You know those black-and-white films where –
INT. NEWSROOM – NIGHT
Several strata of cigarette smoke span this large room. A handful of reporters sit at their desks, hands and fingers stabbing and massaging their typewriters.
An OFFICE DOOR opens to reveal THE EDITOR, cigar in a corner of his mouth –
I want five hundred words on string theory using words of three syllables or less! Which one of you bums feeling lucky?
One dozing JOURNO pushes his fedora up from his eyes and sticks a well-chewed pencil stub into his mouth:
Give me ten minutes, chief – five if Miss Stanton brings me a cup of joe.
How do they do that?
(Okay-okay-okay: it’s a movie.)
I was flashing on those kinds of scenes when I took up a 24-hour theatre challenge last weekend. Twelve hours to write a ten-minute script (to be followed by another twelve hours where the director and actors would make the script a reality). I’d spent the first two hours thus: 30 minutes to find out the actors’ strengths and weaknesses (the director couldn’t make the meet-and-greet so I’d have to wing the content and style); 15 minutes to drive home; 45 minutes of quality time with The Goddess; and 30 minutes of, among other things, making coffee, adjusting my seat, realigning the rubbish on my workspace for optimum feng shui, scheduling my chocolate intake, and surfing the net.
… Maybe the quality time was more 30 minutes (and no less) and the
fart-arsing writing prep/warm-up was 45 minutes.
So. There I was, in my cave, mentally juggling the following elements:
- three actors – one male and two females – to play with;
- two props – a length of rope and a violin case – to work into the story;
- and less than ten hours before I had to hand in a script.
The first opening riffed on Waiting for Godot. Maybe too self-referencing. I stopped after the second line of dialogue.
The second opening came straight out of Casablanca. I stopped the moment I typed (V.O.).
I had beginnings but no ends. With the nine-hour mark rapidly approaching, I tried to tackle it more from a production point of view instead of my usual story-is-king position.
I had my props, both meat and inanimate. I had a running time. I was one of six writers, and my position in the playing schedule was four – after an intermission. Assuming the first three plays were trend- and bar-setters, I needed to get right into the action. I needed to stake a claim on the audience’s attention, and keep it.
A filthy smile formed on my lips: What if we returned from intermission to some good ol’ bondage?
I laughed out loud.
The stage is BLACK as --
Aow! ... Yes. ... Agh! ... Yes!
LIGHTS UP on --
And in that beginning was the ending, too.
Sometimes, I’m just too cool for school.
POSTSCRIPT: As it played out on stage, all I could see were the bits of dialogue I could have trimmed, all the action I could have written, as well as an act that is one long fridge moment. But it has a beginning, middle and end. It has a set-up, exposition and pay-off. And it got some laughs, none of them cheaply, and moved. Thank the gods for actors – and the director, of course.