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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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So, I finished the first revision of my Ancient Greek Comedy….

…..and I feel pretty good about it.  There’s still some work left to be done on it, places that need polishing, and characters that need a little more development, but overall, I’m satisfied with what I’ve written.  My next step will be to send it to a local director for a clear eye and suggestions, and from there, that’s anyone’s guess.

But I’ve got some definite ideas.

Title and cast list of Hotel Mt. Olympus.

Should it go forward and find a stage, a cast and a choreographer [1], it will be the culmination of a dream – to see a work I wrote take on a new life in front of an audience.  Will I consider myself a playwright?  Only in the loosest sense of the word –  this is a fairly comprehensive list of playwrights that deserve the title.  Each of them have a body of work that will forever be in production.

I think this is my only work to be written specifically for the stage.  I won’t say that I’ll never try it again, but my specialty is writing in the narrative form.  This was a fun and, at times, a nerve-wracking challenge.  I’ve removed characters, added them back in, re-wrote dialogue and new scenes and then, when all seemed lost, a piece of music would send me back in with renewed vigor.

In the process, I realized that the story I wanted to tell (using LOTS of humor) required me to use the stories of the gods and goddesses I chose to be characters in my play.  Interestingly, their stories tied into many of today’s social issues and, while I was pleased, I wasn’t entirely surprised by this discovery.

After all, their stories have been around for centuries – they are very human concerns that transcend time and place.

[1] While this is not a musical, per se, it does have some song and dance numbers.

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So, I’ve been revising my Ancient Greek Comedy….

…..and I got stuck because of Zeus. Why, you ask, would the primary god in Greek mythology be such a problem that you got stuck when writing about him?

Good question.

By rights, he should be a fun character to give life to on the page. He’s larger than life (because he’s a god, naturally), bombastic, can shape-shift into any creature or element he wishes, has the power to control the world and his fellow gods and goddesses.

Zeus should have been a piece of cake to write about.

But he wasn’t.

He started out as a Burl Ives caricature, then I took him out and made him a light/sound effect so that I could reduce the number of characters I had on-stage. Then I added him back on-stage, as a physical character, but with light and sound as his voice. A director read the work and came back with several notes, including one that gave Zeus his voice back.

‘Great,’ I thought, ‘This should be easy.’

It wasn’t.

I had gone through the first twenty pages, revising dialogue and cutting out unnecessary words (and this is how I know I’m a novelist at heart – I’m very wordy). I re-structured character motive and added new directions. All was going well, it was clicking along at a nice pace and I was enjoying the characters and their interactions.

Then I came to Zeus, his first entrance and everything came to a screeching halt.

I typed in his name, hit the Enter key to start his first line and………nothing.

Zip. Nada. Silence.

I put it aside, as I always do when I encounter difficulty. I still kept notes, writing down ideas that could be incorporated into the script. I even began to design a soundtrack, to help with the creative flow. Also, there’s a Greek Chorus and the Greeks were all about music, so it made sense to let that side develop.

But I was still stuck and Zeus, uncharacteristically, was stubbornly silent.

An article I’d read recently about character development had been ruminating in my thoughts – I don’t recall the title of the article or where I’d found it, but I will edit this post to add it should I be lucky enough to find it.

In any case, the article asked a lot of good questions and what I remember is this – what is your character’s over-riding arc? What is their question that needs answering? What is their need?

I began to ask this of my play’s characters and some interesting things began to come up, things that had been below the surface.

And then recent events and Zeus’s own well-documented behavior in his own myths began to shed some light on the subject. Now I know his questions, his arc and his need.

The darkness always comes before the light.

Title and cast list of my play.
Title and cast list of my play.

So, sometimes when I write……

……I get songs stuck in my head. I’m not kidding – I have created soundtracks to several screenplays, mostly for my own amusement. There has been at least one occasion where the song inspired the story and I wrote the bulk of it in one sitting.

I love crooners, like Tony Bennett, and groups like the Temptations or the Flamingos. I love singers like Natalie Cole and Cyndi Lauper. Their energy, their voices, their artistry, often connect with my imagination in such a way that scenes will write themselves. Sometimes the style of music will surprise me, but the mood it conveys will always suit the scene I’m in the middle of.

Right now, I’m revising my two-act comedy, cutting out unnecessary words (boy, I can tell I’m a novelist – I’m wordy!). Lines still make sense, even when cut in half, which is good. Since I’ve not written a stage play before, this is a good exercise for me.

I haven’t been listened to music for a long time, outside of my car. I’m discovering that I need to start listening again. Especially when you’re writing a play about the ancient gods and goddesses of mythology. There is a Chorus, after all, who sing about what they witness or summarize what came before. And music is the voice of civilization – just as the written word allows us to connect with the minds of Herodotus or Shakespeare or Jane Austen or Mary Shelley, so does music give voice to that past.

When a particular style or genre of music starts nudging at you, trying to get your attention, or you have a song stuck in your head, listen to that. That’s your creative instinct telling you to pay attention, that there’s something there for you to hear, that it may add more color into your work, whether it’s writing a play or painting a portrait.

So, on that note, I need to go listen to variations of Your Cheatin’ Heart. Apparently, country music has become part of my Ancient Greek Comedy’s soundtrack.

I did not see that one coming.

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So, I’ve written a play for the stage……

…….and am currently in the process of revising it. I’ve discovered, in this revision process, that I am a bit wordy, that I could say the same thing in half the words used and still have it make sense and be funny. The fact that I am wordy is not surprising to me – I’m primarily a novelist, and words tend to breed like bunnies in novels. Still, it’s a good idea to cut unnecessary ones as much as possible.

The play in question is a comedy, my vision of a hotel that caters to the gods, goddesses, and other people of ancient mythologies and what it might look like on any particular day. Given that there are a number of deities walking about, one can expect the unexpected. Like a Rat Pack-wannabe god of wine. Or a seer on Prozac. Or a Gorgan whose frozen victims become her celebrated works of art. Of course, one can expect a lot of egos to be thrown around, too.

And today, I had the most brilliant brain-wave of how to complicate things a bit, thanks to the recalcitrant and egotistical god, Zeus, and his Roman counterpart, Jupiter. Things are going to get interesting at this mythic hotel.

I can’t wait to check in and see how it turns out.

Title and cast list of my play.
Title and cast list of my play.

So, the final curtain looms…..

……as my show enters its last weekend. The last few weeks have gone by in a blur and it seems inconceivable that there are only three performances left. Each performance led to something new in my character, a discovery of her humanity and motives. Although it’s not written in the script, I felt an underlying sense of guilt and fear that drove her to her final destination. There were specific lines that alluded to her distress, but the nature of her personality drove others away from her, a self-defensive measure on her part.

This show, The Mousetrap as written by Dame Agatha Christie (adapted from her short story Three Blind Mice, which in itself is adapted from the radio play written in honor of Queen Mary’s 80th birthday), premiered in London in 1952. It has continued to play in front of audiences, celebrating its 64th anniversary this year in the same theater.

It has been a privilege and a joy to work with my fellow cast mates, who have provided a lot of support and laughter in the last few weeks. I am grateful to my director, for casting me in this part, for reasons I mention in a previous post. I had the best stage manager and costumer and producer to help shape, guide and fashion us into a wonderful presentation.

For their privacy, I will not identify them or post their pictures – I feel I need to ask their permission.

But I will leave you with a photograph of our set, where we played out our parts and made our discoveries and connections, both within the context of the play as our characters and outside the play, as actors, as friends, as comrades in arms.

The set of Monkswell Manor, from The Mousetrap, by Dame Agatha Christie.
The set of Monkswell Manor, from The Mousetrap, by Dame Agatha Christie.

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