FUGUE opens (and closes) in two weeks in a small art gallery with questionable acoustics and limited seating, an almost anti-theatre space that I love precisely because it’s not equipped for performance.
All my life, various theatre people have gone out of their way to tell me that what I do is not theatre. One doesn’t rehearse the way I do; doesn’t treat actors the way I do; doesn’t incorporate cinematic techniques in a play; doesn’t use sound the way I do. The list is endless and it always reminds me of the end of Hedda Gabler when, after Hedda’s suicide, one of her guests says, “Good god - one doesn’t do such things” implying that it’s quite a faux pas to shoot yourself in the head while your guests are still having dinner. That’s not how one exits this world…So, I thought, if what I do is not theatre then maybe I shouldn’t do plays in a performance space. I did REVISION in a large lecture hall at school, and FACE (a long, long time ago) in a classroom.
FUGUE started as a ten minute scene I wrote for a reading event at a moment when I was convinced that my writing days were over. I’d been incapable of putting anything down on paper for about a year. My mind was like a desert. There was no one and nothing that inspired me. Those months felt like living inside an eternal blackout, in complete silence. An absence of sound and light on a barren stage. It was November, and I was miserable because I wasn’t doing a play, because I didn’t want to do a play anyway, because I was in the middle of all sorts of renovations so I was coming home to a construction zone every day. I remember standing in the middle of my not-kitchen (it was basically a shell at that point) and thinking how nice it would be to experience a fugue state and be someone else somewhere else, and not even remember it afterwards. That’s when I sat down and wrote about the impossibility of writing, about the characters I think of and then discard when their stories don’t make sense, about everything else that happens in my head when I’m trying to write a play: the chaos, the constant return to a theme that refuses to take shape, the tangents on which I go off in an attempt to distract myself from the failure to write. Curiously, the ten minute scene worked. I said, “Let’s finish it. Let’s do a play.”
I wonder what people will make of it, I wonder if the subject will truly interest anyone because – let’s face it – why should anyone care about somebody else’s mental chaos? I’ve also completely abandoned plot (what plot? The plot of not being able to write a play?) in favor of chasing a few themes and images I can’t get rid of, which, like in a musical fugue, keep coming back to haunt me and my characters, the ones I keep rewriting and discarding until they rebel.
I wanted FUGUE to be tentative and a little unfocused, almost like a rehearsal, and I think I’ve managed that, but in the absence of lights or a sound system the props are out of control, we’re drowning in props because when you do a play about dozens of potential scenarios you have to create dozens of worlds capable of accommodating them. Plus often, during the play, the characters are bored with my existentialist angst and amuse themselves throwing parties or finding a million little things in an abandoned theatre trunk that just happens to be on stage, and that’s also a great image for the inside of my head.
I should just stand by the door and say, like Anthony Hopkins in Freejack, “Welcome to my mind.” (Did you know that Anthony Hopkins and Mick Jagger were in a film together? I bet you didn’t…See? Tangent).
And so, in two weeks, FUGUE will come and go and, as always, I’ll miss the people, because I couldn’t have asked for better people to work with. It’s amazing to see how much the girls have become these characters, how much they’ve added to the characters’ inner lives, how easily they move from tragedy to laughter to boredom to mourning…The Stage Manager (who also plays the Stage Manager of the production in my head – trust me, this will all make sense on April 12), looks and sounds as if she’s been stage managing plays all her life. She checks the props and keeps track of the maddening changes I make in every rehearsal, and switches between imaginary Stage Manager and actual Stage Manager with a confidence I admire. (I don’t do well being in the play and directing it at the same time, but that’s a story for another day).
The Sound Guy is amazing. He’s actually built an instrument capable of producing a variety of sounds I need during the production. All I said before the pact with the devil scene was “You know, it would be nice if we could have some devil sounds here…like when the devil enters…oh and some serial killer sounds when the devil talks about serial killer movies.” So he went home and built an instrument. That actually makes those sounds. Unbelievable.
At the end of each rehearsal I fear that the public won’t like FUGUE as much as THE REGISTRY or REVISION because those were plays with a story line and characters to whom one could relate. Perhaps, if I’m lucky, they’ll experience a fugue state and forget all about it afterwards. But during the performance they’ll be captives in a world haunted by two images: that of an actress falling silent during a performance of Electra, and that of a Master Builder falling from the top of the highest tower. In the background, worlds will emerge and dissolve.
I no longer know what FUGUE is about.