Parliamentarians in Rehearsal

Scott and Richard in Rehearsal
Scott Clarkson and Richard Beaune reading Act I, Scene 1 of The Parliamentarians.

If you ever decide to produce a play that you wrote, make sure that you get good actors to perform it. Smart actors. Actors who will ask questions and challenge your logic. Actors who make you consider the motivations you think you have for character actions. They will help you make the play better. And its wonderful.

In the pit of my stomach, the flight response beckons

I may have mentioned once or twice, that at the end of May, my play The Parliamentarians will be produced at the Red Sandcastle theatre in Toronto. This is a great thing. And yet, if I am 100% honest, it terrifies me. When I think about it, I get that feeling in the pit of my stomach, that feeling you get when you think something terrible is going to happen. That feeling you get when your only choice is to run away. That’s the feeling I’ve been getting when I think about putting this play up. That is the feeling I get when I think about scheduling rehearsals, and finding rehearsal space, and advertising and all of it. Even now, as I think about it, deep in my unconscious mind, in my lizard brain, I feel like I just want to run from it.

And I wonder why that is. Is it that fear of failing that we all struggle with? Is that I am afraid to fail, so much so that my unconscious mind simply tells me that it would be better to run from it. To not even try.

And yet, I know that doing this play will be good for me. So I struggle with that flight response, the pounding of my heart in my chest, the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, the quickened breathing. I fight against it and press on, knowing that I can do this. And that I need to do it.

The Parliamentarians

An Evolving Monologue, Pt. 3

The last version of this speech was far too expository to be of any use. It was more like a history lesson than something a character might say. While the last line of the speech is intact (Yes, he bores me. And that is something I can never forgive), it isn’t elaborated on in this speech, but it did inform other interactions in the scene. For this version of the speech, some of the history of the Ruben/Vera relationship remains, but there’s less detail. Vera isn’t a character that would go into that kind of detail with these people.

I did still feel, however, that she needed to be understood. To have someone understand what she’s been through with this man.

Again, Lola says: “what gives her the right to be such a miserable bitch? She just waltzes in here, insults everybody and then waltzes out and we’re just supposed to let her?”

“You think that I am a heartless bitch, who always gets what I want. You think I’m unfair in the way that I speak to my husband, that I am dismissive and unfairly cruel to him. And yet, you know so very little of him. Perhaps if you knew what I know, you would see things differently.

“Look at him. Look at this man who you are so concerned about. What do you know of him? Would it surprise you to know that he is singularly self interested, with adolescent tendencies? That he is unreliable, and emotionally immature? I suppose none of those things would surprise anyone here.

“How did a man like this become Prime Minister? Or even leader of a party? Simple. My father and his father. His a mover and shaker, mine a king maker. And somewhere along the way, they decided they wanted a dynasty, and so it was arranged that I would marry Ruben. I was against it, of course, on principle. I accused my father of living in the dark ages, and refused to even consider it. And then I met Ruben. He was very charming. And he was uncomplicated. I saw so much potential in him.

“Leadership of the party was ordained for him, once Pearson Thomson retired. And finally the day came, and leadership was handed to him, fulfilling the dreams of our fathers, did he take it seriously? No he did not. Since party leadership was ordained for him, why not the Prime Minister-ship as well. Why work at a thing when it is preordained? When it will be handed to you. Ruben would have squandered the opportunity if he had not been surrounded by competent people who could get the job done.

“I hoped, beyond all hope, that Ruben would live up to the potential our fathers saw in him. That he would rise to the occasion. But alas, you see what happened. I tried to encourage him. To push him. But you see the good that did. Ruben was never one for taking advice. He avoided me.  He stayed out at all hours, claiming that he was working. I suspected that he was having an affair, but that relieved me more than anything, since I had long since tired of having him in my bed, and as long as he was discrete about the whole thing, and didn’t embarrass me, I could live with it. But I still believed that if he became Prime Minister, he might live up to his potential.

“But he didn’t. He squandered that too. And when his infidelity was revealed, when he was exposed with you in all the papers, when my shame was made public, when I was humiliated like that in all the papers, I finally realized that this man would never be anything other than he was. A clown, a fool, a bumbler. A bore. Yes, he bores me. And that is something I can never forgive.”

Now this sounds like Vera. Now I feel like I know a little more about her. We know a bit about how she came to be married to Ruben, and more about how she has felt about him and their situation. And more importantly, it sounds like Vera. It sounds right for her. I’m more satisfied with this speech than I have been throughout the process.

An Evolving Monologue, Pt. 2

When we left off, the character of Vera had been introduced, and her culminative monologue was deemed not right for the character. So, I went back to it, trying to find the best way to make Vera understood. Which is what I believed she needed. And so, I set about outlining the history of her relationship with Ruben. And so, that’s what I laid out in her monologue.

Now to lead in, Lola says: “what gives her the right to be such a miserable bitch? She just waltzes in here, insults everybody and then waltzes out and we’re just supposed to let her?”

Vera tells her: “You think that I am a heartless bitch, who always gets what I want. You think I’m unfair in the way that I speak to my husband, that I am dismissive and unfairly cruel to him. And yet, you know so very little of him. Perhaps if you knew what I know, you would see things differently.

“Look at him. Look at this man who you are so concerned about. What do you know of him? Would it surprise you to know that he is singularly self interested, with adolescent tendencies? That he is unreliable, and emotionally immature? I suppose none of those things would surprise anyone here.

“And how did a man like this become Prime Minister? Or even leader of a party? Simple. Family connections. My father was Nelson MacDonald, and was very influential in the party. Outside the Conservative party, there are few who have even heard of him. Some might have called him a king maker, and that wasn’t entirely an incorrect description. Ruben’s family was well known. Everyone knows the Holloway name. His family gave generous donations to museums and art galleries and opera companies. Gerald Holloway, Ruben’s father was a good friend of my father’s and was appropriately well regarded in conservative party circles. It was they who first thought that Ruben and I might be a good match.

“I was against it, of course, on principle. I accused my father of living in the dark ages, and refused to even consider it. And then I met Ruben. He was very charming. And he was uncomplicated. I saw so much potential in him. Since that time, I have wondered if these were things that I saw in him myself, or if they were things I saw because my father wanted me to see them. Both our fathers wanted so desperately for them to be true.

“And the way was made clear for him by our fathers. Leadership of the party was practically handed to him. But did he take it seriously? No. Did he hunker down and plan his way to Prime Minister. No, because he had people do that for him. He could be completely disinterested in it, and still it would happen. Because my father found good people to work for him. Competent people. People who could make things happen.

“And yet, was Ruben interested? No. He stayed out at all hours, claiming that he was working. I suspected that he was having an affair, but that relieved me more than anything, since I had long since tired of having him in my bed, and as long as he was discrete about the whole thing, and didn’t embarrass me, I could live with it. But I still believed that if he became Prime Minister, he might live up to the potential that our fathers saw in him, that I saw in him.

“But he didn’t. He squandered that too. And when his infidelity was revealed, when he was exposed with you in all the papers, when my shame was made public, when I was humiliated like that in all the papers, I finally realized that this man would never be anything other than he was. A clown, a fool, a bumbler. A bore. Yes, he bores me. And that is something I can never forgive.”

So, what’s wrong with this speech? I didn’t notice what was wrong, until I heard it read out loud. That’s when I heard that it was almost entirely expository. All exposition with nothing about the character in it (also, she says “hunker down” which really sounded completely wrong when spoken in her voice).  There are things in the speech that taught me a lot about Vera’s history, but very little about her. I think the most important thing was that last line: Yes, he bores me. And that is something I can never forgive.” That became a key piece of information for Vera on examining the monologue. Her need to be around interesting people. That being bored is the worst thing you can do to her, the crime she cannot forgive, which is an interesting thought, considering her husband’s infidelity. Does that mean that she can forgive that, but not being bored by him? An interesting thought.

An evolving Monologue, Pt. 1

Talking about the evolution of The Parliamentarians as a I have been, I thought it might be interesting to look at the evolution of a monologue that appears in the play.

Vera, the Prime Minister’s wife, is a very strong personality. With the second iteration of the play, where I first separated the acts by three months (covered in this post), Vera was introduced as a character. This is the first run at the monologue she has in the second act. At this point in the play, after watching Vera bring to bear her malice and insults on Ruben, Lola can’t take it anymore and forcefully questions Vera. “How dare you speak to your husband this way”, Lola says.  And Vera replies.

“You want to know the truth. You want to know why I so enjoy emasculating this man? If you had spent any time married to him, you might have some idea. But since you never spent any more than an hour or two, then let me give you an idea. You have plans with your husband, but he’s late. That’s fine, he’s in politics and sometimes they require extra time. But of course, if he’s going to be late, he’ll call won’t he? Certainly he will. And so you wait. And you wait. But he doesn’t call. And so you call him. And you call him. And you call him. And this goes on. Night after night, month after month. Until you grow resigned to the fact that he’s avoiding you. That he wants you around only when his job requires it. That you are a prop for his latest photo opportunity. Its true that the spark went out of your marriage years ago, but you would have thought that as he ascended to the top of his party and went on to become Prime Minister that he might at some point remember that at one time he loved you and that he might chose to share his success with you. But no, he doesn’t. Instead he continues to avoid you. And when he does come home, you think that you might be able to try and reach out, but as soon as he walks in the door, and he looks past you, never at you, then all thoughts of reconciliation fly out the window, and all you want to do is hurt him. And so you yell, and throw dishes, and drive him further away.

“But at least shame is private. Your husband is in politics and politics is a demanding mistress. So that is what you tell your friends. You tell them that your husband is busy, and that’s why he can’t be with you tonight. Or the time before that. Or the time before that.

“And then, one day you wake and find his infidelity is front page news. And everyone knows the truth. You’re humiliated. And everyone knows it.”

After hearing the speech the first time it was read, I knew immediately that this was wrong for the character. In this speech, Vera seems to be making herself the victim in her relationship with her husband, and if there is anything that Vera is not, it is a victim. This is a moment of pity for a character that does not ask for it, or want it. And it softens her. The actors at that first informal read through all agreed. Vera did not need our pity. She needed Lola to understand.

And so I set about working on the monologue again, to try and what Vera really wanted to say.