Friday, May 04, 2007

ELLA Writerly Notes (Blah Blah)

The last reading was helpful. The script owes a lot of its energy to the actors who read it to Ellen, Heidi, and me three times over the past five months.

Only a talented, confident actor can do what they did: Regardless of the play's shortcomings, they gave it their full commitment.

This speeds up the revisions. All of the script's little darlings (the ones I have not killed off) are exposed by a good performance.

Maybe I mentioned before that the first section of the play was much longer when I started. I should give some context for that.

Daughters of Catastrophe is a play in three sections. Each section has its own story, but the three stories share themes and images.

The first section (ELLA) started as a play the same cast size and scale as the second (PAULA) and third (MADELINE). All three were about contemporary issues and had a modern setting, but were inspired--or maybe imprinted is a better description--with plots from three classical Greek tales. I had the stories I wanted to tell, and then I let them take the general shape of these three ancient stories, which were also remarkably similar to tabloid news and 24-hour TV.

So, at first, the three sections carried equal weight and had a cast of seven or eight actors. This was the version of the play that was written at City3Theater's Summer Six Pack. The script was beautifully staged by J. Daniel Stanley for two presentations at Odd Duck Studio, and the actors did a fine job.

Blame the heat of August and our west coast brains going la-la in the late night summertime. Blame the time slot. Blame the Greeks. Blame anything, but the fact is: it was hot, and the play was too long!

I hid in the audience to get uncensored comments. There was some griping about ELLA not adhering closely enough to the plot details of the original classic. That was funny.

Someone thought PAULA was based on her sister-in-law, and wondered if this Miskowski Guy knew her.

Not a lot I could use. But I did notice a lot of twitching during the first section, so that was good information.

My brilliant friend Tonia directed a staged reading of a revised Daughters (including my attempt to make the first section twitch-less) in Pittsburgh. In this version ELLA was still more static than the other sections, but that seemed to be part of its nature.

ELLA needed to be slightly different. Unfortunately, it was still entirely different. So, the readings over the past few months have helped a lot. I was able to gradually work my way toward the right tone for ELLA. First I forced myself to reduce the 35-minute section to a 10-minute monologue. It was intriguing, told in that way, but it felt didactic given the amount of information we needed from the character.

So I wrote it in the form of a poem, further reducing the language. Then I pared that down. Then I asked myself: What is the absolute least amount of text I have to employ to convey what is essential about this story?

And while I was thinking about that, I became aware of one stage element that I had so taken for granted, I had forgotten it. When I noticed it, I built it in and built the section back up to what it had wanted to be all along: an immersion, a shock, a signal that all is not well, and a warning that worse may come. In short: a prologue.

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