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.

Tracing the growth of a play from draft to “finished”, Pt. 3

At the end of part 2, I had just had a group of actors read The Parliamentarians, and give some feedback. In addition to some tweaks and fixing moments that weren’t working, the question of what to do with Benji Collins arose. I was trying to figure out if the character did enough, if he drove the action enough to remain in. If he was too passive,or if he didn’t serve enough of a purpose, I’d remove him. But I wasn’t sure. The actors who read the play certainly enjoyed him, but I wasn’t sure if he did enough. He did provide an important realization for Lola near the end of the act, but I wondered if that was enough to justify keeping him. Was there another way that Lola could reach that  realization without Benji being there?

In the end, like the change to the timeline, I resolved that the only way to find out for sure would be to write it. And so I did. And it worked. Without Benji, the realization Lola needed could be incited by Vera. And so, Benji was removed, leaving me with the following characters:

Ruben Holloway, Prime Minister
Perkins, his Chief of Staff
Lola, a call girl
Stephanie Rivers, Leader of the opposition
Vera Holloway, Ruben’s wife

The play worked even better. With Benji gone, there were fewer characters to introduce, and we could spend more time with the characters and learn more about them.

To be sure, I had the same actors come back (less one) and read the play again. And it worked. Again, there were some moments that still needed work, but no major structural changes were needed. The play was working.

And that’s where I’m at now. I’m working on the moments that aren’t working and fixing them. And soon, I will have a “final” draft.

One of the interesting things about this process has been the experimental writing (ie: “I’m not sure this will work, let me try it and find out”). A long time ago, I might have considered that wasted time. If it didn’t work and I had to revert to an earlier version, would I have wasted the time in writing it. In the end, I think that none of the writing would be wasted. Once done, even if I didn’t end up using it, I would have learned something about the characters that could be used later. All of the drafts provided some information about the characters that allowed me to write them more fully as I progressed.

I’m quite happy with the play as it is shaping up, and can’t wait to have it performed.

Tracing the growth of a play from draft to “finished”, Pt. 2

When I left off in part 1, I had received some feedback on the second draft of The Parliamentarians, which involved two of the characters and a suggestion to change the timeline of the second act.

I had not ever considered that the play would not take place on a single night, and this idea of having the second act take place months later was unwelcome at first. I could accept the characters of Moreno and Madison might need to be removed, but the timeline seemed almost untouchable to me. At least at first.

I couldn’t think about anything other than that for a couple of days. I played with the idea and went back and forth between thinking that it was a great idea and that it might be the worst idea for the play. In the end, I decided that the only way to be sure, would be to try writing it. What would happen if the second act took place three months after the first? The answer, it turned out, was: quite a bit. Moving the second act to three months later actually opened up a lot of opportunities to explore the characters, and change their relationships. Ruben was no longer prime minister, his minority government brought down due to the scandal with with the call girl. Perkins was no longer working for him, and instead was working for the new Prime Minister, Stephanie Rivers, causing friction between him and Holloway.

As for the characters I removed, I replaced them with a couple of new ones.  The characters in the third draft were:

Ruben Holloway, Prime Minister
Perkins, his Chief of Staff
Lola, a call girl
Benji Collins, a reporter
Stephanie Rivers, Leader of the opposition
Vera Holloway, Ruben’s wife

I felt like the play needed some instigator, a role that Moreno had fulfilled, and I created the character Benji Collins, a reporter who had a crush on Lola. Madison was replaced with Vera, Ruben Holloway’s wife. Adding Vera made a lot of sense, since she is mentioned in the first half of the play. In order to justify bringing her in, I felt that I needed to feel her presence in the first half, while still not seeing her until the second act. So some business was added, that was suggested in an earlier draft. In this third version, I just played up that business a little more.

This new draft finished, I needed to have the play read. So I invited a few actor friends over to read it. The results were illuminating. Hearing the play meant that I heard all of things that didn’t ring true, or didn’t work. I took a lot of notes, and got some great feedback from the actors actors.

Now there was some tweaking to be done. The moments that weren’t working, needed fixing. And there was another question: did Benji Collins do enough to move the plot forward? If not, was he necessary to the play? So I started grappling with that question.


Tracing the growth of a play from draft to “finished”, Pt. 1

As I close in on the last draft of my play The Parliamentarians, I thought it would be interesting to look back at the journey this play took from its first draft to where it is now.

The play began as three words at the Red Sandcastle Theatre‘s first  24 hour play writing event this past summer. The pages of a dictionary were flipped in front of me and I put my finger on a page selecting a random word that I would use as inspiration for my play. This was done three times, and my words were: Popular, Moll, and Horde. At 7pm, we prepared to write, and where given the theme “when push comes to shove”.

I will admit that these words were giving me a lot of trouble at first. I had no idea what to do with them. I started staring at definitions of the words, hoping that something would spark an idea. I found it, finally, with the idea of “popular opinion”, which led me to think of politics, which led me to think of a prime minister. I mixed in a gangster’s girlfriend (the moll), which means I needed a gangster as well, and a horde of reporters. I wrote the first draft during the event.

The characters at that time were:

Ruben Holloway, Prime Minister
Perkins, his Chief of Staff
Lola, a call girl
Oscar Moreno, a gangster and Lola’s boyfriend
Stephanie Rivers, Leader of the opposition
Jennifer Madison, the Governor General.

The play was two scenes, taking place on the same night. The scene break came after a surprise revelation about the relationship of two characters. After finishing this draft, I put the play aside for a few weeks, and then came back to it to expand it into a full two act play. The scene break became the act break, but the structure and character arcs remained the same. I then asked a few trusted people to read it, and give me feedback.

The feedback I received was extremely helpful, and identified a few problems with the play. I’d been feeling like there was something not quite right, but the feedback identified it for me. First and foremost was the gangster character. While the play is a comedy, in the second act, he presented a certain darkness that overshadowed the comedy. I had to decide if that darkness added to the play or if it took away from it. Additionally, the character of Jennifer Madison, coming at the end, felt like a bit of a deus ex machina. Like with Moreno, the question had to be asked: what was her purpose in the story? The last suggestion was more of a question: what would happen if the second half took place much later? Not the same night, but a month, or two months later?

I had a lot to think about, before starting on the next draft.