I noticed, re-reading the plays I wrote in 28 Plays Later, that two of them were on a common theme; the emergence of new emotional tools. Here’s the first:
A white room, two white plastic chairs. Doors SL and SR
SAMEERA enters SL, wearing a white suit.
RUBY enters SR, identical.
The two nod at each other.
They sit neutrally.
SAMEERA: What is the topic?
RUBY: Gender equality.
SAMEERA: What assertions are you positing?
RUBY: One, despite substantial improvements in the last 120 years, women, on average are still disadvantaged in society.
Two, that this is not morally acceptable.
Three, that action needs to be taken.
SAMEERA: One. Define your terms.
RUBY: Substantial improvements would include that women-
SAMEERA: Clarification. Define the meaning of society in this assertion.
RUBY: The West.
RUBY: Retraction. Britain.
RUBY: Britain, circa 2017.
SAMEERA: Define ‘substantial improvements’ for women in Britain between 1897 and 2017.
RUBY: One, women in Britain are now able to vote.
Two, women in Britain are now legally protected from domestic violence.
Three, women in Britain are now able to own property.
Four, women in Britain are legally protected from discrimination in employment.
SAMEERA: Elaborate on ‘still disadvantaged.’
RUBY: One, women in Britain are more likely to suffer domestic violence.
SAMEERA: Clarify ‘more likely’ than who?
RUBY: Women in Britain are more likely to suffer domestic violence than men.
RUBY: Two, women in Britain earn 17.5% less than their male counterparts.
SAMEERA: Clarify ‘male counterparts.’
RUBY: Men in equivalent roles in the same profession.
RUBY: Three, women in Britain are more likely than men to encounter sexual harassment in the workplace.
SAMEERA: Define ‘sexual harassment.’
RUBY: Bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favours.
SAMEERA: Define ‘on average.’
RUBY: Oh, good –
SAMEERA slightly inclines her head. RUBY returns to neutral.
RUBY: On average means that while there will be individual cases where a man is disadvantaged in a particular situation versus a woman, that, on average, the significant advantage lies with men.
RUBY: In any given situation, a man is more likely to have an advantage over women than a woman is to have an advantage over a man.
SAMEERA: What possible counter-arguments are there?
RUBY: Citing of individual examples where a man has advantage over a woman.
RUBY: The assertion ‘on average’ acknowledges that there are some situations where a woman might have advantage over a man but the likelihood in any given situation is that the man will have the advantage over a woman.
SAMEERA: Define ‘morally unacceptable.’
RUBY: Pause. Further preparation required.
SAMEERA: Time required?
RUBY: One day.
SAMEERA: Nods. Till tomorrow.
RUBY stands and leaves.
SAMEERA stands and leaves.
In the past I have encountered clean language: a therapeutic tool aiming to ‘reduce to a minimum any influence from the facilitator’s ‘map of the world’ via the therapee’s metaphors, interpretations or unwarranted assumptions.’ (My play in no way depicts actual clean language, though!) I have also been exploring coaching, and the power of questions to clarify thought. While I’m very interested in in gender equality, in the writing I was more interested about how one person could, by being as ‘clean’ and neutral as possible. enable another to develop their thinking. (Reading it back Sameera interrupts which is a big coaching no-no.) Of course, the real value of therapy or coaching also lies in actually having a human being listen to you, as Nancy Kline discusses in her book A Time to Think, but at the time part of me was yearning for a gentle, emotionally-cooler way of exploring ideas than the heated polemics on social media.
Then I explored a different idea, that sometimes the best communication between two people might be silent:
Sasha enters the house, looking harassed. She’s wearing loose, comfortable clothing in light colours. The lounge is simple – no obvious screens, but there are some pictures on the wall, mainly landscapes. Abhin enters from the kitchen and looks at Sasha.
He takes both of her hands and they kneel together on a rug in the centre of the room.
They sit, cross-legged, holding hands. They look into each other’s eyes.
Several minutes pass during which something is happening, but there’s no obvious movement or expression.
Slowly they break, stretching life back into their limbs. They stand.
They hug and he kisses her gently on the mouth.
She sits on the couch with a contented sigh.
Abhin re-enters with a cup of tea and passes it to Sasha.
Abhin makes a gesture and music begins to play, the light shifts slightly, becoming warmer.
When I’m teaching acting to students I lead an exercise where I ask them to stand completely still; no fidgeting, no raising an eye brow or the corner of a mouth, nothing, and then hold eye contact with each other and have a silent conversation. I’ve yet to see a group who felt that nothing was communicated in that time, and some have quite profound experiences. I must have been taught that exercise by someone but as I’ve been using it for 20 years I forget who!
I sometimes wonder what the effect of it would be in terms of a relationship, rather than a theatre workshop, hence the above vignette; imaging a world in which we are unafraid to be really present with another person in complete silence.