As part of the ongoing process of working on a play I lucked out on some notes that finally broke through the resistance I was putting in front of human compassion and heart. Also known as narrative.
Writers organise their work in ways that suit them. I have to confess to being heavily influenced by Brecht’s advice on dictators. It’s a risk to laugh before you know how dangerous they are.
What I think this means for me is I go all out on the danger and destructiveness of a world before I can organise resistance to this danger. I think this sensible, because I observe every day what we are up against. That’s my disposition, but I am optimistic. I question it also, vigorously, and I won’t ever accept it.
Many years ago I was rehearsing Mountain Language, the company took on the work very stoically, but also with great elan. We wanted to know the way the decks were loaded, and we tried our best to match Pinter’s fervent hatred of the sociopathic regime – actually that was not difficult to accomplish. We went as far into the operations of power as were in our grasp at the time. I rehearsed outside (it was Summer I’m not a sadist) with the company, and the stage was a concrete square in an arboretum. What I enjoyed about this was the clear contrast between the verdant surroundings and that strangely threatening and hard space within it. It helped shape our understanding of the play. Rehearsals were going well, things were progressing, but we needed to know what was being taken away. I called a break after a rehearsal that had got heavy, that’s no judgement, it was necessary to go there.
I wanted to know what was being lost and find a way to bring that into the rehearsal. I was disturbed by the cruelty. As it is right and proper to be.
When we reconvened from the break and emerged from the arboretum to go back to the concrete I noticed something.
A little patch of the concrete had cracked, and daisy’s were springing from this. But what was remarkable was that one of the cast on the break had built a little settlement around it. A few houses, and some fences made from twigs and leaves, and it gave it a sense of belonging, and delicacy, and care. We all looked at this and an improvisation emerged from this little bit of optimism. You probably know Brecht’s poem about the chimney? The one where he is filled with optimism to see smoke coming from it, and mindful of how desolate it would look without it? This improvisation helped us appreciate that feeling. It gave us a sense of what was being taken away, and it allowed the actors to grasp that intuitively and with spontaneity. It was felt, and something that is felt is enormously useful – in ways you can’t always get to through conversation.
So I had cause to examine my resistance on reading the beautiful notes I encountered today. What became apparent was the realisation that I have taken things as far as I need to in order to begin writing the resistance – it’s now time to feel, to write with need, and urgency about our agency and volition as people, and what we cherish, and what we ultimately hope for.
That is why we need to tell stories.