Thursday night at Temperance and the world premiere of ‘The Phone Call’ (not the catchiest title: may need a bit of work on that).
I met with the assembled cast and crew (myself, son, and a family friend – Jorge (or George, Gorge, Jerk depending on which Starbucks you’re ordering your coffee from) who were taking on the four roles required: so it was perhaps fitting that ‘Jorge’ as a name appears to cause some problems, given her dual acting role tonight.
Yes, no ‘get-together-four-weeks before performance to ‘learn’ our characters’ here: half an hour before performance and they got the scripts for the first time: no Woody Allen levels of security either: they got the FULL thing: helpfully highlighted for the most part to indicate their ‘bits’ (minus the couple of bits I forgot to highlight – a slick performance alright…)
It was an evening of firsts:
the first time my son had read one of his stories in a non-class-based environment
the first time Jorge had performed one of my pieces
and the first time I’d presented an ‘unread’ piece to a live audience since the hey days of middle school.
Here’s a deep and original thought on the proceedings:
“it’s different reading something live and unseen than it is publishing a piece of fiction.”
Writing my stuff to go out into public on paper/ Kindle allows a safety net of sort: I can (and do) assume that readers are going to get the ‘jokes’ are going to chuckle at the right bits, and to ‘read it’ in their heads in the ‘right’ manner in order for it to work. If criticism comes or the piece doesn’t work for the reader, then it tends to be at a distance that I can ignore or get all bitter and twisted at and tell myself it’s ‘them’ that doesn’t get it…(guess which one it tends to be…) With a live performance, with no pre-reader filter to allow for necessitated changes, as opposed to when I scream to the heavens, “I will not prostitute my art for the heathen dolts…you’ll pay how much for the publication….yeah, go on then, that character wasn’t that line wasn’t very important anyway.” that safety net is gone: I’m one of the Flying Graysons, baby.
“It’s a safe environment” for ‘works in progress’, is the mantra for the evening: and it’s a good one…but of course, no-one wants to think it’s a ‘work in process’…and we want instant gratification – preferably with bouquets of flowers thrown at the piece’s end.
So, how did it go?
All in all, well. There were seven performances on the night, and a range of subject, style and experience at work.
My son’s piece – a creative writing short submitted for his university degree course which had received excellent results from his lecturer went down well here as well: If I’m being Stephen King to his Joe Hill (hey, it’s my world, and my mother told me I could be anything I want) I think it’s a strong piece – a meeting of two men on New Year’s Eve in the final days of the old West. It got the reaction he wanted, and compliments afterwards. I’ve never been prouder…but of course that lasted all of three minutes before we were introduced to perform my piece at which point everything turned to me, because that’s the way the world should be and things would be easier if everyone just understood that. .
So, a note on the actual piece…
I wrote ‘The Phone Call’ in a morning; a twenty page script written ostensibly as a ‘film script’: I say that in ‘ ‘ ‘s because it’s will make an interesting challenge to film: it’s a one-room, dialogue heavy piece about (spoilers) a phone call. That’s not a radically different concept, and it’s an action that has been used successfully in many films – Dial M for Murder, Scream, and When Harry Met Sally to name three that come to mind instantly: all filmed in very different styles, and all having varying importance within the overall piece, but this is solely about a phone call: possibly only one step above the act of using computers on screen in terms of non-cinematic ‘dynamism’: let’s just say this one won’t need IMAX.
To that end, it could just as easily be a ‘radio play’ as we used to say as we emerged from a hard day down the Mines, nowadays, I guess potentially an audible presentation.
It came to me pretty much ready formed after yet another annoying ‘cold call’. I wrote it in one go, with only minor re-writes afterwards, and it was originally written as much an opportunity to get to know ‘Final Draft’ software as anything else. I was pleased with the way it turned out, but…
I really wasn’t sure how it would go down. In my lofty self-opinion, I was going for an ‘Inside Number 9’ vibe – probably one of the most influential and impressive collections of work I’ve seen in recent years. So just to pretend it’s in that league (no pun intended) for a moment – it’s humorous (or meant to be), but with a very dark twist that turns it into a ‘tragi-comedy’ (again, in my mind, at least). And I wasn’t sure whether that would work. It certainly worked on paper/ screen: but in front of a live audience? I wasn’t sure.
So, it was with a bit of trepidation I decided to perform it – not just because of the material, but I am not an actor: my last role as a thespian was as a corpulent cuckold in a production of ‘Pandora’s Box’ who’s main job was to waddle on stage, scream a little bit, and then drop down dead with a heart-attack. I struggled even to remain dead for the rest of the scene. While I had confidence in my untested and unseen fellow cast members, I wasn’t sure about being able to pull off the quick-fire dialogue (I hesitate to say ‘Mamet’, but only because, as I say, my acting talents are limited and that double use of M so close together can turn me into Billy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest…)
It seemed to go down very well: it got laughs in all the places it was meant to get laughs, and the ending didn’t induce groans or walk-outs. Audience reaction was positive and the comments the three of us received were very nice. With the sort of things I was hoping for:
“I thought I knew where it was going but you really threw me…” was a repeated comment.
“I wish I’d thought of that when I get these pain in the arse calls” was another.
“You should really think about doing more acting…you’ve got a real talent as an actress…” was yet another. (I have a feeling this was directed towards Jorge more than me.)
And it was fun to do – gratifying. More immediate and, in many ways, fulfilling than performing a piece of writing that had been edited/ re-edited, shown, submitted and printed.
Do I want to do more live work? Yeah, I think I do. So many years after my Film and Drama degree days I’d forgotten how much fun it was to write scripts, and how satisfying it was to see them performed: even if you have to perform them yourself.
Will you see it? Well, I didn’t record the piece (I was tempted, but the looks my co-cast gave me at the suggestion stopped me in those tracks), but I do still have a copy of it and I have some plans for it…pretty audacious plans (code for ‘WTF you talkin’ bout Willis)…news to come later this week…
Anyway, that’ll do for today, I hear the band playing me off.