“It’s a Local Production”
Safari turned out to be harder than I expected to write. It had the double-plot of what was going on with the characters – Muskox, Giraffe, etc. – and their human cast members. I decided to set it in a little theater like our own, a theater with almost no budget, that walks the line between producing family favorites, “My Fair Lady” and other crowd-pleasing musicals from bygone days, and striving to be relevant in today’s world of global climate-change, First-World populist-elected officials, and Third-World post-Colonial challenges.
I made it a one-act – figuring both that would make it an easier sell to Seetha, our Creative Director, and that it would really pack a punch all in a single act. Plus, I figured it would one act would be simpler to write. Wrong. But more about that later.
In my draft the play opened with a meal. All the actors sitting around in costume eating a meal together. I wasn’t sure why; it just seemed like a good idea. The idea I had was irony, each cast member cast against type. Muskox, a lovable and beloved matriarch being played by a tightly wound woman who had clawed her way up in IT through the ranks, and was bitter about the climb. Zebra – wild and unreliable – would be played by an introvert with a hobby for bird watching. Gazelle – the worrier – played by a happy-go-lucky twenty-something. And so on. In their dinner conversation they struggle with understanding who their character is in the within-play play, who they are as an actor, and what they says about the dual identities in all of us and how we try to come to terms with those identities.
It was a tall order. When I read the first draft to Inez, she wrinkled her face, not a good sign.
“What?” I asked.
“So complicated!” she said.
We were in her apartment again, I’d made her a copy of the draft, and we were taking turns reading the parts.
“Well, it’s got to do a lot,” I said, a bit defensively. She was right, but I didn’t know how to solve it and I wasn’t quite ready to admit the point.
“Why?” she said. “Think of Animal Farm.”
“That’s not a play,” I said.
“Well, okay . . . how about Our Town?”
Inez grabbed her laptop and Googled it. She brought up a PDF of the play – probably bootlegged, but maybe it was in the public domain – and it started with a single voice. The Stage Manager, introducing the play and the town and how it’s all laid out –
“But I can’t just copy Our Town,” I told Inez.
“Of course. But maybe -” She was quiet, thinking. “Start with a single character. Muskox?”
“Giraffe,” I said. It had all started with Giraffe.
“Okay,” Inez went on, “Giraffe is the one who lost his head, right? Maybe he comes on stage bemoaning his lost head and runs into someone, maybe that’s Muskox.”
“No,” I said, “Coyote.”
Inez looked at me smiling. “Sounds like you already know what to write. And-” she paused for emphasis “- much simpler. Not so ‘My Dinner with Andre.’ More like ‘The Princess Bride.'”
I’m not sure the reference was apt, but oh well. I did like the idea better, even though I had to scrap my first draft. This wasn’t easy, but I found I was enjoying it in spite of having to start over.
Then Seetha made a surprise announcement at rehearsal. It changed everything.
(to be continued!)
In this part Margy gets some creative inspiration by brainstorming with her friend Inez. Do you ever find yourself stuck, and then talking it over with a friend or spouse, you’re able to see your way to a solution? I’ve been reading a book this week on creativity called Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives, and in it the author talks about the power of collaboration to help us make connections among different ideas and to problem-solve in the face of being stuck.