WARNING: Contains swears, apparitions and the end of humanity.
As I said in an earlier blog, one of the great benefits of 28 Plays Later was that it unlocked my creativity, and that it showed me that I could make the time to write even in busy circumstances, and it emboldened me to take on the even bigger challenge of NaNoWriMo, writing 50,000 words (apparently the average length of the first draft of a shortish novel, I’m assured that they grow with each draft) through the month of November.
That turned out to be an even more profound experience; there is something remarkable about investing so many hours in your own creativity, without a likely return of money, fame, adulation. It’s a way of saying to your inner creative voice; ‘you have inherent value and I’m going to invest time and energy in to you.’ And, I found, the voice reciprocates.
I’ll write more about both the process, and the resulting novel in later blogs, but I want to share two of the short plays from 28 Plays Later which helped develop my thinking towards the novel.
As ever, I can’t tell you what the prompts where that led to these, but hopefully they will pique your interest. (A quick note, WordPress does not love tabs and indents so I have deviated from the standard British script format for these and all future scripts.)
THE VOICE IN THE WIND
This is a story I’ve been carrying in my head for over 10 years, never finding the time to get it into the world. Even knowing it so well, I was surprised by some of the details which came out.
ALICIA, 12, mixed-race, frizzy hair in buns, jeans, jumper, backpack, comes in to the room. Her parents hover in the door way. The room is clean but faded and aged. Bare boards. Bed. Dresser, fire place, standing mirror covered with a dust sheet.
She throws her bag on to the bed, which creaks.
DAD: On Monday we’ll got to Homebase and choose some paint. Then we can get this place fixed up. Any colour you like?
MUM gently thumps him in the arm. ALICIA wrinkles her nose at him.
DAD: Okay. Well, we’ll let you settle in.
He lifts in a large suitcase and closes the door. Wind whistles through the fire place.
ALICIA goes over to the bed and throws herself on to it. The springs creak.
There’s a big gust of wind. The lights flick off. The sun has set but there’s a little bit of gloaming left before complete darkness.
Wind starts to howl louder.
ALICIA rolls over.
ALICIA leaps up in the half darkness.
ALICIA creeps towards the fire place. She’s about to get there when her DAD suddenly opens the door to her room, carrying a torch.
DAD: Sorry! We’ve only got enough torches for me and your mother, but we do have some candles. Here –
He walks to the mantelpiece and places a saucer, candle and matches. He strikes a match and slightly melts the base of the candle. Then he lights the wick. A warm glow part-fills the room.
DAD: There you go!
He goes back to the door.
DAD: Dinner in a few minutes, I reckon. Luckily the gas is still working!
Goes, shutting the door behind him.
ALICIA continues slowly walking to the fire.
There is a sudden and much louder:
The candle flares brighter. She jumps.
ALICIA listens. Nothing.
Then a crackling sound:
She draws really close to the candle.
ALICIA: Did you just speak?
CANDLE: Careful! You nearly blew me out.
CANDLE: It’s difficult to talk this way. Take the sheet from the mirror.
ALICIA looks around. She sees it and removes the sheet. She sees herself reflected.
CANDLE: Now draw the candle closer.
ALICIA carries the candle closer. It flickers slightly and suddenly ALICIA sees MARY, a 12 year old girl wearing torn and bloodied clothing circa 1830 in the mirror, staring back at her.
MARY: Help me!
ALICIA screams, accidentally blowing out the candle. And plunging the stage into darkness.
The dusty bulb in the middle of the room lights up. The mirror reflects the room.
ALICIA looks around, still holding the candle.
DAD: (FROM OFF) Help me set the table, Alicia! Dinner’s nearly ready.
ALICIA throws the candle down and rushes out of the room.
The light bulb flickers out. Mary appears again in the mirror.
MARY: Please, help me!
The antagonists in the story above were slightly hazy when I started writing but the short play below helped unlock them for me. This scene is based on Laban efforts, a popular technique for creating either natural, or subtly uncanny, movement, often taught in dance or drama schools.
(NB: There are 8 Laban efforts. Only five feature in this play)
Flicking: Flexible, Sudden, Light. Flicking is flexible in its use of space and it resists both Weight and Time. It is a movement with free flow. It is crisp, light and always brief. Flicking’s costume consists of chords and whip heads which can be cracked to illustrate lines and gestures. He speaks suddenly but gently, with a tease and a smile.
Slashing: Sudden, Strong, Flexible. This effort is usually performed with free flow. When we think of slashing, the general thought is a sword slashing towards an object and meeting resistance. When performing, this effort tends to fade into a float at the point it would meet resistance. Slashing’s costume consists of blades protruding along every major bone and jutting from joints so that the slightest move creates cuts in the air. She speaks with a sudden, strong voice and a scowl, cutting into the conversation.
Wringing: Flexible, Sustained, Strong. This primarily involves movement in the opposite direction, such as wringing out a towel where your hands will move in two opposite directions. Keep in mind that wringing is not restricted to the hands. The costume is gives the impression of boulders which scrape together with each movement on the joints. His voice wavers with effort, as of barely contained rage.
Gliding: Sustained, Light, Direct. This effort is a smooth movement, generally performed with bound flow. There is a high level of control in this movement which comes from muscular counter-tensions. This is the way in which this effort differs from floating; floating does not have that level of control. Gliding has wings of stretched material from leg to arm, like a power glider’s costume, and is attached to flying gear in the rig. His voice is high and smooth.
Pressing: Direct, Sustained, Strong. Pressing is applied to pushing, crushing and squeezing (pressing from both directions). It is efficient in its use of space and is performed with bound flow which means that the action can be paused but not completely stopped. However, there is still a sense of fluency similar to the glide. Gravity and weight are closely aligned with this effort as they can help or hinder you depending on the direction in which you are pressing. The costume seems to be made of solid slabs. She speaks very slowly and carefully, with great weight.
There is a fog and a gentle but diffuse light – it is the gloaming time. GLIDE swoops gently around the stage, billowing the fog in his wake. He may gradually come to a stop and then begin again when speaking. All the characters fully embody their action rest and movement and above all in the quality of their voice when speaking.
GLIDE: I am here. Come my brothers and my sisters it is time for the moot!
PRESS enters steadily and upon finding a place to stop begins the slow process of settling which will take the duration of the scene. There is the sound of the ground being slowly crushed beneath her feet.
PRESS: I am here.
WRING enters, each move twisting upon itself.
WRING: I am here.
Suddenly SLASH has cut onto the stage and then is still.
SLASH: I am here.
Flick darts into the space opposite slash.
FLICK: I am here.
GLIDE: Brothers and sisters, we are here to discuss the human problem.
FLICK: Fuck ‘em.
WRING: Fuck them.
SLASH: Fuck them up.
PRESS: Crush them.
GLIDE: Noted. But we might need a more detailed plan if we are to rid the world of all of them.
PRESS: And return it to the old ways.
SLASH: Red in tooth and claw.
PRESS: Gray and black and moss covered.
WRING: Brown and green in twisting vine.
FLICK: Blazing white in lighting strike.
GLIDE: Unseen but howling with the wind.
WRING: They think they are the masters.
PRESS: Trampling our kind under foot.
SLASH: Raising our sacred places.
WRING: Tearing up the land.
FLICK: Burning our buried treasures.
GLIDE: Thickening our pure air.
PRESS: So, how do we take back what is ours?
SLASH: Disease. Let a contagion spread amongst them quick as fire.
FLICK: The Sun. Let a surge come. Turn their pretty toys to trash.
WRING: Heat ‘em up till they gasp for drinking water and war with one another for green land to farm.
GLIDE: Let’s suffocate them with their own poisoned air.
SLASH: Great waves rising from the seas to drown their cities.
FLICK: Great fires to burn away their homes.
PRESS: All of these, my brothers and sisters. All of these at once so that they are surrounded, by flame from the West, water from the East, plague from the North, surges from the South and slow death pressing on them from the skies. All of these, my brothers and sisters until the last one lies, broken and alone, screaming for mercy and then, they too will be crushed before our might, returning. And then there will be silence.
GLIDE: And then we will roam free, through the air.
WRING: And forest.
SLASH: And the waves.
FLICK: And the sunlight.
PRESS: And deep within the earth. Are we agreed?
PRESS: Then away. To work our terrible revenge.
GLIDE soars away, FLICK flashes off the stage, SLASH sweeps off, WRING twists away and finally PRESS rise like a mountain as darkness fills the stage.