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 Posted: Sun Jan 13th, 2008 05:04 pm
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Martin H
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{These are the prologue and opening scene from my latest full length play, Beggar's Banquet. Welcome any and all feedback.}

 

 

 

 

BEGGAR'S BANQUET

Prologue Life's Uncertain

 

Stage in darkness, house lights begin to go down as a purple glow, slowly turning red, begins to illuminate a dark series of hills blending one into the next.
What is that strange object atop the highest hill?

Acting on behalf of writers, driectors and crew as well as themselves the cast, in costume, move down
the aisles asking for spare change from the audience, non-perishable food items are also welcome. Listen, you think groundbreaking theatre, populist in style yet bursting with innovation at every seam, feeds the thirsting throat or hungry body? On the contrary, the burnoff of calories is phenomenal, maintaining such ferocity of impact, high voltage dialogue? You bet! violent physical comedy, pinpoint execution? I should say so! Why in one early draft the whole first act was planned to be silent and purely physical but my characters are such chatterboxes--stagecraft, highly charged symbolic imagery? Assurement, would you expect anything less of an author of my stature? Spare change? Folding money would be even better. Mackenzie King, Borden, you know what I mean--if you can afford an evening at the theatre, you can afford to leave one of their pictures in the bucket. Don't fiddle with your tie or your shawl.

One of the cast--knapsack, tattered professor's tweeds, shredded tie, battered brown Oxford shoes--doesn't speak,only holds up a sign

LEND US A NOOSE?



He is called Empedocles, because of a theory he has about the resolution and dissolution of all worldly objects.Is it his true name?How should I know? If it were the name of a brand recognized globally, would that satisfy you better?

Whether anyone in the audience responds to this plea may be hard to determine, but he has one, elegantly knotted, fit for the most refined and fastidioushangman, by the time he mounts the stage.

A woman with a shopping cart crammed with bric-a-brac is not panhandling but dickering "What'll you pay? What'll you trade? If you want it I got it, if I don't you're out of luck'til maybe tomorrow night? I can look special for items." (Maybe use this as a sort of informal length-of-the-run garage sale? Not if it makes her late for any of her cues though. We may not be all of us homefull, but we are not amateurs.)

By ones and twos the actors assemble at the foot of the stage,hands linked in a line, as applause wells from unseen sources.They bow. Reassemble in various combinations of pairs and triplets to bow three times more, applause cresting and troughing in successive waves. The curtain draws shut as they blow kisses of appreciation. On the curtain is written

LIFE'S UNCERTAIN

TAKE YOUR BOWS FIRST

From behind the curtain we hear

VOICE 1

I agree. Applause first, show after, because what if you put all you've got into a performance and nobody likes you? Laughs or, applauds or, sheds a tear of sympathy or anything?

VOICE 2(sings)

We'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet

VOICE 3

What's not to like? We are the homeless, deprived, voiceless, despairing or actors which is the next thing to it.

VOICE 4

Well at least we aren't writers who can't get their scripts performed.

VOICE 2(sings)

For auld lang syne my dears, for auld lang syne

VOICE 5

Too true. We don't even have to come up with our own lines.

VOICE 2(sings)

We'll take a cumph phmm mum mum phumph

VOICE 6

Glad of that. I wouldn't want to be responsible for these.

VOICE 2

Listen if you're going to stick a sock in my mouth I'd prefer you wash it first.

VOICE 3

What kind of method acting is that? We're the homeless, well, we live in a junk heap, probably near toxic waste, loads of explicit or implicit social comment if very little realism as such--where would any of us go to do our laundry?

VOICE 7(child)

I wore the same clothes all week just to get in character.

VOICE 2

There's such a thing as politely asking somebody to stop.

VOICE 8

You'd wear the same clothes all week anyway if somebody didn't get after you.

VOICE 7

Daddy! That's when I was little.

During the last of this Empedocles has come through the curtains stage left, bearing placard, signs, noose and three-step ladder. Unfolding and climbing ladder, claps hands and a sturdy-looking hook lowers to within reach overhead. He attaches noose to it, tugs gently then harder to make certain it's secure.

VOICE

(off, as curtain begins to reopen)

What do you think you're doing?

As curtain opens slowly, Empedocles kneels on three-step ladder, sorts through signs and picks up two. Shows them in order

1 WHAT DOES IT

2 LOOK LIKE?????????

VOICE(off)

I see. Be that as it may. Business before. . . pleasure is that what you call it Emedocles?

(Who wriggles a speech balloon out of the vest of his suit and holds it by his mouth: RECTIFICATION.)

We have a contract. Tasks are required. That sort of thing you can do on your own time.

Empedocles stares blankly at noose, then with a sigh descends ladder, picks up placard nailed to stick and shows one side as he walks slowly across stage with it.

 

ACT I

Noli Me Tangere

Scene i THE WORLD ENDED YESTERDA

The red glow brightens as a gleaming metal sun begins slowly to rise behind a landscape of heaped hills of rubbish. Atop the highest of these, just off centre stage, perches a rusted, abandoned car, missing its tires, from inside which two voices are heard

AMADOU

(voice 8 from behind curtain)

Our mission, should we decide to accept it, is to live another day. Nobody ever promised it would be easy

TATIANA(voice 7)

They did on the Dove shoot daddy.

AMADOU

Which is what, 2 1/2 years ago? Maybe they were right as far as they were concerned. They were wrong, obviously, in our case. Still! six billion of us, more or less, manage it every day.

TATIANA

Actually it's halfway to seven now, daddy.

AMADOU

That only reinforces my point--it can be done! You and I both've managed it more often than not.

TATIANA

Truth be told we have a perfect record so far. We've lived every day and not died even one of them.

AMADOU

Right! a perfect record, that's exactly the phrase I was searching for, otherwise--you wouldn't be hearing a peep out of her or me either. QED.

TATIANA

Good thing too--who else would be equally persuasive in our roles? They were made for us!

AMADOU

Wise move if it's authenticity you're striving for--pick up your cast off the streets, under bridges, visit the hidey holes they devise for shelter in stark and dismal weather.

TATIANA

Like not a bucket of tin that leaks and lets in wind. (Giggles.) I didn't mean it that way.

AMADOU

What way is that sweetheart? Don't you worry, we'll be movin' up out o' here. In our case they even get use (rap on metal) of our actual live-in semi-perm accomodation and abode as a prop.

TATIANA

Our what?

AMADOU

Our car?

TATIANA

It was neat watching 'em hoist that into place, I clapped my hands which I rarely do being a well-brought-up lady. Could have used less verisimilitude reproducing the junkyard though. How it is for them out there I don't know, but up here it stinks like it could get up and snarl at you wet. How much are they paying us to use the car daddy?

AMADOU

Hmm. Hmmmm.

TATIANA

Uh-oh. Three guesses what that 'hmm' means and the first two don't count.

AMADOU

Should have had you on the negotiating team, I can see that now. I suppose they're using it pro bono. And a week's salary don't cover half a week's living and baby girl--we're in the wrong half of the week.

TATIANA

I know that--I'm not stupid--and I'm not a baby.

 

AMADOU

So we've got to beg, borrow--last resort steal some nutritious edibles or the hard cash wherewithal to purchase same.

TATIANA

What's my motivation in this scene? And at ten years old--but eleven in only seven months though--would I be able to make any sense of what you just said?

Empedocles has stopped, almost at wings right, and is contemplating his sign. Something seems not quite right about it.

AMADOU

You're daddy's girl, who else you been listening to all your life? First started hearing his vocab virtuosity in the cradle--rock gently--when you hadn't any language of your own to speak of.

TATIANA(giggles)

'Language to speak of,' that's funny daddy!

AMADOU

Your motivation you'll have to figure out for yourself, if brute survival ain't enough to grab you, but you know what mine is ever since--well we won't talk about that. It's you sweetheart--you brighten the world enough to make me buck the odds and keep on living. Go on brightening it for others I hope, long after I'm gone.

TATIANA

Don't go daddy!

AMADOU

Not just yet, child but I'm not making any long distance promises. Whether I'll last 'til you're my age--well, let's just see how that plays.

Empedocles, who has examined the sign from all angles--up close, far away, shifting to the right side, shifting to the left, tilting his head to left and right, peering at it through a 'V' made with his fingers--finally claps his hands in triumph, pulls a lightbulb out of his pocket and holds it over his head, returns it to pocket, retrieving at the same time a felt tip pen with which he adds a 'Y' to 'YESTERDA'.

TATIANA

It's getting hot in here daddy. (The sun is gleaming harshly.)

AMADOU

Time we were moving then.

The two, who are black or possibly Native Canadian--casting for other roles can be completely colourblind--exit by the far doors, front and back, pick their way down the colossal mound of rubbish, disappearing from view as Empedocles studies the reverse of his placard and, satisfied it's error free, raises and shows it.

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 Posted: Wed Jan 16th, 2008 10:00 am
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in media res
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Martin H,


Great line: "And a week's salary don't cover half a week's living and baby girl--we're in the wrong half of the week."


Your opening description is confusing:

May I suggest:


The entire Theatrical Troupe (or Company) consisting of writer, director, crew and actors, all in costume ENTER the aisles of the theatre. As they proceed to the stage, they all ask individual audience members for "'spare change,' 'non-perishable food items are also welcome,' 'Listen, you think groundbreaking theatre, populist in style yet bursting with innovation at every seam, feeds the thirsting throat or hungry body? '

...and then proceed with the rest of the introduction.

You don't have to do it in the way I suggested, but in your stage directions, avoid run on sentences. This is the first we see of the play. And I mean "See" not "Read." We need to see it in our heads. CLARITY IS ALL.

You lost me at first, and I always go back to read again. but, I can tell you most readers WILL NOT. It is just too damn easy to put down a script and go to the next script in the pile and get to yours some other time...and maybe never.

First, let me make it very clear no matter what I critique: I LOVE THIS. I LOVE THIS. (Two intentionally.) You make it Theatre right from the get go and you continue with that throughout.

Brecht influence? Yes. People will say, "Oh, Brecht." Only because it is hard to hide influences of Brecht. There is a show on Broadway right now that is successful that if you are in the know, it lifts from Albee, Lanford Wilson, O'Neill, Williams and others, but no reviewer has mentioned these influences other than O'Neill. I have not seen the show, but I got these deductions from a well-versed twenty-five year old and her friend who saw it. It takes nothing away from the play, as they are all incorporated fairly well (However they did bother my friends a bit as it associated them with other plays while watching this one.) Those playwrights' influences are easier to hide. But people will still say, "Oh, Brecht."

But be sure to make your STORY your own. And you have and you will. BEGGARS BANQUET reminds one of BEGGAR'S OPERA/Threepenny Opera.
You might want to find a different title!

I find a little of the dialogue kind of stilted. That may be intentional stylization and I would have to read more to see if that is the case.

So, I say a resounding: Keep a goin!!!


best,

in media res

Last edited on Wed Jan 16th, 2008 10:05 am by in media res

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 Posted: Wed Jan 16th, 2008 07:43 pm
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Martin H
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Thanks for your comments and for the kind words. I'll certainly take a look at the prologue with your remarks in mind. It's tricky because of how much I have to establish at once, particularly the simultaneous theatrical and metatheatrical levels I want the play read on.

I imagine I will get references to Brechtian devices, which I'll find annoying because theatre that announces itself as theatre and thereby introduces a layer of self-awareness to the story predates Brecht by thousands of years, and Aristophanes, Jonson and Middleton, and in modern times Dennis Potter and Peter Barnes are more the people I've looked to as models in that respect.  But people won't notice them anymore than they're likely to notice anyone but O'Neill in the list of influences you mention in that Broadway production--they really haven't been given much chance to sample the wealth of theatre available, which means the conversations playwrights have with each other across the decades, generations and centuries are a closed book to them. I could help rectify that if I could direct a few seasons of plays of my choosing, with half decent budget.


The title I've had in mind for ages--through five or six failed and abandoned drafts over the years.  It may be a little too joined to it now. (You may have noticed from these scenes that I have something of a thing for titles--both acts are titled and so is every individual scene, though only somebody reading the play or a programme which gave a scene by scene breakdown would know that.)

Last edited on Wed Jan 16th, 2008 07:48 pm by Martin H

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 Posted: Thu Jan 24th, 2008 04:55 pm
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Paddy
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Martin....waving from an hour west on the 401.

This is exciting.  I agree with IMR...which I usually do.  It makes me want to read more.  I was considering, in the beginning, how much you may be limiting potential performances but the use of the curtain, when so few theatres have them.  Just a thought.

I love the bowing at the beginning.  Made me laugh.  Seems like a large cast.  Are you finished?  Still writing?  I really love where this is going...and am excited to read more.

Very nicely done.

Paddy

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 Posted: Thu Jan 24th, 2008 09:16 pm
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Martin H
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The play is fully written, and I could post a little more if anyone cared to see it. Didn't want to push too much of it at anybody at once

The curtain plays a role, principally because it has an established place in the syntax of theatre,  but I'm sure a production could be devised without it. 

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 Posted: Sat Feb 23rd, 2008 10:13 am
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Steamboat Chambers
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Martin H,

I really like what you did with the curatin, as a way to introduce that message. Actually, I like the concepts of the entire prologue, especially. I will agree with in media res that some of it's impact gets a little lost in the wording, but that's never easy and can certainly be remedied. Since, I'm not sure who Brecht is (and members might slay me for not) I don't see anythign but your original work here. I've always been wildly entertained by plays that incorporate audience participation somehow, even if passively in that the actors are doing the asking. Love the idea. I think it might be a good touch if some of the actors in the opening procession were to play gypsie instruments as a audible touch, panflutes, tambourines, recorders, etc.  Did you borrow the title from one of my favorite Rolling Stones albums? Good luck, keep on keeping on.

Cheers,

Steamboat Chambers

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 Posted: Sat Feb 23rd, 2008 06:30 pm
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Martin H
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From one of your favourites and mine, though the phrase goes back to the Middle Ages roughly.

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