“It’s a Local Production”- part 7

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In Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 3 and Part 4 and Part 5 and Part 6, our community theater costumer Margy, is writing a play.  Seetha, the director, has been rehearsing another social justice play, Bronx Zoo.  But the playwright just got a better offer, and this is Margy’s chance to shine.

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“It’s a Local Production”

SAFARI, a One-Act Play

A black-box stage, house lights.

Two chairs sit center stage.

GIRAFFE, in full costume, sits in the chair on the left, holding his head.  He turns the head around and around, studying it.  He is silent. He peers at it, picks some lint off of it, holds it up facing toward him, shakes his head, and dusts it off some more.  Holds it up again, hands spread out inside the head, as if imagining the costume head on his own head as the audience would see it.

COYOTE enters stage right.  She is fashionable, with an upscale haircut, and a confident bearing.  She’s wearing a fashionable business dress, red, with a jacket, and black high-heel shoes.

COYOTE:  You’re never going to get more out of that head.

GIRAFFE: (mournfully) I know.

COYOTE: (going over to stand by Giraffe, empty chair between them)  You have to be tough on the costumer.  Demanding!  You have to tell them you won’t stand for it, you have to have a better head.  (Surveys the audience.)  That’s what I always do.

GIRAFFE: (looking up at COYOTE)  Does it help?

COYOTE:  (looking at GIRAFFE)  Sure!  Of course it does!

GIRAFFE: Where’s your costume?

COYOTE: At the cleaners.  I think.  (She sits.)

MUSKOX enters stage left.  She is an older woman, a wise-woman-type, who is also in costume, carrying her head.  Her costume looks good, noticeably better than GIRAFFE’s somewhat worn-out costume.  She crosses downstage, stands facing the audience.  She ceremonially puts on her head, fully costumed now, and turns the head gracefully from side to side, as if introducing herself to the audience.

COYOTE:  (to MUSKOX) There’s no one out there.

MUSKOX:  (from inside the costume, in a deep booming James-Earl-Jones-style voice)  That’s when it’s most important to be in your part.  When there’s no one watching.  (She turns to face COYOTE.)  Otherwise, you’re just faking it.  (She stamps her feet one at a time, toro-like, and lowers her head menacingly.)

GIRAFFE looks startled.  COYOTE looks angry.  Lights out.

Lights up.  Chairs are empty, one is knocked over as if someone left in a hurry.  STAGE MANAGER enters Stage Left, holding a clipboard and a new GIRAFFE head.

STAGE MANAGER:  (yelling)  Hey!  Where is everybody!  This is dress rehearsal.  Everyone to the stage!  Full costume!  (CAST gathers.) . . .

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The play was a success.  Two curtain calls. Seetha even asked me to “hold the mental space” to write another play next year.  The theme, while not hitting people over the head, was effective:  the futility of classism, racism, and elitism.  Stage Manager (modeled after Molly, played by Molly) had the final line:  “On Safari, everyone’s the same.”

(the end?)

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Well, Margy got her chance to be an author, and to see her work performed and enjoyed by an audience.  I would like to take a moment to thank you for being in my audience.  Even when one writes for creative expression, the interaction with a readers makes a huge difference.  1) I learn so much from readers’ observations and reactions!  2) I feel connected to other writers, instead of isolated.  3) I gradually gain faith in my ability to touch other people’s emotions and experiences through writing.  Thank you for being part of my story!

What is your opinion – do you think there should be an epilogue?  Or does the story seem like it’s over?  How do you know when your stories, or poems, or essays, are finished?

“It’s a Local Production”- part 6

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In Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 3 and Part 4 and Part 5, our community theater costumer Margy, is writing a play.  Seetha, the director, has been rehearsing another social justice play, Bronx Zoo, and the rehearsals haven’t been going that well.

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“It’s a Local Production”

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Seetha’s announcement caught everyone by surprise. Everyone except the darkly grim playwright of Bronx Zoo, who was unexpectedly back, standing at the edge of stage, after having been booted out by Stage Manager Molly a few weeks before. Mr. Brooding-Face.

“And so, Malvern’s play has been optioned by an experimental theater in Chicago,” Seeta continued. Malvern was the playwright’s name, Margy remembered.  “It’s a great break for him.”

“What about us?” Giraffe asked.  It was surprising, since he was usually self-conscious.

“Well . . .” Seetha hesitated.  “It looks like our season is over.”

The entire cast groaned.  Malvern looked even more pleased.

If they only had another play.  A social justice play, like the one Margy was writing.  But Margy couldn’t quite get up the nerve to say anything about her own play.  Not in front of everyone.

Back in the costume shop, Giraffe came by to see Margy.  “I love what you did with my head,” he said wistfully.  “I would have been proud to wear the costume in front of an audience.”

“You would have been good,” Margy said.  “You were hitting your stride in those last few rehearsals.”

“Maybe next season,” he said.  “I’ll bring in the costume tomorrow.”  He smiled at Margy ruefully.  “I’ll get my girlfriend to take some photos tonight, so I’ll have something to remember.”

“Fine,” Margy said.

Why couldn’t she go talk to Seetha now?  She’d go and find Seetha, let her know . . . but, what if it wasn’t good enough?  She had never had a play produced, she’d never even finished a professional play before.  How could she know whether it was good enough to be produced?

She sank back on her stool.  It was hot in the room.  She’d work on the play, then maybe next season . . .

“I’ll be needing the costumes shipped to this address,” came a voice.  She looked up.  Malvern stood in the doorway.  He held a slip of paper in his hand.

“These costumes belong to the theater,” she said slowly.  She had made the giraffe’s head herself.  Crow’s costume was on loan from her professional friend.  He couldn’t possibly . . .

“Well, I’ll need them for the production.”  He smiled almost with glee.

“These are my costumes,” Margy said firmly.  “You’ll have to find your own.  In Chicago.”

“I can get Seetha in here,” he said, his tone of voice indicating a threat.

That would be perfect, Margy thought. “Go ahead,” she said.  “I dare you.”

He paled a little.  “The costumes are for the production,” he said.  “You can’t use them.  I might as well -”

“I’m the costumer,” Margy said. In fact, she thought, I’m the entire costume department, but she went on, “Don’t you think I’d know if the costumes were to go elsewhere?”

Molly appeared in the doorway.  “Malvern,” she said.  “Phone call.”

“Oh.”  He turned.

Molly said, “In the office.”

“It’s probably Chicago,” he said.  “I wonder what they want?”

Margy heard his boots clomp-clomping down the backstage hall.

Molly looked at Margy.  “Everything okay?”

In that moment, Margy made up her mind.  “Is Seetha still here?” she asked.

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“Sure.  She’s in the ticket office.  Working out the finances, if we have to give everyone refunds.” Molly gave a wry smile.  “You’ve got a few minutes before Malvern realizes there’s no one on the line.”

(to be continued!)

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Have you ever felt like you couldn’t speak up?  Do you ever question whether your writing is good or not?  How do you know if it is or not?

Thanks for stopping by!  More to come soon!

“It’s a Local Production”-5 #tuesdayfiction

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In Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 3 and Part 4, our community theater costumer Margy, decides to write her own play, with the encouragement of her friend Inez.

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“It’s a Local Production”

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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?”

“Hmmm.”

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!)

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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.

Previous parts in the story:  It’s a local production-1 | It’s a local production-2 | It’s a local production-3 | It’s a local production-4

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“It’s a Local Production”-4 #tuesdayfiction

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In Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 3 Margy, the costumer for a local community theater had her hands full placating fussy actors in the cast.  The current production is a confusing satire called Bronx Zoo, something along the lines of Orwell’s Animal Farm. In a conversation with her friend Inez, Margy is reminded that she used to want to be a playwright, too.  Inez encourages Margy to try her hand at her own script.

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“It’s a Local Production”

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It’s one thing to say you’re going to write a play.  It’s another to come up with a good idea for one.

They always say:  write what you know.  But what did I know?  Yes, I could sew, thanks to my mom’s tutoring.  And, I had a decent-enough college education.  But what did I study?  Accounting.  I was embarrassed to admit it.  That had led me to my day job; I was a CPA for a tax firm.  Nightmare-busy around tax time, quiet the rest of the year.  I had started college with the idea of becoming a writer, but my parents had convinced me otherwise.  “Being an accountant gives you a steady job,” they’d assured me.  I’d believed them.

But there, on the bus on the way home from Inez’s place, I remembered my brother.  Emmanuel (“Manny”) was an artist.  He did performances – e.g., street busking – down at the Pike Place Market for summer tourists.  He would position his dog Gracie – an Australian shepherd mix from the Humane Society – next to his guitar case and belt out James Taylor songs all afternoon.  He made good-enough money at it, he told me.  He’d dropped out of college in his second semester and he’d never looked back.

What was wrong with me?  I wondered.  Why was I the goody-goody, who held down a stable job – a stable but boring job – and pieced together costumes for 15th Ave Arts Theater in my spare time?

And then I got it.  My idea.

Why not write a play ABOUT a play?

Shakespeare had done it – twice.  Once in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and again in Hamlet.  I could draw on the characters from our own production – shy Giraffe, fierce Coyote, vain Crow.  Yeah.

It was intriguing to consider staging a play that is itself a play.  Very “meta,” as Seetha might say.  I would be following in the footsteps of the Best and the Greatest.  Anton Checkov’s The Seagull, about a rejected play.  And there was Six Characters in Search of An Author, in which a set of wandering characters take over a production from the director.  I remembered it because we’d read it for extra credit in Mr. Ketterer’s class.  – Who was the author? Rats! I had no idea.  But I’d Google the play after I got home.

It was just as I got off the bus and was walking up to my apartment that I remembered Our Town.   Thornton Wilder’s play about a small town – Grover’s Corner? – a play set in the actual theater in which it would be performed.  Yet – as I let myself into the apartment with a key, draping Coyote’s costume carefully over the back of a kitchen chair so it wouldn’t get mussed – Our Town was too well-known to do something like a knock-off of it.  The idea was good – setting the play in a theater, using direct address to the audience – but it needed a fresh take.

Hmm.

I plugged in the electric kettle and scooped some Darjeeling tea leaves into a teapot.  I had my characters – giraffe, coyote, crow – but the setting was a puzzle.  Animal FarmBronx Zoo.  These had already been done.  I needed something like those, but not the same.

And then it came to me.  It popped into my head.  Creativity is like that, I suppose.  I’m not sure, but anyway, there it was.  Right inside my brain.

Safari.

Muskox would be the main character.  A creature both motherly and mean-looking.  Giraffe, Crow, and Coyote would be there.  Along with one or two others . . . Zebra, wild and unreliable, Gazelle, a fretty always-hungry worrier, and finally, Lion – but not in person – off-stage, its presence only hinted at through dialog among the other characters.

Safari.  Yeah.

If “Mr. Broody-Face” (the playwright for Bronx Zoo) could do it, so could I.  Over hot tea, I opened up my laptop and started formatting a file for dialog.

(to be continued!)

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What is your favorite Shakespeare play – do you have one?  I like All’s Well That Ends Well, but The Tempest is also quite compelling.  Othello as well.  I confess that I’m a little lost in many of his plays – the language sometimes confuses me.  Sometimes a theater company will take a Shakespeare play and set it in a different time; at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival I have seen The Merchant of Venice set in modern-day Italy, for instance.  That was a memorable production because, with contemporary costuming and set I understood much better what class or level of society each character was in, which somehow made it easier to follow the dialog.

Speaking of plays within plays, have you seen the Will Farrell-Emma Thompson movie “Stranger Than Fiction”?  That movie so captures my imagination.  Will Farrell is a character in Emma Thompson’s book, but she doesn’t know it until he tracks her down and asks her not to kill him off (in the book).  Every time I watch that I am intrigued by the premise and how the filmmaker persuades the audience that it’s real.  If you have not seen it, you might give it a try!

Previous parts in the story:  It’s a local production-1 | It’s a local production-2 | It’s a local production-3

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“It’s a Local Production”-3 #tuesdayfiction

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In Part 1 and Part 2 we met Margy, the costumer for a local community theater.  The costumes are cobbled together from previous productions, and she decides to make a new giraffe head after the old one falls apart.  The show is an Animal Farm-like satire that seems baffling and inept, entitled Bronx Zoo.  Crow is insisting on more feathers for his costume and Coyote is demanding her costume be cleaned before she’ll wear it again.

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“It’s a Local Production”

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Crow came by again.  “Got those feathers yet?” he asked.

I bucked up and said, “You’re not getting any more feathers – there are more than enough already,” and when he frowned and started to say something else, I held up my giraffe head and said, “I’ve got work to do.  And,” I added, “you’d better treat that costume right.  It was professionally made -”  Here he surprised me by chiming on the “professionally made” phrase, which, I admit, I had used once or twice before with him.

I gave him my best “costume-master” glare.  “And don’t even think about adding your own feathers.  In fact,” I said with a flourish and a growl, “that costume is staying right here.  You can claim it at performances, or for dress rehearsal, but that’s it.”

“That’s not fair, Margy!  Everyone else gets to keep their costumes,” Crow whined.

But I said, “Out!  I’ve got work to do!” and I shooed him out, then shut the door on my little closet known euphemistically in the company as the Wardrobe.

I can dramatic when it’s called for, too.

I sat down with Giraffe’s head.  Digging through my fabric stash, I pulled out the remnants of giraffe fabric.  At first, I only found scraps too small to be anything.  But at the bottom of the stash, under the Liza Doolittle Victorian lace and the Tevye apron fabric was a fair-sized print of giraffe fabric, neatly folded.  Pay dirt.

Coyote got lucky; I gave the costume to a friend who cleans upholstery, and she steamed it for nothing – a bottle of inexpensive Chardonney I had picked up at Safeway on my way over to her place.

When I went back to Inez’s to pick up the newly-steam-cleaned Coyote costume a couple of days later I brought take-out Thai food – my favorite – and we sat in her living room and talked over old times.  We’d gone to school together and there were mutual acquaintances to catch up on.  She stayed in touch with the old crowd more than I did, since I’d shut down my account on Facebook ever since an ex had dumped me and then crowed about it to all “our” Facebook “friends” a couple of years ago.

Inez – “it’s my grandmother’s name, so don’t say a word,” she’d said when I first met her in ninth grade – started asking about my career.

“Don’t even ask,” I said, between spoonfuls of Tom Kha soup.  It was tangy and coconut-y, with big cubes of crunchy tofu and small rings of lemongrass in the broth.

“I thought you were going to be a playwright,” Inez went on.  “Remember Mr. Ketterer’s Drama class?  You wrote all those one-act plays.”

Mr. Ketterer.  He’d thought I had something worth writing about.  I remembered long afternoons at home at the keyboard, tapping out funny dialog and stage directions and little asides between characters and big scenes with a whole family around a holiday table . . . I’d saved those somewhere.  Hadn’t I?

“I don’t know . . .”  I finished the Tom Kha and started on the chicken satay.  “They needed a person to sort out costumes, and I figured it’d be a good place to learn about the stage firsthand.”

“And then you got stuck in the costume ghetto,” Inez said.  She shook her head with its mass of black curls.  “Girl, when are you going to start living your life?  Not someone else’s idea of theater.  Your ideas.”

I dipped the satay liberally in the peanut sauce.  My ex had been an actor.  I suppose that was part of the reason I hadn’t done anything script-like in a long time.

“Listen,” Inez said, across the coffee table in her overstuffed chair, “just do an adaptation.  Find a good short story and make it into a play.  – What about ‘The White Snake’?  Maybe Seetha will give it a look.”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “Seetha’s got her eye on social justice stuff these days.  That’s how this new playwright got a shot.”

Mr.  Brooding-Face?”  Inez laughed.  That had been our pet name for the sullen playwright of Bronx Zoo.  “Look, Seetha knows you.  Just try it. ‘White Snake’ is a Chinese story, anyway – it’s got built-in multiculturalism.”

“Is that even a phrase?” I asked.

She ignored my question.  “And I’m sure you could pull out some kind of social justice theme without even trying too hard.  Remember your adaptation of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’?”

That had been good.  I’d set it in the McCarthy era, with rabbits and foxes for major characters.  The Emperor was an orangutan.

I settled back into the couch.  “Yeah.  Mr. Shawn was hilarious as the main character, wasn’t he?”

“He totally killed it.”  The drama faculty had generously put on my play – skit, really – for the faculty talent show that year.  Mr. Shawn was a well-liked history teacher who had stolen the show.

“You can’t hide behind costumes forever,” Inez said.

I shifted on the couch.  “What about you?  Steam cleaning furniture for a living?”

“You know that’s only a sideline,” Inez said good-naturedly.  “I’m already putting together sketches for a design show next year.”  She had a point; she was working toward her master’s in design and her specialty was furniture.  She had a love affair with mid-century – 20th century – furniture – all blonde wood and smooth, clean lines.  She sometimes said, it if had worked for Eames, it would work for her.

“Okay,” I said, “I’ll try it.”  “White Snake” was a good idea.  I was already thinking about the tie-in between the female lead and today’s anti-Muslim trends.

“That’s better,” Inez said.  “I’ll expect a report in a week.”

“One week? – That’s harsh.”

“One week,” she said, laughing again.  “You can totally do it.  C’mon.  Just think of how you’ll show up Mr. Brooding-Face.”

I left Inez’s apartment with the salvaged coyote costume.  It was raining – a June shower – and I was already thinking about where to set the play.  On a farm?  In the ’30s?  On the bus ride home I started sketching plot points in my mind.  Perhaps a coyote would figure in the cast.  Or a crow . . . or both!

(to be continued!)

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Margy stood up to Crow, but now she’s got her eye on something bigger.  Will she be up to it?  Can she get Seetha to take notice?

Previous parts of the story:  It’s a local production-1 | It’s a local production-2