The few people who have permission to read my work before it is finished have earned my trust through their constant and unwavering pursuit of excellence. It is for this reason I ask them to look at my work while it can still change.
I recently had notes from an actress who had to contend with a play of mine during a terrible bout of flu. Talk about kill or cure. Her response was most provoking – in the very best way.
The point is you have to know why you are doing something, because if you don’t other people will tell you why you are doing it. They may well be wrong. Often they are, sometimes they aren’t. All the same, you have to know. If you don’t know, why should we be interested? It’s part of examining your own life. Sometimes we wish we didn;t have to, but we do. It’s part of answering the question of how to live. Or in this case, how to get a play to the stage.
So I am not going to post the notes, but I will post my response.
Why Am I writing this play?
Yes, the play is tricky at the moment. People are asking for more of a through line – a narrative to hang their hat on. Whose story is it? Why should we care? My job is to balance that very natural request against a world that is fractured and broken-backed, and reflects the times in which we live. To that extent it is a question of matching intention with the formal explorations of structure. What I want to say, with how I want to say it.
My intention is simply to welcome an immigrant into the play, the way we would our own home to a person who needed it. On one level it is that simple.
Come in and have a cup of tea.
Put your feet up.
Let’s share stories.
The play is a dark inversion of the Homerian concept of Xenia. In fact to make this more apparent, I may well go back to the Odeyssey to draw more on this concept. You are probably aware that each stop off in the Odyssey as the hero makes his homeward journey is an example of the abuse of Xenia. Drugging, cannibalism, turning into pigs, being a sex slave, etc. It’s rum old stuff. But it makes its point.
The play is in part designed to provoke a confrontation with the world we are living in as divisive and contested by a dominant capitalist hegemony and competing discourse. That’s the clever reason.
In its way it is reflecting the broken narrative of the immigrant experience – you had a family, home, nation – then it was smashed up and now you find you are living in a world where there is no place for you. In part this is to simply shake people out of the complacency that we live in a society perceived as coherent. In fact we expend great amounts of energy on pretending it is, the way some people expend great energy on pretending to fit into it. Or to be normal, when in fact they are artists or musicians, or just not normal in a none pejorative sense.To take this further it asks us to consider the balance between our freedoms and what we are being asked to give up in return.
The story takes place in the past and ends in the present. It asks us to consider what kind of future we want to have. It encourages exploration of the way we have arrived in the here today and now – this question is located in the realm of the family. The site of so much contestation.
If the play were too smooth and didn’t have levels of texture, and broken glass, nails, or splinters and fractures – it would be palatable. If it were palatable it would be complicit in numbing the terrible truth of the crisis we are pretending is not (in a significant way) our responsibility.
If it were the story of one person, in a traditional linear central protagonist sense, I would not be pursuing my aim to reveal the ways in which we are encouraged to align with a narrative that excludes.
Because my narrative (I am not anti-narrative, I cherish coherence) is focused on a white middle-class family – I am attempting to disrupt that privilege – and interrogate it. This is my agenda and is specific to this play. It is my question to pose and it is not the only way to pose it. It is the way I have chosen. We all have our own questions to pose and ways to pose them, and we all want to get on with it.
I have to divest myself of my bias and prejudice as much as the next person, my sense of entitlement, my inherent privilege – this play is part of a process of trying to interrogate those things. It is part of a process of discovering the way I am constructed as a social and political person has very little to do with who I may or may not be. In this personal way, I hope to make room for people I am told time and again are not to be seated at the table.
Finally the play asks us to welcome people in the spirit of faith and friendship.
(a piece of advice I had about this play was ‘why don’t you just say you’ve written a good play?’ The answer is: because I haven’t yet. – But there’s a little light coming through, I’m going after that.)