Writing Plays – Method and Mindfulness

 

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My latest work, Sad Fuck Pub will feature at the Galway Fringe festival and its safe to say I’m pretty happy.

A minor feat to some, but a reasonably important one to myself. My previous play, Once More for Toby Jugg was a collaboration between my father and a rag tag band of other fantastic people. The learning curve involved in putting on a production of that length, with a cast of that size and with such little experience was, mathematically, a convex function. In terms of hillwalking it could be seen as the first ascent of the North Face and in terms of cooking it was like serving an Ortolan Bunting at a kids birthday party; the main point being it was quite difficult.

I suffered, what I can only imagine other writers might feel when they spend too long with a script. It felt more ‘writer’s fatigue’ than ‘writer’s block’. It was a nagging dislike for what I had written, manifesting itself physically in the form of minor anxiety attacks topped off with a confusing existential sense of self doubt. Why was it that the longer I spent crafting the script, the more I hated it? I mean, I never really ‘despised’ it, but I suffered from a sort of inverted Stockholm syndrome. A graph could chart my own familiarity with the script increase relative to my frustration, increasing ten fold when I finally sat down to a final re-write following its staging in the Smock Alley Theatre.

So, born out of that feeling I began writing something, anything else. Sad Fuck Pub began as a conversation (as most plays might) between three men at a pub. I was consumed with the idea of creating my own autonomous piece out from under the safety blanket of my father’s text, but I’m happy to admit I literally had no idea where to start. Rather than getting hung up on the context, or setting, or even the goal of the piece I began writing a dialogue I could hear in my head.

[Quick aside] I had once attended a performance of David Mammoth’s ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’, where my father was in direction of a sixth year class. I remember him recounting the school’s request to tone down the use of bad language; to which he replied ‘It simply doesn’t work without the cursing’, and he was right. Watching a seventeen year old boy (while I was only twelve myself) call another young boy, a ‘cunt’ really stuck with me. Since then I realised that cursing is part of the shared dictum. Expletives act like little jumping off points for words, the most natural form of expression when conveying an emotion. “Close the door” won’t garner the same reaction as “close the fucking door you Cunt”. Its the verbal equivalent of padding a bra, it just fills sentences out.

So, with that same pattern of thought I began writing. No names, no title, no indication as to who was who and why they had said what they had said. It was therapeutic, and incredibly freeing to simply mash into the keys what flowed through my brain (John Keat’s ghost would have been giving me a dainty clap at the speed I typed at) and at about a thousand words in I realised that I did indeed have a plan in mind for these characters. I realised that the cursing and the quips between them, in the most colloquial Dublin I could imagine was slowly forming a plot. Even though I had not titled the characters I knew ‘who was a who’. I slowly mused about putting them in differing situations. If Edgar met Ghandi what might he say, and how would Sonny deal with learning that his favourite Ice cream parlour no longer carried his favourite flavour?

Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions came to mind, specifically the scene in which Kurt throws himself into the text, revealing himself to Kilgore Trout as his creator. To show to Kilgore that he was indeed his creator (by virtue of being the book’s author) Kurt took him across the world and across all time, only to have him break down and cry for being shown that he was merely a character in a book. Now, I didn’t have such cruel intentions for my three bar flies, but it soon became apparent how trapped the characters were. I could at a whim toss all three of them in the ocean, or set fire to the stools beneath them but instead I decided to allow them to very slowly realise that they themselves, were not real (an arguably crueler fate).

This realisation organically began to appear the farther into the text I got. It was a process of slow manipulation and by its end I couldn’t help but attach crueler and crueler intentions to my characters, all the while stuffing their mouths with words I’ve heard said and words I meant to say. Now, when writing a piece concerning love, or lust or any other clichéd human emotion you have to be cautious about how much of yourself is added into the text. Bearing one’s soul is certainly in keeping with my idea that art is truth, but the real truth is most of our lives are mundane and what seems momentous to ourselves may seem like a ‘Made in Chelsea’ advert trailer to others. To circumvent the theatrics I, like a magpie building a nest of emotions began to borrow from conversations I’ve heard, text’s I’ve read, emotions I’ve felt and shit all men have said drinking pints of their own tears. Again, this may not sound like anything new but there is a little bit more skill involved in creating character’s that are meant to represent elements of masculinity, than expected. The more static the character the more important it is that you accurately represent that type of person.

Its always difficult to be certain when a piece is finished. I usually abide by the rule that a piece is only finished when any additional writing would ruin or detract from the intention (The very lack of which made finishing the piece even more difficult again). Self analysis never gets close to a scathing (and usually correct) critique by a trusted friend, but I was close to certain the piece was finished. I was able to tie the ends together, like a folded picnic blanket of male misery.

The cyclical nature of the surreal purgatory came organically. It ended when Edgar (the most boisterous of the three) finally succumbed to a soliloquy of his own. Once the three characters had said all that they could and would ever say, by virtue of the fact that they were mere representations, it came to an end. There is a finite amount of conversations that men can have after being broken hearted and I felt I managed to cover a good few of them. The play ends explaining to you that it will never end, or at least suggests those conversations in both tone and nature never will.

The play will run for three days during a lunch-time slot between the 21st and the 23rd of July. I would rather the production was at night, in a pub, to catch those watching unawares. I would rather the audience in a maudlin sigh stare down into their pint listening to reflections of their own lives; not to depress anyone but instead to stir them. That great feeling that comes with seeing a piece of art where one thinks “Jesus that is life, my life, in its truest form. It may not look exactly like it, but there it is, my life on stage, deeply understood by someone I’ve never met”.