Tag Archive: Writing

Jan 26

Weird Place for A Writer

(photo in this post courtesy of Nema Photographie)

 

I’m writing this long-overdue blog update while I should be writing content for By the Hour, my upcoming show—my VERY upcoming show, that opens in just a few weeks (Feb 12 – 14). Why I’m not: because more than any other show I’ve worked on, it’s hard.Photo by Nema Photographie

 

So, first, we’re developing the show in rehearsal, so it’s not just about pounding out a script. Not that I haven’t done this before, under similar time pressure, but here’s the rub: the show is supposed to be accessible to both Japanese and English speakers, without the use of subtitles. And the subject of the show (sex workers in Yokohama) is a talky-ass subject. Our research is not very deep at all, and there’s still pages and pages I could write, without being preachy or anything… but I don’t want to create that show. Not just because that’s not what I’ve promised to deliver to audiences at the TPAM showcase, but because I really want to do something different with this piece.

 

I have to be cognisant as well of the fact that a lot of what I write is going to have to be translated into Japanese by my co-creator Naoe Kawamoto. So again, trying to keep the words to a minimum. It’s an enormous challenge.

 

So yes, I should be writing the play RIGHT NOW as I sit on the local train to Kamiooka station, but I think I instead needed to type out this post to clear my thoughts on the matter. Not sure if it worked, but I’m now itching to write, which is a good sign.

 

(If you want  to support the show, please buy a ticket at http://ytg.jp or, if you’re not able to attend the show, because you don’t live in Japan or something, head over to https://patreon.com/ytg and pledge to support my theatre company.)

Jul 14

A Lot on the Plate

Wow. It’s been more than a month since my last posting—I’ve got a lot to catch up on.

 

A lot on my plate.

The main thing that was taking up my concentration was a book chapter that I was asked to write by ASIOS about the coverage of the 3/11 quake and the Fukushima nuclear crisis by the international media. Feeling confident in myself, I said “sure”.

 

Truth be told, I’m not much of a writer. I can bang a few words out here and there, but I have a very idiosyncratic style and I doubt I’d be able to make a living as a freelance writer for that reason. You’re reading my blog; you know what I’m talking about. What’s up with all the semi-colons and bracketed stuff I can’t jam in where it belongs?

 

Something else I’ve rediscovered (forgotten since my University days—damn! brackets!) is that I am weak at structure. One of my biggest struggles was figuring out how to structure my chapter and tie it all together. I guess a normal person would have put a structure together, done the research, and cobbled together an outline before sitting down to write the meat. But me? Hell no. I sit down and start typing, flying by the seat of my pants, researching as I go, having to change direction as I discover new information. I get bogged down in detail while researching, as I find stuff that I can’t put into the piece because, while fascinating, it’s incomplete.

 

I don’t like to admit this, but my brain hurts when I try to write like that. I got great grades on my essays in University, but I swear it wasn’t because they were good; I think it’s just because everyone else was worse.

In a Shakespeare class I was taking, a girl was complaining about the grade she got from our T.A.  I asked to look at her essay, and the very first sentence had so many grammatical and spelling errors in it, I wasn’t actually sure what it meant. Her first paragraph was incomprehensible. I am not exaggerating for effect. She was complaining about getting a ‘C-’.  I told her: “A ‘C-’ is a pass. Take it.”

 

“What?” she said, ripping it back out of my hands.

 

I tried to be gentle: “Look, you should have proofread it more carefully. You’ve got a lot of spelling and grammar—“

 

“He can only take 5% off for spelling and grammar,” she said, citing a very famous rule that students made up.

 

She didn’t listen to my advice and submitted it to the professor for re-grading, and ended up with a ‘B-‘.

 

That should tell you something about standards and how my decent grades on essays did not mean I could write. It meant I could put a sentence together without drooling all over myself.

 

That why I mostly write plays.  Plays and poetry.  Much less of the latter since moving to Japan, though.

 

Plays are great. My tactic is to write scenes as the ideas come. After a while I sit back and look at what I’ve got. At this point, a story has formed and I’ve got some kind of narrative. I know what happens to the characters. I then print out all the scenes I’ve got and spread them out on the living room floor (I guess tatami room floor now), finding some kind of order. Gaps show up. Story bits are missing. Information is missing. I write those down on a piece of paper and stick the paper where the scene would go.

 

Once I’ve got the order figured out, I write the missing material. This is usually the hardest part (second only to writing a whole new draft), but I can discipline-write, as long as the structure is there.

 

But that structure, man, in a straight piece of writing? That’s a doozy. I’m not used to that. I never wrote essay outlines because I found it easier to just bang ‘em out. But an essay? 800, 1000, maybe 2000 words, tops. This chapter? 10,000 words. I’ve learned my lesson.

 

But I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

 

In any case, I’m waiting to hear back from the translator. Since the book is being published in Japanese, I’m hoping that I can post some excerpts on here.

Jun 21

39 – Show Diaries – The Path to London

I will be cross-posting some of these at www.yokohama-theatre.com as well.

 

So, we opened 39 in London yesterday.  Where to start?  Well, the show was plagued by technical problems, which is always a risk with a tech heavy show like ours… but, like 39 himself, I’m getting ahead of myself.

 

Let me start with a brief rundown of the events that led up to yesterday’s opening:

 

Jan, Feb, March, 2010: Kimberly Tierney and I rehearsed three days a week, using various techniques to create the world of 39 along with some key scenes.  As the March 26th show date in Yokohama approached, we wrote a brief description of each scene on index cards and laid them out on my living room floor, trying to create an order that made sense.  Once that was done, I hunkered down at the computer for a few all night sessions of writing.  The scenes we’d created in rehearsal frequently had no dialogue, so while the shape of each scene was there, there was still a lot of filling-in to do.

 

The show was originally envisioned as a two-hander, with the second actor changing in each new iteration of the show.  Each new actor would play a different character, and would be rehearsed in with me, creating new scenes collaboratively.

 

We didn’t have a lot of time with Monique Van Kerkhof, our second actor in Yokohama, playing the role of Ms. Umqhat, so I simply had to write her scenes.

 

The Yokohama production was plagued by trouble with our venue.  Since I started doing shows with YTG, our primary rehearsal and performance space has been the Yokohama Country and Athletics Club (YCAC).  YTG has a long-standing relationship with them: we own a storage shed on club property which houses our costumes and properties, and they use our lighting equipment free of charge for their functions, among other things.  Sometimes their cooperation left something to be desired (and I daresay they’d say the same about us), it has always been a reasonable venue to rehearse and perform in.  The fact that it was free space, outweighed the inconveniences of working there (getting bumped from room to room, club members sticking their heads into rehearsal or assuming their kids could play basketball through our dress rehearsal, etc.)

 

The club had generously allowed us to use hours and hours of time in their facilities for our weekday rehearsals.  We had booked our performance space in December for March.

 

A few weeks before the show, we were told that our 14:30 Sunday matinee would have to be moved to accommodate a Kids Easter Egg hunt.  So we moved (and re-advertised, after losing significant time attempting to negotiate) the show for 16:30.  Then, a few days before we opened, we were told that our matinee was cancelled in favour of a table tennis master class.  We managed to negotiate a 19:30 start time, but by then our publicity campaign was already shot to hell.

 

On top of all of this, we were kicked out of our workspace in the gym where we were building our set several times, at least once for a group that phoned to make sure we were kicked out and then NEVER SHOWED UP, costing us valuable set-building time.

 

The staff of the YCAC was always very kind and courteous to us, and they found themselves in a lot of difficult positions with scheduling conflicts caused by the switch from paper to computerized room booking: that wasn’t so much the issue.  The problem was and remains that the YCAC is becoming busier, which is good for them, but means that they are no longer a reliable venue for us.

 

The upshot of this is that we opened with the set only partially done, did a reading of the show in a smaller room in the 14:30 Sunday slot, and finally, a fully mounted Sunday evening performance with a scaled-down set.

 

So, when the team sat down to plan the Canadian tour, we made a few decisions:

 

  • Simplify the set: a single screen on a single flat
  • Drop the second actor and the idea of the show being different in each Festival and re-write as a one-man show

 

So, I went back to the drawing board and re-wrote (which I had to do anyway to make the show 60 minutes instead of 90).  The original script used the scenes with Ms. Umqhat to handle the structure and fill in some of the narrative gaps, so I ended up creating a whole new structure by setting the play at a trial, where 39 is arguing both sides to a room of disinterested judges.

 

This took some time, as my personal life got extremely hectic for a while after we closed Yokohama.  By the time the show was ready to rehearse again, Kim was off to the U.S. to visit her family, so we only ended up getting in two days of rehearsals (and lots of writing notes: damn you, Kim!) before I left for Canada.

 

Canada: a whirlwind.  Arrival, massive rewrites, LOTS of production-related running around, fundraising, a little bit of rehearsal, more rewrites, some rehearsal, cutting the last scene of the play, and then: off to London!

 

We left Toronto at around 6:15 AM and, singing snippets of showtunes and avoiding weaving cube vans all the way, we managed to arrive in London at 8:30.  We tech’d the show from 9:00 to 12:00, ate, and then rehearsed the show in a churchyard, much to the amusement of the locals.

 

And then, petrified beyond belief, worried that I was going to blank on my lines and drop the whole play on its fat ass, I stepped onstage.