Hiding behind your Muse

The 2015 One-Act Play season here in Victoria is now over and I think I’m supposed to be angry. Angry that another writer has written, produced and starred in a one-act play that very closely resembles Two Women & A Chair.

This “new” play has the same premise: two initially antagonistic female actors show up at an audition (with one chair as the set) and essentially fight each other for the role. They bitch, they play act, they argue over the nature of acting itself. It all turns out to be a Machiavellian head trip by the director, and both works share a number of uncannily similar features: a lesbian undertone; one character pretends to have a necklace; by the end both characters have wound up pals defying their fate.

As I said, I’m supposed to be angry. Others certainly are, and have told me so.

I got in touch with the writer and they assured me it was all just coincidence. They said they’d never read Two Women & A Chair, had heard of it but never seen it. In a blog they admitted their story was not “completely original” and that they would have to “come to terms with that.”

The idea of originality is a complicated one, but the bottom line is you take what is known and do your own spin on it. In Star Wars we can see all the elements from a thousand other stories: the beneficent old knight (Obi-Wan Kenobi), the farm boy hero (Luke Skywalker), the dark father (Darth Vader), the princess (Leia) held in the high castle (the Death Star), but they’re all mixed up and re-imagined in Lucas’ story. We’ve been tranported from “Once upon a time…” to “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” Something new has come out of something fundamentally old and “familiar.”

What has saddened me about the whole experience is that this writer hasn’t done anything “original” with the material – and they’ve taken longer than Two Women & A Chair to do it. Nothing new has been brought to the table. No great twist, no new revelation, nothing new has been shown that has not been done before. Worse than cheating themselves, I think this writer has cheated the audience.

They’ve blamed their Muse for this lack of “originality,” for “forgetting” that these characters had been put before me “not so long ago.” The only thing I can think to say is, maybe it’s time to get a new Muse.

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A Message To My New Dramaturgical Mentee

As part of a local theatre company’s recent fund-raising trivia night I offered as a prize my dramaturgical services for 6 months. This is what I wrote to the winner:

Congratulations!  I am yours for at least 6 months!

The bottom line is I am here for you.  A sounding board, a resource – that ideal audience member who is seeing the play in their mind’s eye and responding to it.  I’ll also be someone to bounce ideas off no matter how crazy or out there they might be.  (I will probably also bounce some ideas back – to challenge you, provoke you, make you dig deeper into what you’ve written.)

I’m looking forward to reading what you have and getting into providing whatever help/assistance/advise/criticism/support I can.  Please remember that as much as I might have ideas about what I think you might need, I’m sure you have ideas, too, so please don’t be backward in coming forward and identifying exactly what you might want from me e.g. “Can you read this and tell me if you think I should keep the fifth spear carrier from the left.”

The other thing to remember – which I think is very important – is that I won’t be doing any of the actual writing myself.  That’s your job.  The learning comes from the doing, and no matter what I say you’ll still be the one at the coal face, with keyboard and screen punching out the words.  I can point you down a path, but you will be the one to decide if you walk it.

The key to dramaturgy is twofold, I think: the development of scripts, and by extension the development of the playwright.  The two go hand-in-hand.  I can’t wait to see where we wind up in 6 months’ time!

Let the adventure begin!

I haven’t received any scripts as yet, but I’m sure they’ll come!

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