Year Of The Bard: The Tempest

Let us not burden our remembrances with a heaviness that’s gone. – William Shakespeare

Yesterday I finished the first play in my Year of the Bard challenge.  There is no major list I’m following; I’m just starting at the beginning of my Complete Works of Shakespeare, and going play-by-play until I’ve read them all.  First on the list: The Tempest.

Coincidentally, The Tempest was also the topic of the last episode of Shakespeare Uncovered, so some information was foremost in my head; namely, this was quite possibly the last play he wrote (himself), and he left London shortly after.  He died 2 years after writing this play.

With this knowledge, of course readers will look for signs of his retirement in his work.  High school and first-couple-years-of-college me would be flippant.  “Why do we always have to look for ‘stuff’ in novels, poems, and plays?”  Older, wiser me actively seeks them out.  Now that I can call myself a playwright when people ask me what I do, I realize more and more I do write things intentionally.  Drowning Ophelia was written to help me deal with a terrible time in my life where emotional abuse and manipulation ran rampant.  Empty Spaces was written to explore this need in society for people to reach beyond themselves and help, regardless of whether people would appreciate the help or not.  The Courtship of Sarah Chandler was written to help me elucidate how I felt about marriage, and whether I want to venture in (should the opportunity arise).  Just because Shakespeare is entertaining, and was written to entertain does not mean he didn’t write what he wrote for a reason.   For example, I believe Titus Andronicus was written at a time when there was an impending regime change (Elizabeth I was about to kick it, and she had no natural heirs.  Enter James I).

There’s some talk about colonisation, but I was hit more strongly by Prospero’s final address.  At first blush, it reminded me of Puck’s final address to the audience (“if these shadows have offended…”).

Now my charms are all o’erthrown,

And what strength I have’s mine own

Which is most faint.

 I found this most powerful if we think this is the last Shakespeare wrote.  Is he tired?  Had he grown weary of “city life”?

Prospero as a man had been holding onto a grudge for 12 years, only to suddenly forgive those who exiled him.  How exhausting would that be?  The 12 years would be exhausting enough, but to suddenly let go of such a driving force in his life would be like wind going out of his sails.  Everything he had done to that point had been in direct relation to how he was wronged.  Now that he has forgiven, what is he to do?  Despite Prospero and Miranda being “freed”, that is the plan at the end of the play is for Miranda and Ferdinand to be married, so they are no longer stuck on the island, Shakespeare ends the play with them still there.  Why is that?  Is it possible that after 12 years of scheming, there is nothing left for Prospero to do?  After all the years of creating plays, there is nothing left for Shakespeare to do?

 How empty it would feel if there was nothing else for us to do.

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To My Friend

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players,
They have their exits and entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

-Shakespeare

This week, my best friend and I are travelling down different roads that are remarkably similar.  Her due date for her first gaffer is the end of the week.  My show – the first show being performed on a non-festival basis goes up on Friday.

After initial similarities, our lives have gone down separate paths.  She’s married, a homeowner, and very, very knocked up.  I’m unmarried, a renter, and an avowed non-breeder.  But as I take the time to think back over the 9 months, and marvel at the way our different journeys are ending on the same weekend, I see the cosmic humour.

Drowning Ophelia was being written while Friend’s gaffer was early in the gestational stage.  As it grew in her womb, so too grew Drowning Ophelia.  Its characters came alive, life breathed into them by the actors.

As this new child is being brought into the world, so too is Drowning Ophelia.  It will take its first breaths on Friday, its mother waiting with bated breath to see how it is received.

I will never have children, and I will never have my innards make room for a weird space invader-type thing for 9 months and eventually push something the size of a watermelon through a very small hole, but I will create life.  I will create legacy.

And that dear Friend, is just another of our similarities.

Moving and Shaking

Defeat? I do not recognize the meaning of the word. – Margaret Thatcher

While some people keep their tissues close during movies such as PS I Love You, or Moulin Rouge, or Les Miserables, with the exception of Les Mis, I’m pretty stone hearted.  The movies which get my eyes to floweth over are biopics, the stories of people who are doing good work but are cut down in their prime due to disease or assassination.  Years ago, I watched a documentary on Freddie Mercury who is one of my musical heroes, and even though I knew how it was going to end, I could help but sit there sobbing as his friends and loved ones recounted his final days. When I watched Into the Wild, the tears didn’t start until Eddie Vedder began singing over the credits.  Sure, a lot of people may think McCandless wasn’t someone to be revered, but I believe he was in search of something, and before he could tell his family, his friends, and everyone else his revelation, he was gone.

Yesterday, I finally had the chance/desire to watch Jack, CBC’s biopic of the late Jack Layton.  Now there were a lot of things he did I disagreed with, but he was undeniably a champion for things I wish to be a vocal champion for.  I think with Jack at the helm, the NDP was the perfect Opposition. (Don’t get me started on Mulcair.)  By the last ten minutes, the tears were flowing.  You could imagine the ugly cry face when the last letter he wrote to Canadians was read.  “My friends, love is better than anger.  Hope is better than fear.  Optimism is better than despair.  So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic.  And we’ll change the world.”

I think all of us at one point want to be the one to change the world.  Some of us still think that, and it drives our actions.  Some of us having taken a step back from that line of thinking, and have allowed others to take the baton.  Then there are the very few who like to step on those people and grumble that it can’t be done so why try.  I’m not going to talk about those people.  They’re always going to exist.  I’ve only recently come into what I call my soapbox era.  There are a lot of things I see which I feel needs to be changed.  I’ve become a fan of revolution (funnily enough, that’s the part of Les Mis I cried at.  Not at Fantine’s death, but at the people fighting for which they believe in). I’d love to use my talent at creating change.  I may have had my tongue firmly in cheek when I wrote in #AmWriting, “You don’t have to agree.  My play will bring both sides of the argument together.  Create discourse.  Encourage change.  That’s what plays are about”, but I truly believe that.  With some exceptions, the plays I’ve written are meant to inform about what’s going on in society, whether I have the answer or not.  Drowning Ophelia, I’ve mentioned is about domestic abuse.  It’s about how I felt when I was being emotionally manipulated, and yes, emotional abuse is every bit as hurtful as physical.  The Courtship of Sarah Chandler (spring/fall 2014) works out my thoughts about marriage.  I don’t want it, but I understand why people do.  My latest play, for which I only have one monologue, explores this new yet old view of who women are in society.

There are a lot of things wrong in our society.  You can blame politics, religion, education, whatever, but blaming doesn’t bring about solution.  Identifying the problem is only one step.  Once it’s identified, work on finding the solution.  Some problems are less scary than others to fix.  Some require courage, and strength in your conviction.  My favourite M. Night Shyamalan film to date is Lady in the Water.  It inspired me to start to write again after a very long dry spell.  In it, there is a character: Vick Ran.  He is writing “The Cookbook”, which contains views and ideas which will inspire a future president, who will more than likely change the world for the better.  He learns that due to the controversial nature, he will be assassinated.

The nature of death frightens me sometimes.  I have a hard time dealing with it.  The idea of a living, breathing person turning into an empty shell just doesn’t mesh well with my thought cycle.  I don’t want it to hurt.  I want it to happen when I’m 125 years old and am just tired of living.  Movers and shakers rarely get that option though.  Perhaps that’s just what you sign on for.  I can’t sit idly back and not comment, not try to change.  Maybe down the line that’ll mean isolation, or worse.  To believe in something that strongly is appealing.  It gives my life purpose.  Who knows, maybe years from now, it’ll give someone else’s life purpose too.

Breakthrough

Breakthru, these barriers of pain; Breakthru, yeah, to the sunshine from the rain. – Queen

I reached a breakthrough last night.  But first, some background:

I am proud to be the president and associate artistic director of a grassroots community theatre group in Alberta.  This theatre group has dedicated itself to performing original works, usually by its members.  I am also a playwright.  In addition to several sketches (favourites being Superman Rides the Bus, and #AmWriting), I’ve written some one-acts (Empty Spaces, Drowning Ophelia), and some full length plays (The Long Grass, The Courtship of Sarah Chandler).  I’ve also written a 12-episode web series, but that might only ever exist in script form.  This April, Drowning Ophelia will be performed.

Here’s why it’s so special:

I wrote this during a really hard time in my life.  Probably my hardest.  I was living with an alcoholic.  Not only was he an alcoholic, but he had untreated PTSD from a traumatic childhood.  At one time, I considered him my best friend.  It was hard to see him spiral down to what he had become and be powerless to stop it, or help him.  You see, he didn’t want help.  I have my theories as to why, but that’s neither here nor there.  When he drank, he was . . . terrifying.  He would mumble to invisible people, yell at those people and hit himself.  I would be cowering under my covers, my cat right beside me, afraid to fall asleep until he had calmed down.  I never thought he would bring me physical harm, but at 3:00 in the morning with the sounds of him yelling and hitting himself, logical thought flies out the window.  There were times I was afraid to look in the bathtub for fear of what I would find.  I wanted to leave, but the lease was in my name.  I could only go to another building owned by the same management company, and affordable-to-me places were few and far between.  I was also afraid that if I left, he would get even worse, since he would have no place to go, and perhaps die.  I wasn’t really telling my friends anything that was going on.  Sure, I’d mention he got drunk again, but I didn’t tell them how much it affected me.  Maybe they knew, maybe I’m excellent at dissembling.  I had all these feelings, emotions, and fears running through my head with no output.

So I wrote.  And from that, came Drowning Ophelia.  I have mentioned getting closer to the works of Shakespeare, and what that means to me as a writer.  Hamlet has always been a favourite of mine.  I thought of poor Ophelia, and how she’s portrayed.  She goes insane, and she kills herself.  But what made her go insane?  Who made her go insane?  I believe Hamlet did.  Here was a man who told her repeatedly he loved her, but when he faked his own insanity to catch a murderer, his first victim was Ophelia.  Hamlet killed Ophelia.  His emotional and mental abuse and manipulation took her over the edge. I used that story as the backbone (and eventual bookends) to my play.  In between sits a café.  Men and women are there, in various stages of the cycle of domestic abuse.  I play Sophie/Ophelia.

Sophie and Ophelia’s character calls for depth, and emotional vulnerability.  I am guilty of Chandlerizing emotion, or emotional roughhousing.  That is to say, I wouldn’t let myself too far down into the pit.  I still needed to be in control.  But that wasn’t fair.  Not to the characters I wrote, not to the other actors in this play who need to do the exact same thing.  So last night in rehearsal, I told them not to let me get away with it.  I told me not to let me get away with it.

And I felt her.  Sophie.  I felt her pain, her anger.  After all, her pain and her anger is my pain, my anger.  This is more than just a play for me.  This is an emotional release of the past year and a half.  This is awareness for those of us who find it easier to tell people they need to leave a damaging relationship than actually leave.

I am proud of this play. I’m proud of what it’s becoming.  I have dreams its message will be far-reaching, but for now, there will be three performances.  If you’re in the Alberta area, I hope you take a trip out to see this.  Theatre should provoke.  It should tell a story.  It should create change, and until we can say there is no man, woman, or child afraid of their partner/spouse/parent, we need to change.

Drowning Ophelia Poster

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