Tag Archives: Mexico Area Community Theatre

Play in Focus: The Red Balloon

DSCF3351Prejudice is a terrible thing. It makes you ignore any evidence to the contrary, for one thing. I’m sure my own prejudices are many, but the one that causes me most difficulties is my prejudice about Modern Theatre.

I’m sure there’s an actual definition of that term, but in my own mind I use the term to cover non-representational theatre, or plays that are a little more…challenging than “Blithe Spirit” or “Dial M for Murder”.

It sounds a bit wrong, I know. And let me say, just because I don’t enjoy these types of plays, doesn’t mean I think they are rubbish, or they shouldn’t be written or performed. Hell no, go ahead! Give ’em awards, hand out prizes. Just don’t ask me to go and see one.

My feeling is that theatre is, first and foremost, entertainment. Like all entertainment, that covers a broad spectrum, and there’s room for flat-out fun, for tugging at the heartstrings, for thought-provoking pieces and , yes, for experimentation. But my preference is to come out of the theatre thinking about the performance I’ve just seen, not wondering what the hell it was all about. I’ve never subscribed to the “It’s whatever you take away from it.” school of Art. The Artist should have an intention, if not a message, and the aim should be to communicate that intention to others.

When I began writing plays, I didn’t have a message, as such. I wrote about writing, and I wrote about interesting characters, grouping them together and seeing what happened. But the more I wrote, the more I found I was tempted to push things further, to write something bizarre and avant garde. Exactly why, I’m not sure. I could see how it would go, the nonsensical monologue by a lone character on a bare stage, clutching an unlikely prop. This seemed a promising beginning, so I wrote it down. The Girl was holding a red balloon, and declaiming a rapturous speech about it.

But I didn’t know where to go with this, and the reason I didn’t know was because this was the kind of play I would hate to watch. So I put myself into the audience, and gave a character the guts to stand up and say the very things I would be thinking at such a performance. So it was that The Man takes to the stage to decry the Girl’s ludicrous speech, and she hits back at him by saying this is her big break and she knows it’s all twaddle, but it’s HER twaddle, thank you very much.

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From there it was easy enough to have the three characters (The Man’s wife comes along with him) discuss what’s wrong with the Girl’s balloon speech, and demonstrate the kind of performance they were hoping for. At this point I was asking the questions of myself – what kind of play did I actually WANT to write? Was I really just looking for a simple story, and if so, why not watch TV? What did I think theatre gave people that they couldn’t get elsewhere?

It was a fun thing to experiment with, and I was pleased to discover that the Man and Woman delivered a decent play in the time they had onstage. Then the Woman gets the bit between her teeth and begins to push the process further, further than the Man and Girl want to go. I had known once the process began that I wanted to bring the play full circle, but I thought I was being too ambitious. Once I had finished the first draft I asked my wife to read it through and she made some excellent suggestions that smoothed the path for the play to return to the start point.

That was probably my biggest challenge with this play: I had never had to re-write anything I had done before. My plays were short and produced almost entirely as I wrote them. This time I had to take the suggestions and go back into the script and change things. It was harder than I thought, but very much worthwhile.

This play has proved popular in the time it has been available – many groups have chosen it for the simplicity. There are only three roles, whose ages are not defined, and there is no set. Despite the title, there’s more to the props than the one balloon – at one point the three construct a play scene set in a wartime kitchen that requires at least a table, two chairs and two cups. It’s been performed again and again, in classrooms, colleges, theatres, village halls and at competitions. I’ve been lucky enough to attend a performance, and was delighted with the presentation. I’m willing to apologise for my prejudices, but I’m glad they lead me to produce this play.

Read the full play HERE

The images used in this post were from a production of The Red Balloon by the Mexico Area Community Theatre. Here‘s their Facebook page.

Rewriting and other things I hate…

Fake notes, but a real project...Shelved, for now.

Writing is the main part of the job, obviously. Without doing the writing bit, you don’t get any of the other parts of the glamourous life of being a writer. But reading the inspirational blog of Mr James Moran again the other day, I was reminded that rewriting is key to being a good writer. Mr Moran got his big break when his script “Severance” was made into a movie. (Actually, there were a number of things that he acheived before then, but I’m abbreviating. Read his blog FAQ’s for the full and fascinating story) But before it got accepted and filmed he wrote twenty drafts. Twenty. And bear in mind that, even if you’re economical with your words, a screenplay for a full length movie tops a hundred pages. Two thousand pages to produce one workable movie script? The longest Harry Potter novel was less than eight hundred pages.

Rewriting was not something I used to do. I began my playwriting with short plays and one acts, and they usually came out the way I wanted them. There were some where things didn’t sound right, or there were ideas I hadn’t managed to include, but going back over the text, I couldn’t see where to cut or insert anything. I think I was afraid that if I pulled at what I’d got, it would all unravel. Then I wrote a short play called “The Red Balloon” which is still one of my favourites. It started with the voices in my head, like a lot of them do, and very quickly became part of a nice idea – what if the stupid, pointless modern art piece at the beginning gave way to a piece of melodrama, then that gets refined, over and over until someone takes the process too far and we ended up with the stupid piece the play starts with? Sorry if I just wrecked it for you. Read it anyway, there are some laughs in it.

From the April 2008 performance by the Mexico Area Community Theatre

This was ambitious – I had never begun a play before with a specific end in mind, and I wasn’t sure how I would manipulate the characters to get the ending I wanted. I showed Mrs Dim the completed play and she hummed and hawed over it. It was, she said, OK. But wouldn’t it be better if this happened, and that, and then you could do this…? She was right, and since I liked the original idea so much, I was loathe to send the play off to the publisher when I knew it could be better. I took a deep breath and went back into the text. It was amazing, making small changes without the whole fabric changing too. Some small additions early on allowed the finale to be more logical, less of a leap, and still part of the overall gag. This is the only play of mine that I have seen performed without being involved in the production.

Last week I finished the first draft of my first ever full length play, currently going by the title of “Blank stage Blues”. It’s come out pretty well, everyone in it said the things I wanted them to, and the key transitional moment that first got me interested in the idea worked out fine. For the first time I have sent out the play to some friends and associates to get some feedback before I make final changes. I like the play, I think it’s fun and a good concept, but duh! I wrote it. Maybe it’s clever and witty but not worth performing. I’ve already had some responses that show I have to go back in and make some changes. But right now, the file is staying closed, and here’s why:

One of the most frequently offered pieces of advice about rewriting is to leave it. Don’t get to the end of your book, screenplay or play and then turn back to page one with your red pen. Put it in a drawer, back it up to the hard drive, nail it to the shed, whatever, and DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT. I don’t mean repointing the chimney (though mine needs doing, if you’re keen…) I mean start a different writing project. Jump into that one with both feet and resist the urge to check on your previous baby until you’re done. Then you come back to your old story with fresh eyes. It’ll feel weird to read it, but it’ll be easier to spot the parts that need work, and easier to make those changes because you’re not as invested in the writing now.

So, I’ve dug out “Tribute”, a screenplay Steve is desperately trying to adapt for the stage and added some more pages to that. I’m aiming to have the whole thing done by the end of December and then I’m sending it off to Lucy Hay for her usual insightful analysis. When it’s winging it’s way through cyberspace, I’ll go back to Blank Stage Blues and the very first thing I’ll do is think of a decent title….