English vs Theatre: a personal history

So... I've got a confession to make. English, as a class, was never my strong suit. It's hard for me to determine whether or not it was a “quality of teacher” issue, or a “stubborn teenager” issue, but the end result is that my grades had a downward slope along the axis of time. I personally would argue that it was primarily the first case, but I'll acknowledge that there is a healthy dose of the second that probably contributed. I believe my Senior English teacher once told me that, while I had great ideas, I never expounded upon them. Essays, as it were, was my bane. I wrote what I thought, and I felt that was enough(stubborn.) That being said, this was the same teacher that gave me the highest grade I ever received in that class on the one essay I wrote for the one book I didn't read. You may wonder where I'm going with this.

Turning this same stretch of time, I was fortunate to play Dr. Chumley in a prodcution of “Harvey” by Mary Chase. I remember sitting in my dad's car having a conversation about the play, and the movie, for that matter, and we were discussing the scene toward the end of the play where Dr. Chumley steps into his office with Harvey. Chumley has been talking about a dream he has to take a few weeks off in Akron. In the play, Harvey leaves with Elwood, but in the film, Harvey stays behind with Chumley. By the time Elwood has left Chumley's Rest, Harvey rejoins him. I remember commenting to my dad that Harvey had stopped the clock for Chumley who got his two weeks. Given that Harvey brings you back to the moment you left, it's no wonder he was bored. I remember my dad looking at me and asking why I couldn't do that kind of analysis in my English class.

I'm pretty certain that I've learned more about character analysis as an actor than I ever have from any of my English teachers. By that same token, I've learned so much more about plot and storytelling as a playwright, than I ever learned trying to dissect the work of someone else. I've come to appreciate the fact that the question often asked, “What did the writer intend” is rather vainglorious. Sometimes things just happen. Characters will take their lives into their own hands, and sometimes we writers are just trying to catch up and record, waving at our intentions as our characters pass them by. Sometimes we tell the story we want to tell, but the form is nothing like we thought it was going to be by the time we set down the final period (full stop, if you prefer). Strangest of all, the characters are usually right.


A Sign Of The Times; or What's next?

Writing is an odd beast. You spend a lot of time working on a project, and when you finally find some semblance of completion, you also find yourself out of work. The urge, of course, is to jump right into the next project. This seems to me a consistent trend, and like all consistencies, the project started right after another is completed is most likely not to get completed anytime soon. That's because writing is a relationship, and when a project gets finished, so does the relationship. Sure, it's an amicable parting, but there is still a space of time needed to detach and recover from the investment. This is surely why trying to work on something new immediately almost always fails. It's a rebound. You don't start it because you think it's a rebound, but time usually proves otherwise.

I say this, because that's where I am right now. I started doing research for a project (one that is proving more introspective than anything) and I already feel my interest waning. I know it's a piece I'm going to write, but as of the moment... it's too soon. Of course, when I pick up the next in line (probably right after I actually resolve to be done with the current one for a while) the process of discovery will have to begin all over again. It's hard to know which one to gravitate toward. Right now, I'm struggling because I want to work on something, even reformatting some older projects, but I seemingly don't have the patience for that right now, either. I actually sat down to do another read-through of one of my plays and get it ready for NPX, but as I sat down, I ended up deciding I'd rather write this blog instead.

I think part of my languor stems from the post-breakup detox. It's harder to motivate when you're in a down moment. They usually last until I'm fed up with them, so you know, a few days from now, or a few weeks. In theory, I'll be continuing research, and I'll continue scratching ideas down hoping to find the stroke that inspires the next piece, but who honestly knows. I actually have a list of projects to work on, it's just a question of how or when they'll get off their asses and do something.

How's that for an update? Right. Well, I'm going to poke dead things with sticks. Who knows? Maybe they're not dead after all.


On the OSF proposed tranlations

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) has announced plans to craft modern translations of William Shakespeare's catalog. Predictably, this has caused a some small wild fires on the internet, but I feel I must address this a little myself given that I, myself, am a Verse Dramatist and considered Shakespeare my homeboy. 

So lets dive in. The OSF has plans to produce every single one of Shakespeare's plays in the cycle of 10 years. They started in 1935. The company has been performing the Bard for longer than most of us have been a live. There is a certain sort of respect and dedication required to continue that kind of tradition for 80 years. But I also think it's clear that they love Shakespeare, and I can't but think they are very qualified for the undertaking.

Language shift is a huge issue that most people don't even recognize. When we sit down and read Shakespeare, or go and see his work on stage, we hear it, quite literally, with a modern voice. The sound and pronunciation of the English language 400 years ago is significantly different, and we miss a ton of jokes and puns because the language they were written in doesn't exist anymore. Check out these guys for a taste of what it used to be. As the language continues to drift, what else will be lost?

The postulation is that it will lose the poetry, that translating it into modern english will diminish the work. My issue is that not everyone can take three day classes focused on the character of Shakespeare's words. Most people have a hard time getting to the theatre at all, and for a lot of laypeople, the Bard is already inaccessible. Indeed, it's more like watching opera for people; that Old Pronunciation English is becoming a foreign language. And while yes, you can still get the gist of Shakespeare with good actors emoting, do these laymen actually get it? How much is missed when you don't understand the language. I cannot but help to remember the scene in Star Trek 6 where the Klingon's start reciting Hamlet “in the original Klingon.” Who is to say were it goes from here? 

I think what the OSF is proposing has the potential to be amazing. It could also fall flat on it's face. The issue to me is, do we want the Bard's words to be limited to those who have the time to study them? In a culture that has a hard time reading the comments to an online article, do you really expect non-fans to sit down with an annotated copy? Strangely enough, I suspect the critics would all laugh at a Twitter edition and call it genius. 

But most important, let's face it, another translation of Shakespeare will never be the original. But at this point, it's unlikely that the originals will ever be the originals either. We can perform the words, but the character of the language of the day is already different. His work will still go up following his lines. The originals will still be for sale at every Barnes & Noble, and it will still be studied in schools. A new translation will not alter the existence or performance of the original. I say go for it.


Wait... that's not what I meant...

One of the things I've always loved about writing is how much control characters have over a story. I love how they reach out, grab your intentions, and twist them to their own designs. I think the whole process of it is interesting and I think it goes even further, too. 

I've mentioned in the past how there are three elements involved before any line can be written, and that is terribly relevant to the conversation. Every writer's intention actually as a very wide range of possibilities for fulfillment. Sometimes the characters agree, sometimes they don't and often they surprise you. Whenever I find myself facing one of those “writer's block” moments (I don't believe in writer's block, by the way) there begins this period of introspection. I cannot tell you how many times I have literally written within my notes “What are we thinking here?” or “What are we doing here?” There are a finite number of ways to ask oneself that question, and I'm pretty sure I've touched on most, but what's interesting is that this is the period where the writer begins exploring parallel dimensions. 

First we try forcing the story through the pinhole that is our concept. We fray the premise and the line that leads us to the quandary, and we try to ignore the angels dancing upon the head of the pin that marks our place in the story. Then, when we've had enough of that, we grab a needle with a bigger eye. It is always interesting to me, discovering that I'm at that point. That's when the real magic happens. And I ask myself why it took so long to reach this point. (Hint: writers are stubborn.) 

This is why I don't actually believe in writer's block. I've mentioned this to a few people in the past, and now I'm telling the world definitively that it doesn't exist. What it really is, and has always been, is the subconsciousness reaching up and stopping the conscious mind from making a mistake. It's the characters reaching out saying, “Na uh. I'm not doing that. I would never say that.” That's when we, the writer look up from our books with a confused expression upon our face saying something along the lines of “What the hell are you talking about?” And we go back to character building, which, depending on how far along we are, is actually character exploring. We start asking, “Why don't you want to do that?” And as we continue conversing, an epiphany happens. Suddenly, we know what happens next. And suddenly, somehow, we've reached the end of the scene and are getting lost in the next. 

I face this issue often. I'm actually hiding from such an exploration right now, couched in the veil of blogging, and pretending that I can't see the characters waiting expectantly for me to catch up. Eventually I will. But I do face this issue often. How does the scene begin? How do we make this transition within the scene to the next point? How does this moment feed into the next scene? What am I missing? What don't I know? These are all questions I ask myself, to quote a friend, “on the regular.” But eventually, I catch up. 

There are a thousand ways the same story can unfold; a thousand reasons the characters can make the same choice. But in our work, there is only one true way. While we might refine the phrasing and flesh out the presentation, hide the wires and paint the scene differently, in the end, the characters know their own ways home. The struggle for us as writers is remembering how to follow their lead.


Editing: What is this thing?

I really want to talk about editing. Editing is a fine beast, and a totally different state of mind than writing. It is not terribly infrequent to sit down with every intention of writing, and suddenly find oneself editing instead. I don't usually see this as a problem, if only because the process of the edit actually resolves itself into discovering the solution to whatever the current conundrum happens to be. There are other times where writing simple never happens, and I'll disappear into a different project and edit that instead. This isn't entirely the way I thought this post was going to start. I could edit, (and of course, I have) but I think I'll just jump around instead. (My webcam's off... you can't watch.)


On Bravery

So, I've been seeing this meme online lately showing the military in combat situations side-by-side with a picture of someone in the LGBT community coming out, with the caption “This Is Real Bravery” or “This Is Real Courage” and I'm really starting to get annoyed. Do these people think there is only one kind of courage? Do they not realize that for an LGBT person to come out, it is a personal battlefield? Now, I'm not saying that anyone in the Military isn't brave. I think that's a different kind of courage. But to the people who think that there is only one kind of bravery... I have to ask this question:

What is the one thing in your life you're most ashamed about? Most afraid that someone else will find out? What action have you taken that you don't think you can tell the people closest to you? Now do that thing, be that thing, for years. Do that thing around everyone you know and never let them see you. Never tell them. Feel their judgment: not knowing if they will hate you, forgive you, or love you if they find out. Do this for years. Now after all those years have passed, stand in front of everyone you know, everyone you have ever met, and tell them the truth.

Now imagine that this thing is natural. That it is neither illegal, nor immoral and no one has ever been harmed by it. This thing, which you are neither asking them to do themselves nor asking them to do with you; this thing which has nothing to do with them in the least; will not affect them in the least; will still get you cast out of your family; cut off from your friends; driven out of town; if they knew. And stand up before all of them, and tell them the truth.

You don't think that's brave? You don't think that takes courage? They are the ones holding the gun, and they are pointing it at you, and you are unarmed, merely asking to be loved for who you are, and forgiven for the crime they imagine has been done to them. Could you tell them the truth, knowing that they might pull the trigger? You are alone. Can you do it? Tell me again how that isn't bravery. Look down the barrel of the gun, knowing the truth might kill you, and speak anyway. To me, that is the epitome of brave.

I'm a cis straight white male and I have nothing to gain from this fight. But I will fight because I'm an egalitarian, and though all those terms are true, what I am; what they are; what you are, is human. I believe that 'man' is just 'boy' with bigger toys. Let's be Human and realize we're beyond such toys; beyond such tantrums. Let's be Human, and embrace each other in our Humanity. “Let he who is without sin” has never stopped the stones. More often what has is someone brave enough to stand in front of the target. The brave don't pick up stones, they stand in front of them. I'm standing in front of them. And now that you know where I stand, where do you?


On The Path Of Form And Style

I've talked in previous posts of how my work has changed, but I think the scope is missing from it. Part of the idea for this post came up as a desire to talk about that age-old question, “Where do you get your ideas,” and part of it is just rumination from some the comments I've made in other posts. I got to thinking that maybe it would be interesting to go over my work in a timeline sort of fashion and talk a little bit about how my style has developed over the course of my career thus far. I'm not gonna offer much of a preamble here... I'm just sorta gonna jump right in.