Monday, April 22, 2013

Why writing a play is like finding a door in a fairy tree

I’m writing this well-overdue post from the Winnebago at my Mum’s place, on the banks of the Hume Weir. It’s where I stay when I’m in near Albury, at the site of what used to be a railway station long ago. 

 Earlier, on the way to the toilet block (things are basic here: no connection to the town water supply, next to zero phone reception, and if I can get enough electricity to charge my laptop and my phone I consider it a good day*) Mum showed me a little project she’s been working on.

It’s rather delightful and it’s also a cute (possibly twee) metaphor. There’s a tree near the picnic area of the reserve that has a knot in the trunk that resembles a door. It reminded Mum of something from a fairy tale. So she and her partner found an antique door knob and attached it to the tree. It was a simple thing, but it made Mum happy. The excitement of some visiting kids sparked her off on another mission—to source a small ceramic fairy and a set of toadstools to add to the tree.

One day a lady came up to the house to ask Mum if she knew who had adorned the fairy tree, and if they’d mind if she made her own contribution. A few weeks later, another set of campers asked Mum if the owner of the fairy tree would appreciate some landscaping.

The fairy tree now has some solar lights, a cross-bar of branches in the ‘window’, a path of pebbles around it, and geraniums planted around the trunk. It is inhabited by four fairies, an ornamental worm that reminds me the worm from the Labyrinth, and a hedgehog. 

It continues to grow and change. One of the fairies fell out and broke its wings a few weeks ago. Mum glued the wings back on, and it is sitting on a lower branch temporarily, while Mum figures out where to put it. This is exactly what I’ve been doing lately while I puzzle over how to put this play together.

At the tree, some of the pebbles have disappeared from the fairy’s garden, changing the boundaries, but someone will probably replenish them soon.

The best thing about the fairy tree is that it’s organically evolved into a collaborative art project, and there’s just as much enjoyment in the process of making as there is in viewing.

In today’s workshop, I worked with a combination of new actors and actors I’d worked with on the previous draft of this script. With my director Travis, we had a table read and then started the feedback portion by going around the table and hearing each actor’s contribution. From this gentle start point the conversation built up until we were throwing around new ideas, finding solutions to problems, finding problems, finding opportunities—and finding things we hadn’t seen before. Things that, like the door in the tree trunk, were already there, just waiting for someone to add a doorknob. Most pleasingly, Travis and I were quite literally on the same page; comparing notes afterwards, we’d marked the same parts to cut or move.

It was one of those workshops that makes me realise why I do this—and why I enjoy collaboration so much.

Mum’s motivation to put that door knob there was simply because it seemed like fun. ‘I just had to,’ she said. ‘It was perfect. How could I say no to the opportunity?’ (Insert pun about opportunity knocking….)

For me, it’s the same thing—writing a play seems like a good idea. We all think that to start with, then inevitably hate the project for a while. But more to the point, we do it because—well, why wouldn’t we? We are compelled to create. Just as my Mum couldn’t keep walking past that tree, I cannot deny my urge to write.

And while we can do it alone, there’s so much to be gained by collaborating. In fact, that’s what has made me focus in on playwriting as a form above others.

So, the moral to this story, if there is one, is this:

Building a play can be a lot like making a whimsical fairy tree. All it take is an idea and imagination.

(Sometimes a suspension of disbelief.)

And as people get involved and share your vision you create something that can be shared and enjoyed by others.

And that feels pretty good too.

*I actually wrote this post on Saturday, but haven’t had an internet connection since then. Or reliable electricity.

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