Blood Leaves

My next play under the guidance of Nina Steiger as part of my MA in Dramatic Writing is called Blood Leaves.

Over the next four months I will record the process of writing on this blog, which I hope will serve as a record of the creation of a new play.

I have completed the first draft, and left it alone for a fair while. During this time my understanding of what it is doing has deepened, and armed with notes from Euphoric Ink I am fast approaching the time I can return to it.

I hope that my reports as noted here will serve as a tool for me to think about the work, and may be of interest to other writers and the curious. I intend to listen carefully to the advice and guidance of Nina Steiger, and am relishing working under her mentorship. In classes I’ve really enjoyed her depth of understanding about writing, and ways of approaching writing. It has brought me a perspective on my own work that surprises me in the best possible way, armed with this new awareness, I feel able to move deeper into territory that serves the story. I expect my notes here to be a record of impressions, as opposed to a how I’m doing it approach, as I feel that would serve me best in my journey.

How I Came To This Story
Many years ago I was directing an Albert Camus play, and was in the process of casting. I’m on the phone to the actress playing The Grand Duchess. This is easily one of the most satisfying conversations about acting I have had in my career up to this point (2007), it is absolutely obvious to me that I am talking to a complete professional. Further to this, it is absolutely clear that working with her is going to do great things for the show. The experience, breadth of understanding, and gravity of the conversation is both thrilling and terrifying. On the one hand, I’m going to be working with an actress who has a brilliant grasp of what the role requires, on the other hand I have no idea how to direct her. I imagine that, like a lot of young directors, I decide having that level of experience in the room more than makes up for my fear. After all, I reason, it doesn’t matter that I don’t have a corresponding level of experience, what matters at this point is that she does – and she’s not afraid to bring it to the production. One particular point of the conversation absolutely struck me as rather beautiful and utterly tragic. It activated my imagination, and as is so often the case, my imagination took me to places I could not keep up with. I decided then and there, I would remember this story, and when I had the conscious means to do something with it, and a level of experience that only time and being in the world can bring, I would craft it into a story – and that it would be a story for the theatre. That is how I came to write Blood Leaves.

Events or People?
One of the questions that arises out of tragedy – and a way to think about it is the following: is it people or events that are tragic? Is the downfall of an individual contingent on their thinking – their fate being the way they think? Or is it out of the individuals hands, are they caught up in forces imposed from without, that sweep them up? What influence do we have over the turn of events our lives take? What influence do we give away? What influences are we unaware of? Where does this take us? What does it reveal? Where does it leave us? I’m following this thread, stealing from the great tragedies, and hoping to hit on something instinctively true. Perhaps this truth is beyond words, something ineffable, that exists in a silence that can only be experienced in the theatre. That is what I am hoping for.

Conflict – Parsing The Moment

I was reading The Better Angels Of Our Nature by Pinker. In it he discusses the three reasons to go to war.

They are:

Gain (predatory)
Protection (pre-emptive)
Reputation (retaliatory)

Of course these overlap, and one can be offered in the guise of another, depending on the given justification.

As a writer and director I was struck by the application this has to scene analysis and composition. Take any play, and go through it looking at the way the characters fight each other. You can find out a lot through applying this little bit of insight.

I was recently directing Moonfleece by Philip Ridley at Bath Spa University, and this was my first opportunity to parse the exact nature of the conflict into these categories. Doing so simplifies in the best possible way, the nature of the conflict moment to moment. This attack is to gain sympathy and is pre-emptive, this attack is to restore pride and is retaliatory, this attack is to break up an infatuation, and is predatory.

You can attach this analysis to the way you parse a moment – there are several paradigms for parsing a moment ACTION REACTION DECISION is useful (especially in bringing subtext into definition) there is also ACTION CONSEQUENCE DECISION, and FACT AFFECT OPINION, there are no doubt many more.

It is useful to ask your actors to analyse a scene from the point of view of what they are seeking GAIN PROTECTION REPUTATION – and then ask them to put it into action using one of the above systems of looking at what is happening moment to moment. You can then apply actions, efforts and flows accordingly to sharpen the HOW they do it. Writing that holds a lot of emotion soaks this up, and gives as much as you put in.

See where it takes you.

Je Suis Charlie.