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Baby -> Memory -> Theatre

January 24, 2010

This is a kind of long non-play post, and what I describe as “this afternoon” sort of became “yesterday” while I worked on it.  I’m cutting it for length and certainly won’t blame anybody for skipping it, but if you do make it through, I could use some banter on this.

If you don’t feel like reading this because you’re really only in this for the tiny plays, I’d like to suggest this one, which is by Sheila Callaghan, who is great.

I had an audition* this afternoon.  It was a fairly informal situation at the directors’ house, as they’re rather conveniently married to each other.  They also have a tinyperson daughter who is currently teething, which added to the informality, what with the howling and all.

Kids are kind of my thing, but I have limited experience with the really little ones.  I find them cute and wriggly and I’ll gladly take a turn in a game of pass-the-baby, and make all the usual cooings about diminutive fingers + toes — but for the most part I wait until they’re verbal to really offer up my services as a sitter.  So I’m largely ignorant of the more miserable details of babycare.  This teething business, for instance, was basically just a rumour to me until about 12 hours ago.


It’s the kind of thing you watch someone go through and you think ‘Geez, that’s got to hurt; I can’t even imagine’…except unlike most situations where you think that, your next thought is, ‘Oh wait — I have teeth now.  I guess this is pain I have shared.”

And that’s a little weird.  Because I’m looking at this kid who’s in such agony, and it’s a reminder of all kinds of agony I have experienced (as agony is), but at the same time, I know perfectly well that this isn’t agony she’s going to remember any more than she’ll remember whether I hit those high notes all right, or even who the heck I am if I happen to disappear soon and come back when she’s eight.

Let’s hear it for infantile amnesia, eh?

I wasn’t going to mention this in this post, because I’d kind of forgotten it until I actually started writing, but I’m frequently enchanted by Yoko Ono’s twitter feed.  Sometimes I favourite things from it hoping that they will make some kind of sense to me later.  Almost a month ago, she typed “Tape the sound of your baby son crying. Let him listen to the tape when he is going through pain as a grown man.

I’m not saying that I’ve really made sense of that as of now (might be a tinyplay seed waiting to sprout), but it’s starting to seep into some thoughts I’ve been having about memory and theatre, and I guess I’d like to put those here a) for safekeeping and b) in case you have anything to say about it.

I think one of the reasons I’ve been repeating the breakfast motif so much in these tinyplays is because breakfast is made up of objects — usually pretty common objects.

Ephemerality is one of the things anybody who gets into theatre is going to have to reckon with on one level or another.  The show happens, and then it more-or-less unhappens.  Nobody will carry a pristine memory of what went down, and you can’t get an (instant or otherwise) replay.  Scripts may be published, a DVD may come out showing one framed-up view of one night’s stage traffic**, but essentially, what happens in theatre is subject to the same laws of mind-entropy as what happens in, you know, life.

Well, there is one advantage.

It’s kind of obvious.

Hopefully you won’t roll your eyes too hard at me when I say it.

You watch theatre.

Events unfold before your eyes, and you might care or not care about them, depending on various factors, but you’re watching, not participating***.  There’s a whole lot I have to say about what that means, but for the sake of this post, I only want to propose that as a relatively unimpassioned observer, you’re opened up to memory formation in a slightly different way than you are when something is happening to you.

I spent a good chunk of 2009 as an intern at the Playwrights Atlantic Resource Centre, which means I’ve attended a whole bunch of workshop readings, which means I’m now pretty familiar with the questions that generally get asked afterwards for the benefit of the playwright.  And I hate answering these questions.  Don’t get me wrong, I understand that onlookers’ perceptions of the plot and characters and suchlike is valuable information for a playwright to receive concerning xyr work-in-progress…but when those response sheets go around the table I get clammy and irritated and prone to scratching out whatever words I manage to squeeze onto the page, because they’re bound to be inadequate in the face of all the hard work (good or bad) I’ve just encountered.  I never, ever, ever feel up to tackling these questions — except for one.

“What is one image that struck you?”

Which I grip onto for dear life and try my best to be worthwhile about.

I realise that this is, at least in part, a whoIam factor****.  That I tend to get sort of bogged down on the micro-componenty-level of things, and this is one of the things that makes me a) a little bit crazy and b) not the most productive member of society.


This is one of the few situations where I think a) I am not the only one who is like this and b) it is kind of a good thing.

Plays often break down to a few simple images (and/or soundbites) as time passes and the audience disperses and goes about whatever it is they do when they’re not an audience.  Chances are, once they’ve relinquished that role, most people aren’t going to continue knowing the name of the play or its characters for more than a week or two.

And that isn’t necessarily a terrible thing.  That doesn’t mean they got nothing out of the experience.

Theatre gives us a world which is both amazingly fake and amazingly real.  We see real, breathing, sweating, salivating people moving around in a space that must be real because we’re there too, but it doesn’t actually look like anything we’ve come to expect from the world, and these people say things we always say and things we would never say, and they touch things we recognise while we look from an angle we’re not used to looking from.  They just generally behave as though this is what life is.

And if I go see a play and I forget everything but how the light gleamed off the hairbrush she held like a weapon when the boy appeared at her window*****, but that one thing hits me hard and it makes me pause in hairbrush moments that happen to me after that play, and it allows me to imagine myself from outside of myself every once in a while, then that play has changed my life a little bit.

I know this is one of the parts of art you don’t get to measure or even know about, but I guess I’m saying that that’s kind of what I imagine when I imagine “success” as a playwright: somebody somewhere who might not remember my name or know anything about me, but who has this little place in xyr mind that gets triggered by orange peels or Santa mugs or whatever and helps xem figure some shit out, or at least feel a little less lonely while xe plunders through it.

So when it comes down to it, that’s my big fantasy.  It feels so small, but at the same time, so presumptuous.  To think that I merit a spot — however anonymous — in someone’s brain.  That I know what someone I don’t know will need to hang onto some day.  Maybe that’s why plays, why tangibility, the rough and smooth manifested literally in somebody’s hands, where everyone can imagine it in their own.  To speak through objects makes sense in our culture.  Maybe I’m just a product of that.  Maybe that’s okay.

Hm.  That was longer and more convoluted than anticipated, as usual.

More Life,

*Incidently, the show is RENT, the cast list just came out, and I’m on it.  I’m going to be one of those sexy background homeless/junkie/life support/leap of faith/boho kids.  Should be fun.

**I don’t think I’ve constructed this sentence adequately to say what I mean about the implications of camera angles and all that jazz, and I also want to be clear that I’m not by any means opposed to the recording and distribution of stage plays — in fact I’m often grateful for it.  I just think it can be helpful (if headache-inducing) to consider what might change when there is a lens (ergo somebody else’s eyeball-decisions) between you and the stage.

***This, like everything else I’ve ever said out loud or committed to ink-or-print-or-internet, is just as much a lie as it is true.  I’m trying very hard to keep calm about it.  I had the urge to make a lot more of these footnotes, but deleted most of them.  This one stays, if for no other reason than to give me an opening to say that this is both a) why I flunked out of university and b) why I usually siphon this kind of dramatic theory bullshit through characters and settings and whatnot instead of trying to grapple with it as myself on the couch blogging at obscene-o’clock-in-the-morning when I should really be grappling with props for Into The Woods, but c) I’d sort of like to unpack a little more of this garbage on here, but only if d) you haven’t all been really bored by this post.  So let me know.  I mean, if you say nothing I’ll infer by your silence that you were too bored to get to this footnote, and if you say stuff, I’ll infer that something in here was somewhat worth your while (if only in the sense that you felt the need to crush me like a hazardously wrong bug).

****At this point, I would usually fly into a despair, delete the whole entry thus far and try to forget I ever thought about trying to explain this shit, but I’m experimenting with acting like my point of view might a) matter and/or b) be of interest to somebody.  I figure: I always kind of liked outrageous lies, so why not?

*****I’m thinking of Sue Balint’s Pagan Love Songs For The Uninitiated here, although obviously I do remember more than just that image from that play (mind you, I did have to google the title to find the playwright’s name) — but by this point in the entry, we’re actually outside of the realm of whoIam factors, because a big part of what inspired this project in the first place was trying to imagine what plays might look like and mean to people who don’t necessarily have the same all-consuming wallow instinct when it comes to the theatre.  (Also, I don’t brush my hair.)

8 Comments leave one →
  1. rubyben permalink
    January 24, 2010 7:14 pm

    I am very much not a theatre kid. Just from lack of exposure. But the hairbrush scenario? Everything does that to me. I mean, lots of things don’t, but all categories of things, like books and songs and food courts especially, has potential to fix things in my brain in the future. I think it just comes from seeing/hearing someone be a real (if fictitious) person who you later turn into for a sec or a year or whatever.

    • rubyben permalink
      January 24, 2010 7:15 pm

      I did an “end ramble” html tag but apparently that was unacceptable.

    • ohmynoti permalink*
      January 24, 2010 7:50 pm

      I’m glad that made sense to somebody.

      I guess I’m trying to work out what’s helpful about art, but it’s weird, because I have to imagine what it’s like without art, or at least without particular kinds of art. It’s really useful to talk to people who have very different sets of art-experience than I do. Like, what *is* a play to someone whose brain doesn’t automatically click into making-a-play-of-it mode when dealing with the weird stuff? Trying to keep those eyeballs in mind.

  2. ELISHA! permalink
    January 25, 2010 1:26 pm

    dear lady,
    that was not convoluted at all.
    that was incredibly coherent, and i wish i’d blogified it first.
    i totally agree with you.


    p.s. did i ever give you a copy of l’autremonde? slash, did you ever see the copy i gave your brother?

    • ohmynoti permalink*
      January 25, 2010 5:24 pm

      sometimes my friends are better at following my mindtrails than i am. i kinda like it.

      more life,

      p.s.- i don’t believe so. i shall make an inquiry next time i talk to the brudder.

  3. Xander permalink
    January 26, 2010 10:20 pm

    It’s always nice to end up being triggered as a thought I think. We all tend to impact each other in ways we don’t really think about until the trigger is hit. Then it all kind of goes “Hey, now I remember how I felt way back when I saw that!”… or something like that.

  4. evan permalink
    January 27, 2010 12:28 am

    I liked this a lot.

  5. rubyben permalink
    February 20, 2010 3:55 pm

    I just read the tiny play you linked to. Très cool. I like the stage directions best.

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