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I Have Never...

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Third Weekend Saturday 19th & Sunday 20th

As we are well into the structuring phase, I thought it would be a good idea to get some advice on story structure. This is why I decided to get involved with the weekend workshop run by Michael Stewart, Writer in Residence at TitM - 'Form Not Formula'. I've seen Michael's work on stage at the Mill a couple of times, and had always been impressed.

So, I turned up at The Mill at 9.45 Saturday, looking forward to someone else running an event rather than myself. The makeup of the group was quite different to my usual experience of Mill regulars. Here, I was in a different world, the world of writers. These were predominately middle-aged, with a couple of exceptions (myself being one).

The morning was initially theory. I was introduced to the following concepts:-

A) There are five basic story structures.

They are:-
1) Overcoming The Monster - Think Jaws, Beowulf, Godzilla
2) Rags To Riches - Think Cinderella, Pretty Woman, Rocky
3) The Quest - Think Holy Grail, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, (In fact, any Indiana Jones film...)
4) Voyage & Return - Think Jason & The Argonauts, Pinocchio, Star Trek
5) Rebirth - Think Sleeping Beauty, Snow White & The Seven Dwarves, The Resurrection...

Some stories encompass all these elements. For an example, look no further than Lord Of The Rings. Think about how each story structure appears within it.

B) You also need to decide if your structure is Comic or Tragic. This is defined by your ending. 'A tragedy is just comedy interrupted'. Equally, comedy is a tragedy that is resolved. Again, some stories encompass both elements and are 'tragicomic' (See One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest). I'd like to produce a play which has people in tears of both laughter and sadness...

C) Lastly, think about how you ramp up the tension. Satisfying Films/Plays tend to follow a 'Three Act' strategy.
a) Establish the situation.
b) Ramp up the tension.
c) Climax and Resolution.
I've paraphrased a bit, but you get the gist.

I'd never thought about stories in this structured way before. It interested me enormously, but I knew that I'd lost an element of innocence. From now on, I would be pigeon holing films I watched, books I read and plays I saw into these structures.

The group were then tasked with going into trios and working on a particular situation (a domestic location, where a mystery object comes through the door). This is close to Mike's heart at the mo' as he is developing a piece called 'The Cleaners', which has a similar intro. As I wanted to focus on I Have Never, I divided off, and thought about the stories I'd collected so far.

Having played it earlier in the process, I thought maybe I could use the game of consequences to help structure the story/scenes.
1) & 2) Who are the protagonists (2 Minimum)?
3) Where are they?
4) When are the scenes set?
5) Why is it of interest?
6),7) & 8) What was said (can include body language)? This should include a statement, a response and response to the response.
9) How does the situation pan out?

I reckon that I had 10 stories as follows (In no particular order, with ? denoting gaps that I needed to fill)...

STORY A - Swimming With Sharks - Endangered (DUNCAN)
1) Diver 2) Shark 3) The Ocean 4) ? 5) "I have never swum with sharks" 6) "Aaaahhh!" 7) Chomp! 8) "Ouch!" 9) ?

STORY B - The Return Home - Delighted (EMILY)
1) Daughter 2) Father 3) Home 4) After Guides 5) "My happiest moment is..." 6) "Hello?" 7) "I'm Back" 8) "I've Missed You" 9) Happily Ever After?

STORY C - Religious Differences - Converted (RAFAEL)
1) French Jew 2) American Muslim 3) Israel 4) On Holiday 5) "I Will Never Convert For Love" 6) "I Love You" 7) "Convert" 8) "I Can't" 9) They break up.

STORY D - Teenage Crush - Confronted (BECKY)
1) Teenage Boy/Girl? 2) Jonny Lee 3) School 4) PE Class 5) "I Wish I'd Never Told Anyone" 6) "She/he fancies you" 7) [Blushes] 8) Silence 9) She/he grows up.

STORY E - Racist Mum - Assaulted (SIDRAH)
1) Bradford Muslim 2) Bradford Chav Mum 3) Cinema 4) Evening Performance 5) "I Have Never Been Attacked Before" 6) [Smiles] 7) "I'll kill that f***ing Paki" 8) "Keep your hands off my sister" 9) Fight is broken up.

STORY F - Romantic Gesture - Revealed (CHRIS)
1) Romeo 2) Juliet 3) Juliet's 4) Midnight 5) "I Will Never Make Another Romantic Gesture"
6) "Plain Flour" 7) "Self-Raising Flour" 8) "Say It With Flours" 9) ?

STORY G - The Birthday Party - Surprised (LUCY)
1) Me 2) My Friends 3) ? 4) My Birthday 5) "I Have Never Had A Surprise Birthday Party" 6) "Surprise!" 7) "Oh!" 8) "Happy Birthday" 9) The Game Begins...

STORY H - Purgatory Chamber - Tortured (NICKI)
1) Victim/Terrorist 2) Abuser/American(?) 3) Abu Graib/Guantanamo Bay? 4) Now 5) "I Have Never Been Tortured" 6) "Help!" 7) [Silence] 8) "HELP!" 9) ?

STORY I - Ballroom Blitz - Danced (AMANDA)
1) Him 2) Her 3) Ballroom 4) Evening 5) "I Have Never Been Ballroom Dancing" 6) "Hello..." 7) "May I Have The Honour...?" 8) "Yes" 9) They Dance...

STORY J - Chicken Bone - Thieved (RIC)
1) Man 2) Dog 3) Park 4) Afternoon 5) "I Have Never Been Stolen From" 6) "Yum!" 7) "Woof!" 8) "Oi!" 9) Man Gets Chicken Back.

On speaking to Mike, he suggested that I should maintain the game structure, and ramp up the tension so that the "I Have Never"s got more and more risky until some sort of climax occurred and the situation resolved itself.

With this in mind, I plumped for the following order of Stories...

G D F I A E H C B

I dropped J.

Looking at the structure, I envisaged it as a story of love.

Friendship Love - Organising a Surprise Birthday Party
Infatuation Love - A Crush Unrecquited
Demonstrative Love - A love writ in bold
Reciprocated Love - The dance
First Flush of Love - Flying/Swimming with Sharks
Sibling Love - Defense of a sister
Tortured Love - When things go wrong
Broken Love - Refusal to convert leading to breakup
Reconciled Love/Parental Love - Returning to the family home.

This really excited me...

The trios reformed into a group, and did a show and tell. It intrigued me that all the stories they had produced were littered with tales of abuse, abortion, adoption and paedophilia. They didn't ring true with the world that I live in. They stank of soap operas and media fear. The only thing that interested me was that one group had decided the mystery object coming through the door was a balloon...

So, workshop over for the day, I sloped off to The Mill to see how preparations for the cabaret were going (Have I mentioned the cabaret - Good Grief Connie It's Amazing? I can't remember). I was due to compere as Ayrton Lingus, husband of Connie (think about it - yes, a truly bad pun). I practiced my song a couple of times, checked the running order and pieced together how I could form an 'over story' to tie all the acts together. Maybe I'll talk about that more another day.

Suffice to say, the cabaret proved to be a relative success. It was due to be 2 hours long, but ran for 3 instead. We raised £522. Or so. Then hot footed over to a gig at The Melborn Pub where Rent played 4 songs. Finally, wrapped up the evening with a curry and Richard W. Burton's 30th Birthday Celebrations at his place. Rolled into bed at 4.32am.

Sunday, it was a challenge getting up at 9am to go back to the writing workshop. My hair was all matted from the flour that I'd put in it to falsely age myself the night before (I'll be picking it out of my ears for days...).

Somehow made it on time for the 10am start. Satisfied with my structure for IHN, I decided to join the group who had come up with the ballon concept. This group was made up of Dave Jennings, Don Canivet & Raza (I didn't catch his surname). Over the period of the day, we took what had been fairly kitchen sink, and turned it into something Ortonesque which Dave cunningly titled 'Inflation'. I told the three guys that if they wanted to work it up into a full script, then I would consider directing it and gave them my email address.

4pm rolled around. I felt a bit guilty that I'd not helped with the Connie Get Out. However, I had a rehearsal to run. We'd (Well, Emma had) been able to secure Flares (a local nightclub) for 3 hours, and people showed in dribs and drabs.

Clearly, I was not the only one suffering from the celebrations of the prior night. There were numerous people who were somewhat bleary eyed. Carl and Emma both expressed concern that I should give them a wake up call and tell them off. However, I felt this would be a bit rich as I myself was not yet 100%.

Fortunately, Jo was coming along to give people a few dance moves. Although he had had to drop out of the show itself because of work, Duncan had kept him filled in on the various outings we had been undertaking through the past few weeks.

However, he and Dunc were going to be a little late due to getting locked out. Emma & Cat came to the rescue and played some warm up games/did a dance warm up. I hid in the DJ booth put on my 70's afro wig, and played in various tunes that I was considering including in the show, to test people's reaction to them. The tunes included:-

Bright Eyes - Couple of tracks off I'm Wide Awake It's Morning
LCD Soundsystem - Movement
The Dears - 22: The Death Of All The Romance
The Go Team - A track off their LP, that I want to call Ladyshave, but know that must be wrong...
The Eureka Street Soundtrack (This was a BBC2 show I had loved in 1999, but unfortunately missed the last episode, so never learnt how it was resolved).

I thought that I could really get into this DJing lark. It distracted me from what else was happening really. So, Jo arrived. He gave me a Salsa CD which I popped on, then led an hour's worth of dance lesson. I'd felt this was essential, bearing in mind the embarrassment the cast experienced at last Monday's rehearsal.

It also gave me a chance to recuperate.

This I did. I observed how people interacted. I assessed that two people were not really putting their all in, as Carl and Emma had pointed out. I decided that I needed to address this, but subtley.

Jo had to leave after his dance lesson. I thanked him, and wished him well for his trip to San Francisco. I then decided to focus on what I perceived would be the start of the show. I told the group as such, and they instantly perked up. Here was 'The Beginning' in their eyes.

I explained that we were going to play hide and seek. They were to imagine it was Lucy's Surprise Birthday Party. She would count to 100 in the DJ Booth, while they hid. If they were discovered, they were to shout "Surprise" and join her in looking for the others. Their eyes lit up. They hid. Anne went to Jacksons to get a drink. Chris and Amanda proved to be the best hiders. When Anne returned from the shop, she let me know she wasn't feeling too well, so I excused her.

I changed the game. This time, when the group hid, they were to all hide together. Lucy would try to find them. When she knew that she located them, she would tell an embarrassing story before they jumped out and surprised her. We were going to try this three times, in different locations. They happened as follows:-

1) The group hid in the 'Chill Out' Area of Flares. They built a wall from the stools and a couple of people were obviously behind it. However, the rest were actually hiding to the side of the 'Stool Wall' so Lucy would get a double surprise. When Lucy located them, she pretended to have slept with Duncan and said he had a tiny willy. SURPRISE!

2) The group hid in the centre of the main dance floor. I say hid, they crouched on the floor, and I covered them with a black cloth which Carl had purloined from the Connie Get Out. This proved to be a great image. Lucy came into the space with Emma this time and admitted that she had a crush on her. They kissed. SURPRISE!

3) Again, the group remained in the centre of the main dance floor. This time, rather than crouching, they stood up, but held the cloth up in front of their heads and torsos so only their legs were showing. When Lucy came into the space, they moved around, always keeping the 'cloth face' to Lucy, but revealing themselves at times to 'The Audience' (Carl with his camera). Lucy admitted that she was pregnant to Emma. SURPRISE!

This had really energised the group. I moved onto the next task.

I asked them to spend 5-10 minutes trying to sum up the game of I Have Never in 25 words or less. I explained that the ideal Mission Statement was 25 words or less, hence this selected number. After the allotted time, I recorded their ideas. Some people found this easy, others were unable to get below 25 words. Others, faced with the pressure of presenting it to the group, forgot their statement. I let them record theirs later.

Next, we were to play I Have Never without any actual 'I Have Never's. Instead, the group would go round the circle saying 'I Have Never... Blah Blah Blah'. I wasn't sure if this would work. It was a risk. Would people take to it? They did, like ducks to water. So much so, that we played it for the best part of half an hour. Every now and again I would drop in a new impetus. These were as follows...

a) You are drinking shots
b) You are drinking glasses of wine
c) You are drinking pints
d) You are a rugby team playing the game, and know various drinking 'motifs' i.e. downing a pint then up turning it on your head.
e) You are at a Woman's Institute Meeting. You are drinking tea. You must admit to the I Have Never's but you are profoundly embarrassed.
f) You are at a Celebrity Himalayan Detox. You are playing the game to achieve a zen-like sense of inner peace. However, you are drinking your own urine.
g) You are at a torture camp. You are playing the game because it is the easiest (?) form of torture and if you didn't play, your fate would be much worse/painful. However, you are drinking poison. You must admit to the I Have Nevers, beacause your torturers know when you are telling the truth. Each time you drink, you get closer to death...

This proved fascinating. One by one the players died. Nicki was left. Because she couldn't say I Have Never and drink (A main Rule of the game), she was left on her own. Repeating

"I Have Never Blah Blah Blah".

"I Have Never Blah Blah Blah".

"I Have Never Blah Blah Blah".

There was genuine fear in her eyes/coupled with a fascinating vacancy (Maybe trying to block out imagining what her fate would be, because she could no longer play the 'easy' game).

Carl filmed a lot of it(http://gust.no-ip.com/ihn/flares/).

I thanked my cast. I thanked the promotions manager of Flares. We left the space. We returned to The Mill. We continued the Connie Get Out. I felt less Guilty because I mopped the floor of the theatre. We put the seating rigs back. I liked the possibility that we could use the mechanisms that put the seating rigs back as a way to make it look like someone is flying/swimming. Nicki did a few ballet moves around the space. It looked like she was free...

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