Week seven study diary – Advanced Creative Writing
This week’s subject was staging plays.
We were reminded this week that conflict is essential in plays (otherwise the audience will be bored) and that conflict should be concrete rather than abstract. The torturing of characters by the playwright was celebrated – what a character wants, the obstacles we put in their way and the stakes involved. We were encouraged to make life difficult for our characters. This reminds me of all I put Freya through in the Starblood series.
The important of brevity in drama was reiterated. Economy is important in plays and it is too easy to overwrite – instructions and dialogue. The number of characters should be kept at a minimum, and each scene should “hit the ground running”, as Mamet said – enter late and leave early.
We looked a stages, sets, props, and visual narrative – what the audience sees. The golden ratio is said to be 70% visual action and 30% dialogue, but we were reminded not to overwrite visual directions to allow director and actors creative license. Directions are set in brackets in the script.
There are different types of stages in the theatre and we learned about each and how a play must be adapted to make best use of the stage, be it in-the-round where there is an audience at all sides, a Proscenium arch where the audience sit in front of the stage, or anything in between.
Sets designate location and can be as bare or detailed as the play requires. A bare set will be an almost empty stage with a few props, a split set has more than one location represented on the stage (see my sketch for my split-set for assignment 2), and a full set can be very detailed. Lighting effects are vital to bring sets to life and indicate the passage of time – day to night. Sets can be juxtaposed to create contrast. In Mr Robot, season 1 episode 1, most of the action takes place on gritty urban streets and on subway trains, for one scene is on a private jet.
A play can be set in real time or can take place over years.
In Mr Robot (again) the passage of time is indicated by Elliot when he says – 19 days (pause) no news. In “Wilderness” by April de Angelis, B says – I feel that over the past few weeks we’ve grown to trust each other. Time can also be used to “light the fuse of expectation” by creating a deadline as in Chekhov’s “Cherry Orchard” where the characters are waiting for a train, or in Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”.
Props can work as “lightning rods” e.g. the skull in “Hamlet”, pulling together themes and action (past, present and future). The can also work as metaphor e.g Mr Robot, where the microwave is burning while Elliot snorts morphine.
We looked at scenarios. A scenario is an annotated list of scenes in sequence with no dialogue. I did one for my upcoming assignment.
Scene 1 – Tom and Lily’s engagement announced by Rachael over dinner. Stefan tries to recruit Tom in teasing Lily.
Scene 2 – Learn Stefan thinks Rachael is too indulgent with Lily, that Lily is 19 and Stefan has recently got out of prison.
Scene 3 – Cat arrives. Lily pathologizes her father and Rachael blames Lily’s books. Stefan sends Tom away to deal with Lily. Learn Stefan was in same prison as Cat’s son.
Scene 4 – Learn Rachael was 15 when she met Stefan and is estranged from her parents. Stefan takes shirt off and Cat strokes his chest. Rachael witnesses this, but accepts their innocent explanation. Learn Lily has a lot of books on psychology. Lily throws engagement ring at Tom.
Scene 5 – Lily announces she’s leaving without Tom. She leaves with Cat. Stefan seduces Rachael and they tell Tom to leave.
Scene 6 – Tom attempts to bully Lily outside. Cat blocks his access. Lily says she’s too young to know what she wants. Warns Tom to retrieve ring before Stefan sells it.
Finally we looked again at dialogue in plays. Dialogue isn’t normal speech. It needs to be invested with dramatic energy and push the action forward. Rather than talk about the current situation it can be more powerful if characters talk in metaphor or use past memories to represent the future situation – as in “How Not to Sink” by Georgia Christou. The keeping of secrets increases tension in a play and characters should never give too much away in dialogue (at least not too early in the play). What’s not being said is often more powerful than what is being said. Hitchcock said the difference between surprise and suspense is that surprise is momentary but suspense can last a long time. I listened to various voices to hone dialects and speech patterns for my characters in the upcoming assignment (which I cannot share until after it has been submitted and marked in January).
On top of all this I adapted a short story “A Real Durwan” by Jhumpa Lahiri, into a stage play (see below) and consumed plays and drama in script form, and as stage plays, films and TV series. It’s been a busy old week. It amazes me that I also managed to write a blurb for The Venus Virus. I’ll share more about that in the next newsletter together with the cover reveal – subscribe to my newsletter if that interests you.
The Real Durwan – adaptation to stage play.
Original short story by Jhumpa Lahiri. Adaptation by Carmilla Voiez.
Cast list -
Boori Ma (64) thin, dressed shabbily in white sari with grey border.
Mrs Dalal (28) dressed in bright sari.
Mr Dalal (40) dressed in business suit.
Mr Chaterjee (80) proud looking.
Street urchin (14)
Six other residents (ages range from 25 to 90) dressed in colourful saris and tradition Indian outfits.
Stage - Backdrop painting to represent Calcutta including antennas rickety apartment blocks and Howrah bridge. Market also visible on backdrop to right. Scenery – a simple set of five steps which lead to a raised platform with a rail that quilts can be hung from.
Scene 1 – stairwell, apartment block, Calcutta
(BOORI MA lies on tattered quilt at bottom of stairs with a cooking pot and a broom beside her. Lights brighten and BOORI MA gets up, stretches painfully and massages knee. The keys on her sari jangle as she carries her quilt and belongings in one arm and climbs steps with one hand on knee to indicate pain.)
Boori Ma: (while climbing) I was being wealthy once, important. Four daughters, two storeys, a rosewood almari. When my third daughter was being married to the school principle our rice was being cooked in rosewater. The mayor was invited. Everybody was washing their hands in pewter bowls. Mustard prawns served in banana leaves.
(BOORI MA Reaches platform and spreads quilt of rail. Leaves pot on platform, takes makeshift brush and descends steps, sweeping them carefully as she moves back down)
Boori Ma: (while sweeping) Not a delicacy was spared. Not that this was an extravagance for us. At our house we ate goat twice a week. We had a pond on our property, full of fish.
(STREET URCHIN enters and hangs about at bottom of steps. BOORI MA chases him away with her broom. BOORI MA climbs the steps laboriously. She stands on platform to look at the view. MRS DALAL enters holding tray in one hand and sari in other climbs steps onto platform, sets tray down.)
Boori Ma: (to Mrs Dalal) What ever is inside this quilt is keeping me awake at night. Tell me where do you see them?
Mrs Dalal: (inspects quilt) I don’t see anything.
Boori Ma: Then they must have wings. They fly away before I can squash them. But just see my back. I must be purple from their bites.
(MRS DALAL moves BOORI MA’s sari aside to look at her back.)
Mrs Dalal: Boori Ma, you are imagining things.
Boori Ma: I tell you, these mites are eating me alive.
Mrs Dalal: It could be a case of prickly heat.
Boori Ma: I know prickly heat. This is not prickly heat. I haven’t slept in three of four days. Who can count? I used to keep a clean bed. Our linens were muslin. Believe me, don’t believe me, our mosquito nets were soft as silk. Such comforts you cannot dream them.
Mrs Dalal: (lets sari fall) I cannot dream them, Boori Ma. I live in two broken rooms, married to man who sells toilet parts. (pause) Boori Ma, how long have you slept on this bedding?
(BOORI MA puts finger to lips. Silence while she thinks.)
Boori Ma: I cannot remember.
Mrs Dalal: Then why no mention of it until today? Do you think it is beyond us to provide you with clean quilts? An oilcloth for that matter?
Boori Ma: There is no need. They are clean now. I beat them with my broom.
Mrs Dalal: I am hearing no arguments. You need a new bed. Quilts (pause) a pillow. A blanket when winter comes. I will have a word with Mr Dalal when he returns from the ffice.
Mrs Dalal: (descends two steps, stops and calls back) Come in the afternoon. I will give you some pickles and some powder for your back.
Boori Ma: It’s not prickly heat.
(BOORI MA descends stairs, sweeping. Sound of heavy rainfall. She turns and looks up stairs worried, then smiles and returns to sweeping.)
Scene 2 – stairwell, apartment block, Calcutta
(BOORI MA on stage at bottom of steps. MR DALAL enters, wiping his brow with a handkerchief.)
Mr Dalal: Boori Ma, I have a job for you. Help me carry these basins upstairs.
(All residents enter and gather around including MRS DALAL.)
Mr Dalal: (carrying one of the basins) My hours of filing receipts have ended. The distributor is opening a second branch in Burdwan. In light of my sedulous performance over years of service, he is promoting me to manager of the College Street branch.
Mrs Dalal: What are we supposed to do with two basins in a two room flat? Who ever heard of it? I still cook on kerosene.
(The other residents move from argument and wander around stage away from steps then exit stage some to left and others to right. Argument continues between MR and MRS DALAL SR. Lights dim to show the end of the day and we hear rainfall again. BOORI MA lays newspaper on the stage at bottom of steps and lies on it).
Mrs Dalal: You refuse to apply for a phone. And I have yet to see the fridge you promised when we married. You expect two basins to make up for that?
(Lights brighten and WORKMEN arrive. BOORI MA takes her possessions up the steps. She stretches painfully. Checks her quilt and tears it to shreds.)
Boori Ma: Our bathwater was scented with petals and attars. Believe me, don’t believe me, it was a luxury you could not dream.
(Lights dim. Workmen leave and residents gather, moving angrily across the stage, weaving around the bottom of the steps where BOORI MA lies on newspaper. Six OTHER RESIDENTS, excluding the DALALs gather SL.)
Resident 1: Is it beyond us to buy sinks of our own?
Resident 2: Are the Dalals the only ones who can improve the conditions of this building?
Resident 3: Mr Dalal is buying his wife two kilos of mustard oil.
Resident 4: A kasmiri shawl.
Resident 5: A dozen cakes of sandalwood soap.
Resdient 1: Mrs Dalal is doing nothing but washing her hands in her basin all day.
Resident 2: The Dalals have their own sink. Why do the rest of us have to share?
Resident 3: Mr Dalal has filled out an application for a telephone line.
Resident 6: The Dalals are going to Simla for ten days.
(OTHER RESIDENTS exit stage. Lights brighten. MR and MRS DALAL enter with luggage. BOORI MA rises and gathers her belongings in one arm. Waves goodbye with the other.)
Mrs Dalal: Boori Ma, I haven’t forgotten. We’ll bring you back a sheep’s-hair blanket made in the mountains.
Mr Dalal: We’ll bring two.
(MR and MRS DALAL leave)
Boori Ma: (still waving) Safe journey.
Scene 3 – stairwell, apartment block, Calcutta
(WORKMEN arrive. BOORI MA hurries up to platform with her belongings. Lights dim. WORKMEN leave. BOORI MA still on roof, covers herself in newspaper. We hear rain.)
Scene 4 – stairwell, apartment block, Calcutta. Market Calcutta SR.
(Lights brighten. WORKMEN arrive. BOORI MA on platform, sari filthy with newsprint. Descends stairs. Keys jangle. She has her broom but she doesn’t sweep as she goes. BOORI MA wanders across stage to a space in front of the market depiction. Sounds of traders and shoppers. BOORI MA handles jackfruit and persimmons.)
Boori Ma: (lifting fruit to her nose) Rice cooked in rosewater. Mustard prawns steamed in banana leaves.
(STREET URCHIN unhooks keys from her sari and runs away (exit SL). BOORI MA doesn’t notice. BOORI MA replaces fruit and heads back toward steps.)
Scene 5 – stairwell, apartment block, Calcutta
(Six OTHER RESIDENTS enter SL. Wails from OTHER RESIDENTS become more distinct as BOORI MA reaches steps. Residents crowd around her. She looks afraid and confused in their midst. Each time a resident says something they shove BOORI MA.)
Resident 6: This is all her doing. She informed the robbers.
Resident 2: Where was she when she was supposed to guard the gate?
Resident 3: For days she has been wandering the streets, speaking to strangers.
Resident 4: We shared our coal.
Resdient 5: Gave her a place to sleep.
Resident 6: How could she betray us like this?
Boori Ma: Believe me, believe me. I did not inform the robbers.
Resident 2: For years we have put up with your lies.
Resident 4: You expect us now to believe you?
Resident 1: How will we explain this to the Dalals?
Resident 3: We will ask Mr Chaterjee.
(RESIDENT 5 brings MR CHATERJEE onto stage)
Resident 6: Boori Ma has endangered the security of the building.
Resident 3: We have valuables. The widow Mrs Misra lives alone with her phone.
Resident 2: What should we do?
(MR CHATERJEE looks at each resident and at BOORI MA who stares at floor. He looks up the steps then back to BOORI MA.)
Mr Chaterjee: Boori Ma’s mouth is full of ashes. But that is nothing new. What is new is the face of this building. What a building like this needs is a real durwan.
(RESIDENTs 1 and 2 run up the stairs and throw BOORI MA’s belongings off the platform. RESIDENTs 3 and 4 push BOORI MA away from the bottom of the steps.)
Boori Ma: (walks away with broom, shaking her head) Believe me, believe me. (shakes her sari, nothing rattles, realises the keys are gone.)