That title’s a little misleading. My new play is called “For sale – Baby Shoes – Never Worn”, not “Inspired by Hemingway”. Look, maybe I should just tell the story I’ve been telling everyone about this. Whether it’s true or not…I don’t really want to know. This is what I heard:
Hemingway was dining with Dorothy Parker and her infamous Vicious Circle. Naturally they talked about writing and at some point Hemingway asserted it was possible to write a compelling story in only six words. Challenged to prove it, he grabbed a napkin and scribbled “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn” and won the bet.
Hemingway is figure who towers in the mental landscape of writers. Many idolize him, ascribing almost mythic powers to him. I didn’t take much to the stories that he wrote, except (if it’s true) for this one. Those six words both tell the story and send your mind scurrying to fill in the other parts – whose was the baby, why did it never wear the shoes? Was there ever a baby? Who bought the shoes, and why must they be sold on? I have certainly spent more time thinking about those six words and all they imply than I have about the rest of Hemingway’s output.
It struck me one day that it would be neat to take the idea at the heart of those words – a dream lost, let’s say – and make a triptych of plays on that theme. Each one would take two words as the title, and the three plays performed together would make up the whole story, as well as carrying the theme. I even wondered who might write such a play. Seriously, it was a day and a half before I realised it might well be me.
The production I’ve written is not as ambitious as Hemingway’s short story. It could be performed by two actors, one male, one female. Staging could be minimal, with mainly hand props and black backdrop. Each actor would play the same character in two of the plays and another character in a third play.
Published for the first time on the 29th May 2013, the play is available through Lazy Bee Scripts. You can read the whole thing online for free, or pay a small fee to download it. I haven’t run it through with any groups here, so I don’t have any pictures of it yet – I’d love to hear from someone willing to stage the World Premiere. Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a production planned, or you’d like more information.
Later edit: This play HAS now been performed: By Kilmuckridge Drama Group. I borrowed the pictures of their performance from their Facebook page and added them to my gallery. They got the staging spot on.
Posted in Writing
Tagged Damian Trasler, Dorothy Parker, For sale baby shoes never worn, genius, Hemingway, new play, playwright, script, theatre, Vicious Circle, writing
The original production at RAF St Athan – helped along with Photoshop
It’s been a long time since my first play – about twelve years now. Not so long ago I wrote this post, which mentioned a little about how I write. This was especially true for Work in Progress, my first play. I had joined the Theatre Club at RAF St Athan to get out of the house a bit, having spent some time as a houshusband with Eldest Weasel in her early baby days. Mrs Dim said I should socialise with people who could use entire words, so I wandered off one evening and found myself lined up for a part in the pantomime (I was Wishee Washee in Aladdin. One of my finest moments on stage.) When the panto was done, we started looking around for a play to take to the annual one act play competition. Someone pointed out that if we took a play that the group had written, we would have a shot at the award for “Best self-written play” as no one else ever entered for that. The odds seemed good, and then someone pointed out that I was pretending to be a writer (I had just sold an article to “Mother and Baby” and a short story to “Take a Break Fiction Special”) and therefore I should write the play. There are times in your life when “No.” is a perfectly reasonable answer but totally impossible to say. I dashed off a play in an embarrassingly short time and passed it around the group. Everyone seemed to like it and asked if I would direct. I hadn’t directed before, but hey, up until that week, I’d never written a play before. How hard could it be? The secret at the heart of “Work in Progress” is that I had no clue what I was doing. I wrote a play about the things that really happened to me. If you haven’t read it (and it’s available to read HERE), the play is about a struggling author who can’t get the ending of his Detective novel right. While he’s trying to write it, the characters argue with him, and drag him into the action to make him see how wooden and false it all is. By seeing things from their point of view, and seeing them as real people, not cliche cutouts, he’s able to draft a more suitable story. Yes, this is what happened to me. I was trying to write a novel, but the characters wouldn’t do what I wanted. They said unexpected things, pushed the plot in new directions. Sometimes they did dull, tedious things and I could do nothing to move them along.
From the production by Mexico Area Community Theatre (MACT) See more by them on the Gallery page
Writing plays was like being released from a straightjacket. I could forget wrestling with adverbs and the fiddly details of description and get on with the action and the dialogue. No more worries about whether the main character had steel grey hair or steel blue eyes, or cast iron trousers. None of that mattered! I was free and I could write a mile a minute. And anything is possible on stage! I had the three fictional characters dress in black and white, and their section of the stage was all tones of grey. The guy playing the author wore a loud Hawaiian shirt and we shone a coloured light on him too. When the curtain opened on the performance in the competition, there was a gasp from the audience. My happiest moment. The adjudicator raved about the bold nature of the play. He compared it to the work of Pirandello, which was news to me (but go read about him here , unless SOPA has closed Wikipedia) and he said lots of other nice things. I felt like I had got away with a huge con trick, but the play has been performed again and again, and it would be disengenuous to say I don’t believe there’s something to it. It’s not really a good idea to write about being a writer, but I think what this play is about is showing that characters can be real. Just as a reader can feel affection, or friendship or revulsion for a character in a well-loved book, so an author can find his characters being more than words on the page. If you’ve performed in Work in Progress, or have pictures of a production, please do drop me a line in the comments box and we can arrange for your pictures to join the gallery, plus adding in any links to group websites.
Today, as a marketing ploy and because I don’t want to write another blog piece that starts “I’ve been thinking…”, I’m handing out a free sample from my book (Title above). I’ve chosen the start of the chapter about the most common mistakes made by folks writing for the Community Theatre Stage. Hope you enjoy it.
After a few years of being published, I took on the job of Script Reader for my publisher, Lazy Bee Scripts. The company was being inundated with scripts, and they needed someone to help with the initial sorting of the new arrivals. This gave me a chance to review and report on hundreds of scripts from a huge variety of writers. Scripts are sent to Lazy Bee from all around the world, by people who have been writing for years, people just starting out, and people trying stage writing after success in some other form. Before long it became obvious that the same mistakes were being made over and over again.
The Biggest Mistake
Writing a screenplay for the stage. I’m never sure if this mistake is made because the authors have never visited the theatre, or because they wrote the idea as a screenplay first then attempted to convert it to the stage. Since the primary market I am reading for is concerned with the amateur stage, where resources and stage space tend to be limited, there is little point in saying “but I’ve seen some pretty spectacular things on the West End stage”. Yes, I know you can see ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ fly out over the audience in some theatres, but you’re not likely to see that done in your local village hall or school production. Time after time I read plays that open in a living room, described in perfect detail. Five minutes later the action moves to a second, equally detailed location for just a few lines of dialogue, and then another change. If the play is to be performed on a regular small stage, the only options are to have a subdivided stage with many sets permanently erected and the action moving between them, or to have a minimalist stage with movable furniture to signify the various locations. I used a combination of these devices in ‘A Time for Farewells’, with one half of the stage permanently set as a bedroom, and the other half different arrangements of three stage blocks that became a bar, a hospital room, a lounge.
This is entirely possible, but the important thing is that YOU are the one who should decide that this is the way the play should be performed. There’s no point in writing an epic masterpiece that includes horse races, the sinking of the Titanic and an aerial dogfight and then saying “It’s up to the director to work out how to stage it.” If you’re looking for the best of all possible worlds, you’ll end up with a script that doesn’t depend on a trapdoor in the stage or some other technical device (like flying wires, back projection or giant inflatable gorillas) for a successful production. You can certainly suggest that these elements would make the production better, that they were part of your original vision, but allow for the fact that not every group will have these things at their disposal. When the prospective director reads your script, they should be able to see the play being performed on their stage in their mind’s eye. Which leads into point number two:
Incomplete or Unhelpful Instructions
I reviewed a play once that had a character coming onstage carrying a large box. Halfway through the scene, a second character pops out of the box (which is still being held by character number one) and delivers a speech. I couldn’t see how this would be possible unless one character was incredibly strong, or the bottom of the box was open and character two’s legs were screened by some handy scenery. As it turned out, some unenclosed production notes would have told me which characters were to be played by puppets – that information would have put a different spin on things.
If you’re planning on having a character disappear into a magic cabinet, it would be kind to indicate how you imagine this being done: “The back of the cabinet is screened by the mangle, and Aladdin climbs out the concealed flap in the false back…” You don’t need to include a diagram with numbered and labelled parts, but your director needs to have a clue what you’re thinking about. This is particularly important in British pantomime transformation scenes, like Cinders’ “Rags to Ball Gown” or “Pumpkin to Coach” moments. It’s all very well writing “There is a flash and a bang and the pumpkin is replaced by a shimmering coach…” but that’s leaving it all to the director. A little research will show you there are many ways of accomplishing this effect – bringing lights up behind a gauze, unfolding a special piece of scenery… Again, read a few scripts, see some shows, talk to some experienced dramatists. Then put your own spin on the process.
Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling
I know, I know, it seems really petty to complain about mistakes like this. Who cares about full stops and question marks? It’s the content that’s important, isn’t it? Language is a constantly evolving thing, textspeak is becoming a valid form of grammar, blah, blah, blah! Well yes, language does evolve, but at the moment there are still guidelines and rules about grammar, spelling and punctuation, and you can be pretty sure that nothing much has changed in the way English is written since you were at school. Delivering a script for your publisher, or even simply turning one out for your local theatre group, should still be treated with the care and attention to detail you would give a job application letter.
Grammar exists to make the written language easy to hear in your head. Commas give pauses in the sentence, full stops indicate when one idea stops and the next begins. These things are important for your words to be understood, and if people can’t comfortably read what you’ve written, they’re not going to enjoy the content. They’re not going to understand the content. They’re certainly not going to buy or perform your play. Also, if you’re not careful enough to spot errors that are highlighted for you on the spell checker of the word processor you wrote this on, how can any customer be sure you’ve been careful enough to produce a decent plot? Are there as many errors in your storyline as there are in your typing? Bear in mind that the editor or publisher is likely to be someone fond of the written word – they’ve made a business of it, after all. They are exactly the kind of person who gets annoyed by incorrect spelling, and they are also exposed to it on a daily basis. If your script contains no ghastly spelling or punctuation errors, that will be another factor in your favour.
The only exception to the rule about correct spelling and grammar is when you choose to get it wrong. Not everyone speaks the Queen’s English like an Early Fifties BBC Radio Announcer, so of course it doesn’t make sense to have Bruno the door bouncer throw a drunk into the street and yell after him :
“We’d be much obliged if you would refrain from revisiting this establishment in the foreseeable future and encourage your rehabilitation with regard to your alcohol dependency…”
Bruno would shout “Sling yer ‘ook, drunk!” or something worse, and you won’t need to add in the ‘h’ that he drops. But the apostrophe shows the letter has been dropped on purpose, not as a result of rapid typing, and that Bruno is not making monkey noises. In summary, your characters are allowed to speak ungrammatically, or in dialect, but for your readers to correctly interpret this type of speech, it needs to be clearly punctuated.
A Time For Farewells, as performed at RAF Halton
To get YOUR copy of the ebook rush over to the TLC website Best of luck with your writing.