May 20, 2008

Notes for play - boundaries

There are many ways to stage this play successfully, but only three to surely do it wrong:

Parody. I like "Into the Woods" a great deal, but my work is not a comedy. To play it for laughs is to betray the spirit in which I conceived and wrote this piece. In fact, it's more like a combination of fantasy, horror, and erotica.

Taking it literally. When characters "fly" or "transform" or "disappear," it's more a suggestion about the quality of movement than anything else. This is merely the most efficient means to do so. Not to mention, it captures the tone and mood of the piece more effectively.

Disneyfication. This piece is emphatically not entertainment for the whole family. Bleaching out the sex, violence, and witchcraft would also undermine much of its power.

With those three hurdles out of the way, pretty much any interpretation is valid. This work deliberately gives a lot of room for the particular aesthetic elements. They are not tied to a particular time and place (in other words, not pseudo-medieval Europe by default). Each time I read it, I can imagine the same events staged in different ways. I hope you can too.


  1. "Bleaching out the sex, violence, and witchcraft would also undermine much of its power."

    I have some questions.

    1. Power to do what? Or by "power," do you mean some feeling produced by a play, rather than a power to do something? Or something else?

    2. Can you tell me anything about what makes that power important to you?

    3. More generally, can you tell me anything about what moves you in the direction you're going? What pushes you or pulls you, and how you choose what you want to put into a play?

    Are you drawn towards some vision? Are you pushed forward by some urge? Are you going towards something, or away from something, or neither? When you turn in one direction or another, is it to find a better path to some place ahead, or to avoid something, or both, or neither?

  2. Maybe a better question would be, how can I get to a place where I can comment meaningfully and usefully on what you're doing?

    In my work, I'm pursuing an evolving vision. I'm trying to learn to help bring that vision to life, and I choose the form and content of my performances accordingly. There is some intuition involved in choosing among possible paths I see.

    If you're pursuing a vision, it might help me to learn more about that vision. Apart from pursuing a vision, I don't have any other idea yet about how to get inside this, to walk alongside you where you're going, as I would like to do, other than to just keep reading.

  3. To answer some of your questions (I hope) . . .

    1. The power I mean is the visceral quality of the enchantment of traditional fairy tales (as opposed to Victorian or Disney versions). Many old fairy tales have a strong element of the grotesque. The evil queen in Snow White dancing in red-hot iron shoes. Cinderella's stepsisters cutting off their heels and toes. Doves plucking their eyes out at Cinderella's wedding. The Girl Without Hands getting her hands lobbed off. The grandmother in Red Riding Hood being eaten by a wolf. The witch in Hansel & Gretel preparing to roast Hansel. And so on and so forth.

    There's something about these images that sticks with you, haunts you. There's something about the sight of blood, the threat or presence of twisted violence, the open acceptance of things beyond our understanding or control, that pulls at the imagination. I want that in my play.

    2. Not really, to be honest. I can only say that it expresses a part of me that's generally hidden. Not anything as blatant as having violent or sexual impulses, but the things they represent - a dark mysticism that is a good chunk of my nature. I don't mean dark as negative or evil (though we often associate darkness with that - but I don't judge things that way). I mean darkness as mystery, chaos, infinity. The cosmic womb-tomb. Emptiness as infinite potential for being. That state where everything comes from and returns to. Or, for lack of a better term, God.

    3. I think my answer to #2 covers the first part of this inquiry. I'll answer the second part below.

    I don't have a vision in the sense of having a concrete purpose for writing my play other than to express what I find ineffable. Which is why, for this play, I'm focusing more on movement and imagery than dialogue to carry the narrative. I tried a more conventional form, but the words kept getting in the way. In their transparency, they really obscured the qualities I was trying to elicit. It was just too straightforward. And rather than deliberately obfuscating with nonsensical dialogue, I chose the most directly indirect path - no dialogue at all. Only movement.

    But what I hope I'm getting across is that there is nothing accidental about the piece. The way I present the story is very deliberate as far as establishing the "feel" of this piece goes. My style is often to evoke rather than describe the intangible qualities of my work. These intangibles are incredibly layered and nuanced, so even a direct statement misses the mark.

    I hope that makes sense.

  4. " . . . how can I get to a place where I can comment meaningfully and usefully on what you're doing?"

    You're doing it now. You're bringing up questions the piece raises for you. At the place where I am now, these are much more helpful than most statements.

    But, to give you something to work with . . .

    My writing is an ocean of meanings, feelings, experiences, and imaginings. Even at my most direct, I'm not transparent. You have to dive beneath the surface to get the most out of it. That usually means engaging your feelings and imagination wiht your reading of my work. Use that to read between the lines and uncover the currents beneath the words. That is the only way to find the pearls.

  5. Thank you. That helps a lot.

    "There's something about the sight of blood, the threat or presence of twisted violence . . ."

    I don't like it, and I'm imagining that we would all be better of without it. That was making it hard for me to go there with you. Now I think I can do it. I can see it as a way to break out of the matrix. to magic and mystery and something else I don't have time to try to describe now.

  6. "Bleaching out the sex, violence, and witchcraft would also undermine much of its power."

    I feel like I'm really starting to get this now. It's so hard to find words for it. We're boxed in, straight-jacketed by inhibitions that hold us back from being enchanted. Places we feel like we can't go. I can see how the sex and violence can help free us from those inhibitions.

  7. I thought I had said this already, but now I'm not sure. I can see how the sex and violence can give the piece a depth, a substance, a reality, that would be lost in Disneyfication.

  8. Jim,

    Glad to see it's becoming clear for you.