimately words on page.
I Love You Baby is just beginning its life. The plan is for the play to move through research and development, be nourished by the input, technical skills and creativity of fantastic partners, actors, theatre companies, venues, all kinds of individuals into full production and a national tour. I’m recording every step in that journey and I hope you’ll come along with me. These pages will be populated with people, a vast range of opinions and the sound of many people whacking ideas down hills.
It’s going to be an amazing journey. I’m determined to remember it this time.