Monthly Archives: November 2016
So I’m still writing the Creepy Play. This play remains without title for now, though in my earliest notes, it was code-named Southern Ontario Gothic. I feel like I had a good title in that hazy darkness between wake and sleep last night, but it’s gone this morning.
Anyway, we’re at the point where Act II shatters into Act III. Everything is The Worst for our characters, and there’s maybe 25% of the script left to go. It’s a Point of No Return: structurally, but also writing-wise.
See, I’ve noticed something with my long-form fiction. There’s always a point where the story ceases to be optional. You sit there, typing, and suddenly you know—just know in the deepest level of your gut—that you’re going to finish today, tomorrow, in the immediate future. There’s no longer a choice about it. The story has to come out.
It’s not a happy feeling, exactly. Nor is it a negative one. It’s just grimly determined. I ran cross-country as a kid, and it reminds me of the 75% mark of a race. You’re exhausted. Your legs hurt. Breath burns up your throat.
But you know the finish line is close, so you keep going. No matter how tired, you couldn’t stop even if you wanted to. The feeling mirrors the one near the start of a long piece—the feeling when you know, instinctively, that the story’s survived the awkward beginning and that tender little shoot isn’t going to wither after all.
The more I write, the more I notice these instinctive reactions. This story’s going to survive. This one is broken too deep for me to fix. I’m going to finish this play today or tomorrow.
Experience, I guess, just as a runner learns to listen to their own body.
That’s really all for now. I’m tired. My legs hurt. Breath’s burning up the back of my throat as our characters struggle and break and reveal who they really are.
But the finish line is close. I couldn’t stop, even if I wanted to.
What I’m Listening to This Week
The first movement of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater is one of my favourites. It was written for soprano and alto, but there’s a staggeringly beautiful version done solely by strings. After some digging, I found it.
So much of the heartbreak is in the grace notes: it’s the voice cracking, the heart stuttering. And throughout—listen to the bass line, the relentless broken chords. It’s another heartbeat, a pulse driving us inexorably to the end.
I was all ready to write a post about T.S. Eliot and a particularly evocative line of his, but then this happened:
At the very least, you’ve probably heard about this. Mike Pence attended a performance of Hamilton. He was booed. Following the show, the cast made the following statement:
“We, sir — we — are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights. We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”
By any objective standard, it’s a measured, civil statement. Pence said he “wasn’t offended.” But of course, this happened:
So here’s the thing. The theatre is not—never has been—ought not to be—a safe space. Naturally, we need to talk about what we mean by “safe space.” The theatre ought to be a safe space in that it contains sufficient fire exits and Ministry of Labour-approved standards of workplace safety. The theatre ought to be a safe space in that it
….is a place where anyone can relax and be able to fully express, without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or unsafe on account of biological sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background, religious affiliation, age, or physical or mental ability. (Advocates for Youth)
But that, pals, is just common decency and courtesy.
A theatre ought not to be a safe space in that it is a space free from dissent, protest, and conflicting viewpoints. Drama, lest we forget, is founded on conflict. Not just conflict within the plot and characters of a piece, either. Theatre has always served—as one of its many functions—as a forum for the oppressed, the marginalized, the voiceless, and the Other.
Dissecting the history of politics-in-theatre would take a book, not a blog post, but I’ll point to Augusto Boal’s “Theatre of the Oppressed” (theatre as means of promoting social/political change), Bertolt Brecht and epic theatre (political theatre aimed at commenting on/changing social processes), Athenian satire plays (aimed at commenting on/changing the Athenian democracy), and even theatre-in-education (while generally not overtly political, TIE encourages students to form, test, and evaluate their own opinions on various subjects…by using theatre techniques to assist in reaching educational goals).
Do you notice any themes here?
Theatre as agent of change. Theatre as commentator. Theatre as means of education. This is what good theatre does. This is what good art does. And this is why the arts are not—will never be—ought never be—safe. Good theatre does not only entertain. Good theatre provokes. Good theatre forces reconsideration and re-evaluation of deeply held beliefs. Good theatre provides a space in which to empathize with the Other.
And I know I’m probably preaching to the choir here. Theatre is a commentator and change agent. What else is new?
What’s new is that this may not seem so self-evident in years to come. And that’s why it is important to speak out about it—so that we don’t lose sight of what theatre does. Have you ever noticed, autocrats tend to go for artists early on? This is why. Art pushes back; it always has. What’s more, it is damn good at commenting and fostering change—because art makes the makes the Other familiar; and the familiar, Other. When the Other isn’t the Other anymore—when they’re human, when there’s common ground—it becomes a lot harder to oppress them.
Granted, there has been some debate about whether it was appropriate for the cast to address Pence. Honestly, I’m not sure they could have avoided doing so. Every incarnation of art is a product of its time, and Hamilton is perhaps more so than most. In this particular political climate, this particular play would have completely undermined its own thesis by keeping silent. Hamilton is the “Other” America—the America that did not vote for Trump. Pence, of course, is free to see whatever shows he likes, but we all understand, “Ev’ry action has its equal, opposite reaction.”
So yes, it was appropriate. It was respectful. It was not harassment. But nor was it a particularly safe move. It was something far more—it was brave.
We’re going to need more of that sort of bravery in the years ahead. May we all have the courage to speak out and provoke. May we all have the courage to not be safe.
What I’m Listening to This Week
Oh, I should probably put a Hamilton song in solidarity, but that’s not what I was listening to this week. It’s a little early, but bring on the Christmas music. This week, it was Pearsall’s arrangement of “In Dulci Jubilo.” It’s a macaronic piece, which means it throws together Latin and English willy-nilly. It’s also rather heartbreaking in the final verse, yearning, “Oh, that we were there!”
I am walking through my village
Drinking a hot chocolate –
Quickly, because it’s spilling over the sides,
Cresting with each crunch
And rasp of leaves underfoot.
It is – in truth – a little watery,
Tasting of rinsed-out Thermoses
And ice-skating arenas.
But it was given to me in kindness,
And this sweetens it,
And as I walk through my village,
Drinking my hot chocolate,
Geese wing through weakening sunlight,
And my throat goes tickled, tight:
An early foretaste of
My annual laryngitis.
All signs suggest
A long, hard winter ahead.
But for now,
I am walking through my village,
Drinking a hot chocolate,
And it is sweet indeed.
Now that the dust has settled and the shock worn off, I’ve articulated a few thoughts about the travesty that is a Trump presidency.
Actually, I’d like to share a story. It may or may not fit into the neat structure of a personal essay, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about since Tuesday.
A few years ago, fantasy author Philippa Ballantine and I visited Mount Vernon: George Washington’s home, now a historic site. You can tour Washington’s house and grounds; watch a blacksmith making nails; chat with a wandering Ben Franklin. There’s also a more traditional museum stuffed with multimedia exhibits, displays, and artifacts. Fairly standard set-up.
It was so bizarre.
The museum’s narrative makes Washington a god forging his country from the fires of British oppression. As we watched mini-films about the “enemy British” and gazed at reconstructions of the general’s face, Pip and I—New Zealander and Canadian—giggled a little nervously. In one gallery, a woman openly wept over Washington’s wooden teeth.
This is not my narrative, I remember thinking. I see what they’re doing, but I don’t share this.
The current state of affairs is not my narrative. However, I do share this. Wednesday evening, I commented to author Lauren Harris, “It feels like someone’s died.”
“It feels,” she said, “like the day after a national disaster.”
And that was it. That was it, exactly—the same mix of helpless grief, and grim determination, and need to reach out and make sure everyone was Okay. Strong emotions, and they honestly took me by surprise. After all, I’m not American. I am fiercely, proudly Canadian. Every bio reminds the world of this fact: “KT Bryski is a Canadian author and playwright…”
Holy frak, I have a lot of American friends of every kind. The effects of a Trump presidency hit them a lot harder and a lot quicker than they do me. There are a lot of people I love who are very scared right now.
Beyond which, a racist, sexist man with a short temper sitting in the world’s most powerful office does not exactly fill me with confidence for the greater global community.
As a matter of pure moral principal, it simply isn’t right.
Cliché as it sounds, Hamilton has helped me understand the American psyche: a little brash, a little loud, a little arrogant, but passionately and utterly devoted to its ideals. Seeing this (you can skip to the 3:00 min mark)—
—stirred more sympathy and understanding than anything at Mount Vernon did.
But that’s what art does, isn’t it? It fosters connection, encourages empathy. It shows another world. And that is why I expect art—art that is beautiful, but above all, brave—will be so important in the years ahead.
There’s been a lot of Tweets thrown around, accusing the left of melodrama and hand-wringing. “It’ll be Okay,” they say. “He can’t do that much. It’s not the end of the world.”
I direct them here.
As to the specifics of American executive power—I don’t know them well enough to comment. I don’t know how much authority and/or autonomy the president really has. But I do know that he’s got a Republican senate and house, which tends to undermine the checks and balances built into the system.
But leaving aside the practicalities for a moment—
This is a man who has gloated about sexual abuse. He has picked needless, painful fights. He has threatened to deport Latinx en masse and bar Muslims from entry. He is a bully.
And the United States awarded him the top job.
What sort of message does that send? How does that not legitimize sexism, racism, homophobia, religious intolerance?
We’ve not even touched on the economy yet. I’ll admit: I expected the dollar to tank. I thought we might be exchanging at par in the foreseeable future. I didn’t realize the loonie would sink first—at time of writing, we’re trading at $0.74 USD.
It makes cross-border travel harder. A collapsing economy hits freelancers hard.
But that’s just my knee-jerk survival mode reaction, since most of my business is with American publishers/readers. Breathing, stepping back, thinking about others—a collapsing economy hits freelancers hard. Especially freelancers who have just lost their health care (if the ACA vanishes, as is likely). Again: many people are very scared right now, with good reason.
Breathing, stepping further back—you thought 2008 was bad? You know, the recession that kicked an entire generation in the knees? The one that triggered a housing and banking crisis?
When 9/11 happened, I was ten years old: old enough to realize that the world had irrevocably changed, young enough that I fretted about my dad being sent to war, à la Mulan.
We went to Disney World shortly thereafter. And you know what? I was scared in the airport. Nervous until we passed through Disney’s gates. All my life, I’d been told that the United States was our friend—and suddenly, it didn’t feel like a safe country.
This is the first time since 9/11 that I’ve been legitimately nervous about travelling through the States. I do not intend to be in the country around December 19th (when the Electoral College passes their votes) or January 20th (Inauguration Day). Any travel plans not currently locked down for 2017 are being suspended; I anticipate reduced travel in 2018.
The United States is our friend. Suddenly, it doesn’t feel like a safe country.
So what can you do to feel safe?
Reach out. Ask if people are Okay. Listen. Stand up.
In some ways, it feels like the beginning of a resistance movement. Wherever I look, I see people girding themselves, getting ready. Digging in, fortifying their trenches.
It makes me nervous, of course. But as my friend Dave Robison has been posting:
I have a message for the NSA, the Bots, the Web Spiders, the Social Media filters, and all the other techno-sniffers that troll people’s feeds for information.
Let me lay this out for you and save you some demographic algorithms…
I am Pro Choice
I am Pro LGBTQIA+
I am Pro Women’s Rights
I am Pro Reglious Freedom for ALL religions
I am Pro Arts
I am also…
No matter who you are—if you feel unsafe, #IllGoWithYou.
I will also make art. Because that is what I do.
I spent six months in New Zealand a fear years ago. While there are many, many similarities, I did feel some culture shock and a lot of homesickness. It was always wonderful to run across another Canadian: we didn’t have to explain. We just got each other.
While backpacking alone, Americans made me genuinely, desperately happy for much the same reasons. Two different countries, two different cultures—but definitely a common understanding.
I’m glad to have that understanding now.
What I’m Listening to This Week
A while back, a friend sent me a link to this post: a ridiculous and then all-too-real look at a day in the writer’s life. I laughed, because it was true. Then I laughed, because if I didn’t, I might cry. And I thought – what does my day look like?
Around the same time, I realized I’d be adapting Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen into a 15-minute Christmas Pantomime in a very short, concentrated burst. “What better day to examine?” quoth I. “I shall document writing this script!”
And so I did. Here is an admittedly-not-wholly-typical day for me: in which I wrote The Snow Queen in a day.
9:22 am. Awaken, as Guinness has decided that enough is enough and he would really like breakfast. Since I was only up until 1 am or so, I feel slightly groggy, but mostly rested.
10:16 am. After coffee, Cheerios, shower, and dealing with cat, I am ready to start researching The Snow Queen. First up, an English translation of Hans Christian Anderson’s original, downloaded to Kindle.
10:37 am. Realize that when Blythe gave me a synopsis of the story on the bus, she neglected to mention the Crow that randomly sends Gerda on a wild goose chase. At the end of the story, he’s DEAD. And no one cares all that much. WTF kind of story is this?!
His tame sweetheart is a widow, and wears a bit of black worsted round her leg; she laments most piteously, but it’s all mere talk and stuff!
10:55 am. Read another translation, just to make sure the nuances are consistent. Crow still snuffs it.
11:16 am. Turn my attention to the Shelley Duvall “Faerie Tale Theatre” adaptation. It is eighties-tastic.
11:46 am. Knowing that Blythe grew up with this series explains a few things about her.
11:58 am. I would make a GREAT Robber Girl. Don’t tell me otherwise.
12:03 pm. Well, that’s creepy as f***.
12:27 pm. Lunch of grilled cheese and corn chips, because I’m seven.
1:21 pm. Back to it with another eighties-tastic adaptation…
1:36 pm. Sigourney Weaver does ALL the voices in this. The characters’ lips don’t even move. It’s like an audiobook with accompanying pictures. I guess that’s ONE way to cut costs. That said, she has a very versatile voice. Start pondering what audio roles I would write for her.
2:02 pm. Pull out whiteboard. Assemble a skeletal plot. Tally up characters. Request final instructions from project lead before writing starts.
2:16 pm. Attend to dayjob costumes, because EVERYTHING is getting washed this weekend.
3:52 pm. Still waiting. Gripped by sudden anxiety regarding garret’s cleanliness (or lack thereof). Clean furiously. Admire new Pine-Sol floor cleaner. I can indeed both see AND smell a difference!
5:27 pm. Writing will begin post-dinner: pasta, rapini, tomatoes, and mussels. I like these sorts of meals because it looks like something an adult might eat, but takes like, 15 minutes to make.
6:02 pm. Sit at desk. How the f*** long is this meant to be, anyway? How long was the other pantomime I wrote?
6:16 pm. Frolic about on Twitter.
6:31 pm. OKAY WE’RE STARTING NOW.
6:35 pm. Stare at screen. Realize I have no idea how to start. And I only have ten pages, tops. Softly mutter, “Tabarnac.”
6:36 pm. Frolic about on Twitter.
7:01 pm. It’s okay, it’s okay, we can do this. Make it through an excruciating first page. Then I find my rhythm. Writing feels a bit like building a house of cards: it’s taking shape, you’ve got the groove, it’s great – and it also feels like it’s a breath away from collapsing around your ears.
7:22 pm. Can I make a reference to every song on the Frozen soundtrack? Only one way to find out.
8:46 pm. Audio break, because I realize I forgot to send Lauren our Words of a Feather audio.
9:11 pm. Back to the script. It’s either fine or dreadful. I’m not sure which, but we’ll keep going.
10:07 pm. AHAHAHA I HAVE FINISHED. ALL SHALL LOVE ME AND DESPAIR.
10:08 pm. Text Blythe.
10:19 pm. Internet woes. Call Bell and express my displeasure again. While waiting, quickly scan script and fix most egregiously bad prose. Decide that it’s pretty good for a first bash-through.
10:54 pm. Finally manage to send script off.
11:16 pm. “Katie this is fabulous!”
11:17 pm. Accept praise. Mentally start making edits. (Gerda should possibly not say, “Really?” three times in a row.)
11:30 pm. Frolic about on Twitter.
11:47 pm. Sleep.
And that’s how I wrote a treatment of The Snow Queen in a day. Again, my writing days don’t always look like this. Perhaps in the off-season, we’ll try this again… 😉
What I’m Listening To This Week
This piece floated through my head this week – appropriate enough for Remembrance Day on Friday, I suppose. It’s a lovely choral setting of Christina Rossetti’s poem, “Remember.” Pieces like this really should be treated like monologues: there’s a dramatic arc, intention, a goal and change. This choir gets that across pretty well – particularly in the rising urgency around 1:25.