Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Contrasts Colliding

As is no surprise, juggling two plays and about to begin a third leaves very little time for this lady!  However, it does allow me to play with the images for my two main plays, which are about as far apart from one another as possible.

Light Princess is a fairy tale in every evocative sense of the word.  It involves kings and queens, jester and witches, princes and princesses, a curse, true love, sword fights, heroism, flying, and something lovely.  However, it isn't without it's depth: as the story keeps emphasizing, for true joy one also needs the possibility of sorrow.

So, in the midst of puns and nonsense, we also have a tale of revenge and self-sacrifice.  And the knowledge that if laughter requires sorrow, then gravity requires light.

Conversely, Macbeth is the cautionary tale of the same.  Although there is quite a lot that's funny about Macbeth (such as the title character agreeing after the murder that "Twas a rough night"), it's essentially a tale of how revenge can begat revenge.  It's about how private offenses ripple through society, until no creature's innocence is spared.

However, with that, we are also exploring how Macbeth was, originally, a good man.  "What thou wouldst highly, thou wouldst holily," as Lady Macbeth says.  Too often, casts and directors rather eagerly get to the murders and allow no human emotions in the aftermath; once Macbeth has killed once, he's eager to kill again.  But every human, even the worst of us, is always in danger of salvation and capable of remorse, even at the end of things.

If there is any overlap between directing the two shows simultaneously, it probably lies in this overlap of good and evil, revenge and remorse, life and death - that place between in which we live on this earth.  T. S. Eliot put it best, I feel, in his poem "The Hollow Men: Part V:" (1925)

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
                                For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
                                Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
                                For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
Now, I personally don't agree with the ending line - and I write plays to that effect.  Life ought to end with a triumphant trumpet blast, or with the sigh of the wind - not with a whimper.  (Although in the case of the Macbeths, Eliot may have it right....)  But the point that we live our lives inbetween - that we laugh when it's inappropriate and cry when we're happy - that sometimes the metaphorical truth is more honest than the facts - that there are "more things between Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy" - these things are important to me.

Important, too, is to give the world a little glimpse of beauty and laughter and the opportunity to throw toilet paper through an audience.  That's Light Princess.  But equally important is to show the erosion of innocence, the way our actions have effects, the terrible things we can do...and that we can allow to happen to others by doing nothing.  That's Macbeth.

In terms of keeping the two of them straight in rehearsal, there really is no difficulty.  The casts are sufficiently different from one another, the production needs and tonal elements keep the plays pleasantly separate from each other.  Double rehearsal days, double production notes and production considerations do double the workload - that's a little rough at times, because I feel like I'm constantly playing catch-up on paperwork, favor-asking, information-giving - and somewhere in there relaxing with meaningless TV.  And Downton Abbey.

That said, I am so utterly grateful to be working on both pieces.  I'm so utterly grateful to be a working artist, and to be given the opportunity to write and direct and almost pay the bills.  (Always open to patrons with cash...just saying!)  Grateful to be doing great work with terrific folk on-stage and off.  I'll conclude with one more poem:
"My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!"
~ Edna St. Vincent Millay, "First Fig"
from A Few Figs and Thistles (1920)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Saturday, January 21, 2012

House of Strangeways: Letters Left Unopened

This week's House of Strangeways we look at those letters that we should have read, but that we foolishly left unopened.  Particularly those from Aunt Esmeralda to our miss Serafine Meadowlark!

UPDATED TO ADD: Just so you know, next week the game will be expanded...and you'll have to look for the ivy engraved on the lintel for the chapter.

Remember that you can read all of the previous chapters here, and this week's chapter here or by pressing the fly-out arrow in the top right corner.

If you're looking for the first appearance of Aunt Esmeralda, the Hungarian Marquess, make sure you read her debut chapter, Voices of the Dead.

You can also get exclusive clues, games and more at the official website!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

House of Strangeways: Stories within Stories

In this week's House of Strangeways, we get to hear more from Araminta about the mysterious locksmith, who could open any door but the one that hid his wife, who first debuted here.

However, as much fun as Araminta has writing her own stories within stories, it should be remembered that simultaneously our governess, Miss Sera Meadowlark, is currently embarked on a possibly fatal journey to consult with Mr Jeremy Cavendish Mumm (read that here).

To read this week's chapter, you can click here, or press the fly-away button in the top right hand corner below. 


Don't forget to keep an eye on the website for exclusive content, games and clues.  And you can read all the House of Strangeways chapters here!


Comment below about how you would end the story of The Two Horses, and make sure to leave your e-mail address, to win a special House of Strangeways prize!  Two lucky winners (chosen at random from the commenters - one comment per person, please) will be e-mailed an exclusive clue to unravelling the mystery of the House of Strangeways by next weekend.  Enter today!

Posters, by Design

I'm in the process of revamping the theatrical side of my website, and as a consequence I've been designing posters for some of my shows that either have not been performed yet, or whose initial poster I wanted to improve.  I'm pretty happy with how they turned out, and I thought that I'd share them with you.

And, of course, if you're interested in performing one of my plays that's not published through Playscripts, just drop me a line here, on Twitter, or my Facebook page!  (That's how The Passion Play was performed last year in Dublin, Ireland!)

You can click on an image to enlarge it.  Click on the textual title to go to the website page.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

House of Strangeways: Memories of Stone

We're nearing the end of the first volume of The House of Strangeways, in this week's chapter: "Memories of Stone."

Do be warned: although no bodices are ripped in any fashion, some liberties are taken.  Victorian liberties, but liberties nonetheless.  Best read with chocolate by your side.

In the next chapter (which you can read here), we'll learn more about the locksmith from Araminta!  The picture from below is somehow involved, as well as the signature of the artist in the lower left corner.

To catch up on the House of Strangeways you can read it all here.  And make sure that you also check out the website!  You can press the fly-away in the top left corner below, or read the first part of the latest chapter here.

Also, it's entirely likely that - due to the obligations of the two shows I'm directing - Free Fridays will be posted somewhere between Friday and Sundays at least through Easter.  See you then!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

From Bad to Verse (Or: Ten Syllables Do Not Make a Foot)

Continuing my examination of writing "new Shakespearean plays" - i.e., new plays in blank verse, particularly iambic pentameter - I thought I'd take a moment to examine what exactly is meant by "iambic pentameter."

Now, this may seem a redundant exercise; after all, there are books and entire schools devoted to the subject.  However, with the occasional sonnet-enthusiast, most of these books and schools are dedicated to the performing of iambic pentameter (or at least the reading or appreciation of it), rather than the writing.  More, should one find a sonnet-enthusiast, their interest will not lie in how iambic pentameter may be used in dramatic playwriting.
NOTE: For this post, I will be critiquing a few modern iambic pentameter plays other than my own (unless duly noted).  I do not know any of these playwrights personally, and hold them no ill will.  Nor do I think their plays are the only blank verse plays currently being written.  They are merely the only ones to which I have some access to the script.

There is a different, a very important difference, between writing a stand alone sonnet and writing a play.  While a sonnet may seem like a little play, in point of fact, it doesn't have to be.  A play written in verse, however, must first be a play...and then written in verse.

So, presuming that you've got your plot, characters, thought (philosophy/worldview) and everything else necessary to a play in order, let's skip right ahead to how to write your play in blank verse, specifically in iambic pentameter.  There are basically two elements to this:
1) The beauty of the verse

2) The practicality of the verse

Although the two are intertwined, we're going to begin with the latter.  What I mean by the practicality of the verse is essentially:
1) Does the verse convey the character and the plot like any decent line of dialogue should?

2) Is the verse easy to say (does it fall "trippingly from the tongue")?


The first point will actually be covered somewhat when we look at the beauty of the verse, and has been covered admirably elsewhere by folk who write about dialogue for characters, but the main thing you want to watch out for when writing plays in verse is that you don't become so florid that you actually start maiming the rules of grammar.

Occasionally you can get away with "not poetic speech" - that is, language that goes beyond poetic contractions (o'er, e'er, yestere'en), anglo-saxon verb endings (basically, pronouncing the -ed in such things as "believ-ed"), metaphors that serve as impromptu verbs/adjectives/adverbs/nouns  ("when fallen dew-drop from the anguished sky")...but please, for the love of all that's holy, don't torture the grammar past all recognition.

For example, it is not beautiful, easy or even sensible to say: 
"How wonder, how marvelous this tale go."
First of all, the adjective is "wonderful" and secondly unless your character is supposed to have a dialect, a tale "goes" not "go" - even if it's easier to rhyme with the open vowel.

You can write "How wonderful, how marvelous this tale!" which is a good line of blank verse, and a perfect line of iambic pentameter!  "How WON-der-FUL, how MAR-vel-LOUS this TALE!"

Likewise, although it's very tempting to give into the fact that you are writing poetry, for Heaven's sake, let the actors wear the frilly shirt, not your verse.  By which I mean, if the line makes no bloody sense...kill it.  For example, I've just spent the past half hour seriously trying to understand:
"Vest the house folly of scenes jesters dance
Merriment givings helpful wonderful."
I really don't know.  "Vest" isn't a verb, traditionally.  "Folly of scenes" and "jesters dance" are fine phrases on their own, but need prepositions, antecedents, or verbs to make them mean anything.  And in the second line "givings" confuses me since it should be a verb, but is a plural non-noun, followed by two adjectives that want to be adverbs and end up modifying nothing.

Moreover, as a performer, I have no idea what idea I'm supposed to convey.  Now, I grant you - Shakespeare can seem to be just as oblique.  After all, this is the woman who played Feste the Jester in Twelfth Night, a role that required me to cross reference just about every other word...but that was because I was unfamiliar with the vocabulary, not confused by the grammar.

From my 2002 production of Twelfth Night, Act III, Scene 1
No...that's not me.  But it is Feste the Jester!
 I'll give you an example of a seemingly-bizarre line from our dear old Billy Shakes.