Monday, June 3, 2013

every love story is a ghost story

The line from the book that inspired the play
(and probably 3293892 other tender lil undergrad short stories but still)

Like most people I think my various anxieties sort of pulse along in sine waves, so that when one is hitting a peak of intensity others are bottomed out and dormant so it mostly evens out into emotional stability.  But then sometimes all the insecurity sine waves (the worst kind of wave, really) will all peak at the same time like right now.  Zero stars do not recommend.

So but while I wait for things to pick back up again I thought I'd talk about something that both made me happy and that I was proud of--that time I wrote a play for Austin's yearly fringe theater festival, Frontera.

My little sister Madeline is an actress among other things (film producer; chihuahua enthusiast) and has a tremendous ability for seeking out opportunities that I am envious of. 

Her rocking Holden Caulfield.
Fun hobby--ask her about her feelings about Catcher in the Rye  I guarantee you will surprised and delighted and frightened by the severity of the rage so par for the course for our fam I guess.

A couple years back, she decided to do a one-woman show for Frontera (which is my personal idea of hell but man she rocked it); I wrote a good deal of the monologues.

You can tell because leather jackets and knives

And the monologues about sharks

Last year, she approached her longtime mentor/former teacher/sometimes director (called here: S) to write a play for her and her friend/fellow actress Amy.  He agreed, and in turn approached her for some book recommendations for a favorite student of his.  Madeline has like an encyclopedic knowledge of plays and playwrights but is not as at home in contemporary literature.  I’m the opposite, so she asked me for some recs over gchat; she copied and pasted and emailed our chat to S.

The answers were so charming and hilarious (spoiler alert we are incredibly charming and hilarious) that he decided to base the play around a pop culture/intellectual discussion between two young women.  He sent us a list of questions, we had at it, and he started formulating a script for Madeline and her friend based on my answers and our conversations.

He named the play DFW because of our shorthand referring to (teenage me's fave author) David Foster Wallace being the same term as the shorthand for the Dallas Fort-Worth Airport.

What happened next is long and not my story but here are some of my key observations:
  • Reading someone’s writing is by its nature an intimate act, and you must know that when you write you will always reveal more than you intend—esp. to bright readers, and Madeline and I are bright
  • My speech/writing cadence is actually not easy to mimic but I can tell you when you’re doing it badly
  • It is always so funny to see how someone really sees you
  • It is always so funny to watch someone horrible self-destruct

I stepped in when he bowed out, about a month before the performance.  What he had written was really a pretentious soupy mess.  I only kept the fact that there were two young women and the name. And a couple of my better lines he had stolen verbatim.  Everything else I wrote from scratch in about a week.

Pulling from The Pale King and Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona” I made it a ghost story (maybe) about something called a vard√łgr, a sort of Scandinavian doppelganger who (unlike the German) does not exist alongside you but ahead of you.  

Oh Persona you are everything everyone complains about in Scandinavian film
but mannnnnnnnnn did you just sear into my head

Since I wrote it so quickly there was not enough time to excise my own favorite motifs/personal preoccupations and so it also included a lot of identity-as-fluid-construction, doubles, and violent imagery.

It also was about moving on.

Usually I almost exclusively write fiction, which is a primarily solitary pursuit where the author is the only god.  You create, you inflect, you know what is in every character’s head as they move and speak and hurt and breathe.  This is a major draw; it can also be incredibly tedious.  Working alone you can only draw from your own head—which yeah, inexhaustible universes of experience whatever but also a really boring known quanitity for yourself.

But writing a script that’s then taken and directed and performed by others—this creative collaboration is the coolest sort of alchemy imaginable.  

Madeline (and her just perfect brilliant co-actress Amy) enhanced aspects and dynamics inherent in the script that I did not play up; they gave autonomy to the characters that I did not.  It was so cool to not know exactly how a line was going to be spoken.  They had an amazing presence onstage and a brilliant chemistry together that just far outstripped anything on paper.

Madeline was Joelle Van Dyne; Amy was Sally

What’s more and especially they went full-creep mode, playing up the inherent sinister power dynamics of the girls’ relationship and the ending, with genius blocking that earned us an OH AHH CREEPY! from the audience as the curtain closed.  (Which is all a a girl wants to hear, amirite. <3)

(Also a plus—people getting all the really pretentious in-jokes I made for myself it was a little mind-blowing.  Like…they laughed.  I was delighted and also extremely unsettled.)

Writing and seeing the play acted was just phenomenal; it also gave me one of my favorite memories of my dad when he called me after he saw it to tell me how great it was and how I should be a writer and it was just really tender and I’m lucky to have such a supportive dad.

Well this is getting sappier than I thought because in short I am super lucky to have such a wonderful co-creator as my sister.

Art is after all nothing but communication, and there is so much to be had in collaboration in that pursuit.

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