Tag Archives: plays

1870. Quotations and Announcement

I said a day ago that this week I’d do a couple of self-indulgent postings. This is the second. It could be fun, since it will rightly never be done in real life, to pretend astonishing fame and glean quotations from various theatre plays I’ve written over the years and present them as if in a quotation anthology!

No sooner were these words out (and this is true!) than an email arrived saying that six of my poems had been selected by a publisher in Wisconsin for an international anthology! I had been invited last November to submit some poems. More about that at a later date. Thank goodness my portrait shown below had already been hung in the National Vallery otherwise I’d need to go for a more pretentious look. In fact I had a terrible time taking the selfie this morning while everyone was still asleep. I didn’t want anyone to see and think that vanity was a motivation. My right hand is on the computer mouse to press the button. What a relief I had a post-lockdown haircut yesterday. But enough about me – here’s more about me!

Famous Quotations by Cloven Ruminant
whose portrait hangs in the National Vallery

I don’t know fancy names for coffee. Just give me the stuff with the fluff on. – Café Play (1998)

It’s a great mystery – how we pass by. It’s sort of… meaningless. – River Songs (1994)

I just killed what would have become the ancestor of the first intelligent moth. – Here Legends Lie (1993)

There was no need for you to tell me that what I was doing was a waste of time. I have to do something. – Voyage in a Boat (1989)

A real man does shrimp cocktails and garlic bread. No, no. Not my Arnold. Over done. Over boiled. – Deep End (1992)

So you’ll be sitting on the veranda in the still of the evening will you, barely changed from your wedding gown, and be admiring each other’s brains? – Cloud Mother (1990)

There’s a great silence before a funeral. As if heaven waits to let them in. – Sheer Silence (1999)

Just because I say I want two budgerigars doesn’t mean to say I want two blue ones. – Café Play (1998)

It was a satire – like “King Lear”. – Zachustra (1993)

I’ll not be sitting here day after day taking all this muck from two tarts when you could be up in the rigging swinging with a sailor and doing whatever it is your profession demands. – Cloud Mother (1990)

It’s all very well for Thingy in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to fall in love with Who-dacky by taking a bit of stuff but with… you think I’m wandering don’t you? – Um (1997)

There’s so little we know. About what goes on. It’s best to be guilty. – The Chimney (1996)

All straight lines in the universe are human lines – have you noticed? – and I can’t stay on a straight line. Straight lines are perfection, and I can’t be perfect. I can’t. – Secundus (1992)

I don’t want a happy marriage. I want a tragic marriage. It’s very fashionable. – Fishbone in the Blancmange (1997)

Although he was computer savvy, he died drunk, unhappy, friendless, twisted and embittered. – Weave a Web Blog (2020)not from a play but I thought I’d throw it in because it’s rather amazing to discover that it’s more than 20 years since I wrote a play. The “quotation” is not biographical!

Thanks for reading. There’s over 60 plays (I think) if anyone these days ever wants to do one!

 

1795. Future classroom dialogue – c. 2162 CE

Student: Excuse me Miss. Do we really have to study this?

Ms. Honeybun: Yes, Zenith. It’s written by a great writer. It will stretch your imagination. It will open your eyes to possibilities.

Student: But we have already studied his novel and poems, and now we’re expected to study his short stories. Why can’t we study someone interesting, like Shakespeare or Emily Bronte or Thorkel X. Kaftan. (Note: Thorkel X. Kaftan didn’t appear on the literary scene until around 2098 CE).

Ms. Honeybun: Shakespeare is so very yesterday and greatly overrated. In my opinion we are studying the greatest writer since Euripides.

Student: But Euripides wrote plays. This stupid idiot didn’t write plays.

Ms. Honeybun: He’s not a stupid idiot, Zenith. And oh yes, he did write plays. His plays are the next thing on the syllabus we will be studying.

Student: I hate having things shoved down my throat.

Ms. Honeybun: When you are older you will thank me for having so forcibly introduced you to this lustrous author. Euripides and Bruce Goodman are undoubtedly the two greatest writers in the history of the world.

Second Student: Speaking on behalf of the rest of the class, we simply adore what you are teaching us, Miss Honeybun.

Ms. Honeybun: Thank you, Echinacea. I’m glad most of the class recognize greatness when they see it. Now could you please all turn to Story 1795: Future classroom dialogue.

Footnote: See the links at the top of the blog page!

1774. The Perfect Book Tag

Imagine my excitement in having just returned from taking the dog for an extended walk (and in the process collected a bucketful of wild mushrooms) to discover that someone has challenged me to complete The Perfect Book Tag (even though I’m a free spirit and not taggable). That someone blogs at Dumbest Blog Ever; a blog that is self-described as Stu(pidity) on Stareoids. The postings range from the erudite to the enjoyably stupid, from the sublime to the cor blimey. The blog is well worth the visit (I reckon).

This posting sees a departure from the daily story, and is a bit longer than usual. Of course nothing is perfect, not even myself when I was eleven, but these are some literary works I have enjoyed over the years.

Some snippets of these reflections you may have heard before. I’m not averse to repeating myself. I’m not averse to repeating myself. I hope the selection (which borders on the classic and boring) doesn’t show me up to being a tedious snob. I’m not averse to repeating myself.

The Pretty Good Genre
A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor

This is the title of O’Connor’s collection of short stories, and contains the best short story ever written – also entitled A Good Man is Hard to Find. Even though you know from the start what’s going to happen your hair stands on end as it happens. The writing is both funny and horrifying. I’ve always been a fan of Flannery O’Connor and a big fan of the short story genre.

“She looked at nice young men as if she could smell their stupidity.”

The Perfect Setting
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange and the Yorkshire Moors are the perfect setting for this extraordinary novel – which surprisingly a lot of people haven’t read. The plot IS the setting. The setting IS the characters. The setting IS the theme. Everything in this novel is integrated into the one thing. Perfectly constructed. I guess I’ve read it maybe 50 times or so.

“I said his heaven would be only half alive; and he said mine would be drunk.”

The Pretty Good Main Character
The Book of Thel by William Blake

Thel is the character in this longish poem by Blake. She is too afraid to come into existence, because that begins the journey towards death. Thel is ephemeral.

Ah! Thel is like a watry bow, and like a parting cloud,
Like a reflection in a glass, like shadows in the water,
Like dreams of infants, like a smile upon an infant’s face,
Like the doves voice, like transient day, like music in the air.

The Pretty Good Best Friend
A Certain Age by Cynthia Jobin

Many readers will be familiar with the poetry of the late Cynthia Jobin. She took a keen and positive interest in so many bloggers and posted her brilliant poetry on her blog. Her final poem Night Draws Near, Brother Ass is heart-rending. I was unaware she had died when I received in the mail from her a collection of poems by William Stafford called Even in Quiet Places.

Let me down easy
the way hints of winter
fall exquisitely today
scattering icy lacy flowers
from a cloud bouquet

The Pretty Good Love Interest
Clarissa by Samuel Richardson

I’m not heavily into love stories, although I have read a great number of novels by Danielle Steel and enjoyed every bit of them. Shhh! But I chose Richardson’s Clarissa because it’s one of the earliest books written in English and I got through the hundreds of pages of love letters never once being able to work out if “they were doing it”. It was all insinuation. Clarissa Harlowe is abducted by Robert Lovelace. That was the gist of it, and I found it pretty riveting really. Besides, I had to read it for exams at university.

“Love gratified, is love satisfied — and love satisfied, is indifference begun.”

The Pretty Good Villain
Richard III by William Shakespeare

I know it’s predictable but it’s inevitable. Richard III is one of my favourite plays. That horrid movie with Ian McKellen missed the point because the film omitted Queen Margaret’s great cursing scene. Each curse comes true, bit by bit.

Thou elvish-mark’d, abortive, rooting hog!
Thou that wast seal’d in thy nativity
The slave of nature and the son of hell!
Thou slander of thy mother’s heavy womb!
Thou loathed issue of thy father’s loins!
Thou rag of honour! thou detested—

The Pretty Good Family
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

My sisters adored this novel in my childhood. Once I grew up I was old enough to be seen reading it. When I studied in Boston, USA, I would go to Walden Pond in New Hampshire. The Alcotts, Hawthorne, and Thoreau lived within walking distance from one another. It must’ve been something in the water.“I’d rather take coffee than compliments just now.”

The Pretty Good Animal
The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck by Beatrix Potter

I loved this story as a kid – and still do. I think it was because Jemima wanted to hatch out baby ducklings and I kept ducks as a kid and was forever hatching out babies. I didn’t mind the fox in the story because in New Zealand we don’t have foxes. There is something quite magical about a bird’s egg!

“Quack?“ said Jemima Puddle-Duck, with her head and her bonnet
on one side.

The Pretty Good Plot Twist
The Leader by Eugene Ionesco

This short ten minute play by Ionesco is one of my favourites. Mind you, all of Ionesco plays are my favourites! The leader off stage is watched by fans on stage. They go ape-shit over him/her. They go goo-gar. “He’s patting a pet hedgehog! He spits a tremendous distance.” (Incidentally, the actor who said those lines in a production I once directed became the Prime Minister of New Zealand in reality!) When the leader does appear at the end he/she is headless. “Who needs a head when you’ve got charisma?” Ionesco used to write to me but his letters stopped once he died. Strange.

“Shut up! Shut up! You’re ruining everything”

The Pretty Good Trope
Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame

Janet Frame was a New Zealand novelist and this was her first novel. It tells the story of a women with mental problems, who gets shut away in a mental hospital and watches the mountains through the keyhole in her cell. (The story is a lot better than that). Throughout the novel, Frame creates associations with images, so at the end of the novel she only has to mention all these jolly images and you burst into tears! (At least I did).

“She grew more and more silent about what really mattered. She curled inside herself like one of those … little shellfish you see on the beach, and you touch them, and they go inside and don’t come out.”

The Pretty Good Cover
A Guide to Folk Tales in the English Language by D.L. Ashliman

I bought this book for about $250 around 25 years ago. It has a summary of 2,335 folk tales. Back then I earned a living writing for children to perform on stage so such a book came in handy! I don’t care too much about covers, although for a novel I don’t appreciate an artist showing me what a character should look like. That’s the writer’s task. It’s why I’ve never seen any of The Lord of the Rings movies – they ruin the imagination. I like this cover. It’s plain, and in another life I learnt the skills of a book binder and could create plain covers like this!

The Pretty Good Ending
The Playboy of the Western World by John Millington Synge

I think this is my favourite all-time play (at least for today). At the end Pegeen Mike whispers: “Oh my grief, I’ve lost him surely. I’ve lost the only Playboy of the Western World.”

“… it’s great luck and company I’ve won me in the end of time – two fine women fighting for the likes of me – till I’m thinking this night wasn’t I a foolish fellow not to kill my father in the years gone by.”

Thanks for reading!

How to… 1: Writing for children to perform on stage

I thought I’d start a new category (for myself) on this blog. Basically it’s called “How”. What it amounts to is not a great deal, but over the past seventy years or so I’ve done the occasional thing and possibly learnt something from the experience.

Writing down these things is probably more for myself reflecting on life than wishing to pass on potentially useless information. Anyway, here goes… Today’s “How” is about writing for children to perform on stage.

I don’t know how many children’s plays and musicals I’ve written over the years – thirty or forty maybe. I’ve also directed quite a few productions. The biggest cast had 1500 children; the smallest cast was 8. So here’s my thoughts in the order they come into my head:

1. Who is the audience? If you write a children’s book the audience is primarily children. It frequently is read aloud by an adult, but basically the writing is for children either reading themselves or being read to. When it comes to writing for the stage, it’s the opposite: you’re writing to entertain adults. Children perform for their parents and grandparents and aunties and uncles. Sure, there are siblings in the audience, but if Mum and Dad are bored so are the kids. If Grandma and Grandpa are laughing hysterically so are the kids in the audience. So here, you’re writing a double-pronged fork: children on stage must perform with an understanding on one level, and adults must be entertained with understanding on another level.

It’s not really as highfaluting as it sounds. An example: the very plain fir tree and the poinsettia are sad because they don’t have pretty flowers like many of the other plants. The fir tree cries, and the poinsettia sings “My heart bleeds for my best friend, red, red.” Children in the audience see a Christmas tree being decorated and the poinsettia turning red (the adults see it too) but the adults better relate to the feelings of rejection portrayed by the fir and poinsettia. While the children are going WOW! the adults are dabbing their eyes. In short, write for the audience not for the performers.

2. Your play is not going to make it big on Broadway or West End. In all likelihood it’s not going to be given a slot at the Sydney Opera House or in Milan. So stop hoping it will. Next time you attend a children’s concert take a peek at the audience. Jesus can be rising from the dead centre stage and Hiroshima can be bombed on stage right. All cameras and phones will be pointed at Betsy in the third line of the chorus or Johnny in the second row. Parents have come to see their kid on stage, not to be gobsmacked by a production of Phantom of the Opera.

So – put every kid on stage and LEAVE THEM THERE. I (nearly always) put bleaches up on both sides of the stage. Children can go up and down onto the stage as required. Or stand and sing where they are. The only thing to practise avoiding is long waits while children move about. Work it so that they will appear almost instantaneously without upstaging while getting into position.

This idea of having everyone on bleaches does away with teaches backstage saying “Shh children! Shh children!” There’s no one out the back, except for a couple of stage hands.

3. No one cares if the teachers are sitting with their students on stage, especially with the littlest children. If the youngest children have to dance around dressed as snowflakes then why not have their teacher in a snowflake hat directing their arm-waving and skipping and singing?

4. If there are songs, solos are of course sung solo, but when it comes to a particular chorus on stage there’s no reason why everyone in the bleaches can’t be singing along too. Besides, if there’s a chorus say of hens and roosters, it’s a lot easier for them to mess around and scratch with their masks on if they don’t have to worry too much about singing.

5. Regarding the learning of songs… Many a time have I been invited to a school to “introduce” their musical; “and while you’re here could you teach them the songs”. I never minded that. But what always got to me were the teachers who thought the first run-through should produce a finished product. “We’ll just run through that again children.” And again. And again…

I used to teach a song line by line, put the lines altogether, and move on to the next song. They would basically know all the songs and words after a good night’s sleep when they came back to school in the morning!

6. Regarding leads and soloists. Turn single characters into a bunch of people. For example, instead of one wise sage have a chorus of ten. They can all wear long beards. Working as a group increases confidence.

I am older than time
Wiser than the wind
Colder than the winter snow.

If you’re writing for a group, write with a rhythm. It doesn’t have to be rap – in fact that could become monotonous. Short sentences recited rhythmically are a lot more decipherable for the audience than long complex sentences. Besides – a chorus of ten wise sages with long beards is much more fun than a single sage!

7. Nothing bores an audience more than being too long. In fact, the shorter the better. If it’s good they’ll want more; if it’s bad they’ll be relieved. Be short. Twenty to forty minutes is fine.

8. Stick them in a costume. Teens might be more comfy in their street gear, but younger kids like to dress up. Ten old bedsheets with holes cut into them will cover maybe fifty snowflakes. Kids are generally not experienced enough to play naturalistically, that is, to play themselves. They’re much better at acting at being something else. Dress them up and have them play dragons.

9. Accommodate to let teachers use the talents available – maybe (if you’re lucky) there’ll be one good singer amongst the students, or the school has a Taiwanese Club so have a Taiwanese dance, or rappers, or…

10. Remember as a playwright that you’re the dregs in the process. The teachers and performers will receive all the accolades. They’re so excited about what they’ve done. Your name will more often than not NOT appear on the programme. Sometimes, you might get some money – but usually not. Teachers are the biggest photocopying-breaking-copyright people in town. You are nothing in the process – although teachers will be very quick to point out improvements to your script and even condemn it outright. I had one teacher screw up the script and throw it at me as “Utter rubbish” and then use it as her own!

11. Workshopping from ideas. Again, cynically, but it’s generally true… Time and time again people will say, “I suppose you workshopped these ideas with the students and incorporated their ideas into the play”. And of course you’ll say, “Oh yes!” But the truth is that generally speaking they don’t have a great many ideas, and most of them are really boring. The aim is to let them think that they thought it up. So they think it’s their play, and you’re really grateful for all they’ve contributed. A great friend of mine – sadly deceased – was masterful at “workshopping”. She was so successful with her youth plays that when she died the city named their main theatre after her!

12. Music. Don’t presume that young people like one particular type of music and nothing else. I had a group of wonderful fourteen year old boys who were fabulous break-dancers. They were in a play about endangered species. I said “Come back with music you’d like to dance to.” They came back with extracts from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé! It’s the only time I’ve had a twenty minute standing ovation!

13. Themes. Don’t ram ideas down the audience’s throat. I know we should be Green, and not drink and drive, and wear a permanent condom, and all that – but the audience are there to be entertained not preached at. I find it the strangest question in literature class: what is the moral of this novel? Oh for goodness sake! I read the novel because of the story. So don’t preach; tell a rollicking yarn.

Well now, I’ve gone on for long enough. These are just haphazard general thoughts. Maybe, if this verbal diarrhoea is appreciated I’ll give some more pointers about things further down the track. In the meantime, all I’ve been trying to say is, when writing for children on stage, try not to be a pretentious arsehole or a boring old fart. The school play is simply a thing for kids to do for their parents.

1129. True recognition at last!

Stanislaus had heard (why do people keep things so close to their chest?) that he had been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. With fifteen plays under his belt, four novels, and over three hundred poems he thought it wasn’t before time! And surely he stood a chance.

To be truthful he had already prepared his acceptance speech. It was full of witticism and wise adages. It was quite critical in parts, especially of publishers. He’d never been able to find one who would accept him for publication.

240. Tired of the drama of life

240drama

Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth I, was tired of the drama of life. So much blood, so much murder, so much intrigue. It was blasé. Such tragedy had become humdrum.

She wanted a bit of lightness, a bit of fun, a bit of comedy. She penned a letter* to a dear friend:

Dear William,

I fear very much the approach of death. I know you have quite a few plays in your possession already written and yet to be performed and published; some quite horrid and tragic, such as King Lear, Macbeth and Coriolanus.

However, I enclose two further play scripts, my final ones I believe, called The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest. They’re more light-hearted. I’d be happy if you added these to the list of my plays to be performed and published under your name.

I remain,

240dramab

P.S. Don’t let that aberration, Frankie Bacon, get hold of them. The guy’s already tried to pass off some of the scripts as his own. He’s the only one who knows about us. I’m recommending a knighthood for him, to shut him up.

* The Elizabethan syntax and vocab of the letter have been “translated” in order to enhance the ease by which a modern reader can quickly scan.