Scripting the Unscriptable

I have my own private little sweat lodge in which try sometimes to write plays. Usually I wind up turning the sweat lodge into an outhouse and that’s that. My block has a lot to do with very severe expectations I place upon my efforts (which I think is a sign, ultimately, of shallowness–it doesn’t hurt so much after I accuse myself of it). Samuel Beckett didn’t start writing plays and cause everyone else to give up, obviously. There are a lot of occupied sweat lodges out there. But I am preoccupied with Beckett’s work as a kind of terminus in the drama. Through a meticulous scoring, through both restraining and exercising a facile bardic tongue, he crafted acts which choked the theatre into speaking about what lies at our limits (got to go beyond Godot folks, as great as it is; read the later shorter stuff where the voice begins to leave the body). In my shallowness and awe, I cannot find a way forward. My current idea for a play is a terrifying construction of the nothing that’s not happening and won’t happen any time soon. If you seek release from the pain of life through psychiatric institutionalization, ask me to describe what I want to write about. I won’t be able to tell you, but I’ll drive you nuts with the ways I can not talk about it.

Writing drama is tough for me; you get the idea. What has saved me is group creation based on improvisation. I have been lucky and fortunate to be in some very interesting rooms over the last fifteen or so years; I’ve witnessed and participated in some amazing things. Mind-boggling events created by groups of performers: fevered collective creation. That possibility was a way out of my impass and I’ve made a choice to work in the theatre in such a mode as much as possible. All of my focus in actor training and offering exercises is aimed at one goal: to create another very interesting room in which performers accomplish some very interesting things. It is possible to work in such a way as a performer that you can create palpable and complex unscriptable events. It was this discovery that saved me from the misery of trying to write drama off alone in my little sweat lodge. It was this kind of work, too, which helped me break from a solitary and narcissistic view of theatre directing. It means, however, that I have some particular expectations about what I want to happen in a room and what might make it interesting, expectations others may not share because they haven’t been in the same rooms I have. I have a very simple test: I ask, Could I imagine one individual writing or scoring ahead of timesomething that is playing out among performers in a group work session? If it seems unimaginable that one mind could compose such a detailed, polyvocal, polytemporal, polymorphous, polysemious event, then it feels like we’re on the right track.

And it doesn’t have to be creation from scratch. You can apply the same set of expectations to work on a “scene.” As long as you can work in a way which doesn’t try to control where it all is going, you can reach the same level of sublime unscriptability.

What does it look like? That’s connected to the problem of how to document what is being done. I’ve been in situations where a number of strategies have been used to keep track of things: journaling, verbal witnessing, videotape recording, tribal myth-making. When you work in this way, what you produce is sui generis; you can’t convincingly describe what it might look like before you begin. At its limit, what you create is the “sole species of its own genre.” Great way to side step the burden of the Western Tradition and get to work.

So in addition to “doing great plays well,” which I also enjoy, this is where I’m coming from and what shapes my point of view.

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