My buddy Wikipedia defines the term ‘play’ as one of two meanings. Play, the activity, “enjoyed by animals and humans”, or Play, theater, “structured literary form of theater”. While I enjoy this first definition, I’m not sure the second truthfully conveys the meaning and does justice to the thing. I like to think that a Play (as in theater) cannot be one without the other. To make theater you have to loose yourself in a world that is not your own. You have to dress up, and make believe, and become the character. Mean what you say, or don’t bother saying it, for if you do not believe yourself, the audience sure as hell won’t. In a play, you must, play.
At Uni I spent three marvelous years in Wellington at the Victoria University Theater department playing. Our time was divided between the classroom and the stage, learning both how to understand the words, and how to perform them. I think this really is a fantastic way to learn. At first I was impatient, I wanted to be given a role, and assigned a dressing room, but the time I spent in the lecture theater opened a whole new part of my brain, previously unused. We studied playwrights; Beckett, Stoppard, Brecht, Marlowe. Writers that weren’t afraid to push the boundaries, and step outside the established practice. It made me realize; you really can do anything you like on stage. Dare to be different, try to say something that no one has heard before. Be honest, be brave.
We studied Shakespeare, a milestone every child crosses at school, but never to this degree. I loved learning about Shakespeare. The staple roles he has in each play, the importance of song and music, the division into the five acts and the careful trail of plot, the presence of death and the battle with immortality. And if nothing else the shear beauty of the language. Will’s ability to say so much about the human race by hinting with a single phrase can blow your mind. ” It takes a wise man to play the fool”.
On the stage we learn’t how to project our voices to the back row, how to control our breathing in the face of butterflies, how to inhabit a character. We spent hours in weekend workshops, wearing baggy bleach stained leggings, making strange sounds and jiggling the fat on isolated parts of the body. Hours in rehearsals with scripts in hand, penciling in blocking (movement) and waiting in the wings for your cue. We were taught about all the different kinds of lights,and how to rig and focus them. We spent hours lying around the greenroom eating sweets, and smoking cigarettes in the back alley.
And then there were the really thrilling parts. Applying makeup using a mirror framed by light-bulbs, while an audience of strangers fills the auditorium above you. Standing in a circle doing the warm up exercise while your stomach turns and your mind races convinced you’ve forgotten a line and suddenly have to pee. Stepping onto a stage where the lights are so strong they shield the faces of the audience from your gaze. Theater is a live act, before your eyes the actors sweat and yell and spit, things can and do go wrong, a terrifying notion. Set pieces break, music cues are forgotten, lines are tripped upon; but the show must go on. The terror and thrill of it makes your blood pound and stop simultaneously. And the sweet sound of clapping and cheering as the lights go down at the end of a performance is like no other.
I wrote The Allure of disgrace in 2009 when I first moved to Sydney. I had no money, no job, very few friends, and a lot of time on my hands. I needed a creative outlet, and I decided writing would be a good one, so I sat down in my dads sun room and I wrote. And it came, fairly organically to my surprise, obviously there have been many tweaks and re-writes since. I have always loved writing, but you never really know if what your doing is any good; but boy is it therapeutic.
During Uni Beckett became a clear favorite in our class. He was so wonderfully weird, a playwright that flourished in black comedy, that explored human nature at it’s barest and bleakest. His work is both tragically sad, and funny at the same time. We looked at many of his shorter plays, and when I say short I mean short, for example ‘Come and Go’ varies between 121 and 127 words in length, depending on the translation. But my particular favorite was ‘Waiting For Godot‘.
It is his most performed, most well known and celebrated piece; a mastery. The play where nothing happens, twice, but says squillions about peoples most honest emotions. Being alone, feeling unloved, feeling forgotten or overlooked, waiting for something to happen rather than just going out and doing it yourself, waiting for someone.
For a play to be about nothing was a radical notion for it’s time, but has become a familiar thread in today’s pop culture. TV shows like Friends and How I met your mother feature groups of people sitting around coffee shops and bars talking about trends in human behavior and relationships. Reality TV shows like Big Brother where 14 ordinary people live in a house cooking eggs and scratching their arse, with thousands of viewers hooked on their every word. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter, where millions of people post pictures of their lunch, and comment on status updates about feeling grumpy. Godot started a trend; nothing, is in fact quite interesting.
I really loved the idea of writing something as a response to someone else’s work. Not as a sequel, or a re-write, but a response. I read Godot and I had so much respect and admiration for the work, and I wanted to talk to it, to the words. I thought it would be interesting for a young woman, from a different time and country; a different world, to tell her version.
It was one of those funny things where you start working on something, not knowing how it’s going to turn out, but it just flows out of you, and you suddenly realize what it is. For me, it became about love. A love I had been waiting for, and hanging on to, only to find it wasn’t there. It can be hard to let go of something , when you have held it for so long. The writing became therapeutic it gave me some perspective, some distance; it provided the closure that I had needed for so long.
The play was performed as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival 2010. It has now been some time since I have appeared on a stage, I admit the challenge of ‘making it’ as an actor got the better of me, and I started to lean instead back towards art and writing, and new avenues such as film making. But I think the lessons I learned here will stick with me for good. Every project teaches you something.
It takes a wise man to play the fool.