Monday, 12 August 2013

Process notes on "Tip of Things" by Catherine Banks

Catherine Banks
I had a huge struggle to find my elevator play. I had this idea that I liked very much but I couldn’t make it work. I get a lot of petitions about really worthy causes from people with names like David, Sacha, Emily with my name in the body of the text. Example: Catherine thank you for signing the petition to end blank and we hope you will also sign our petition to save blank. I confess after a while I started to feel like I was a very bad person if I didn’t sign. So I came up with this sort of plot that my character would be trapped in the elevator with a David, Sacha or Emily and that the audience would be behind these sort of movers’ curtains and play the role of people that needed to be saved by the petition. I guess I thought the elevator would be could be a metaphor, blah blah blah idea was not working and was not working still not working several months later.

Then Heather Inglis was in Halifax. Then I had a workshop in a week, then in days.

I like the short play format and I had written several that I had never finished during a beautiful workshop with the inspiring Marie Irene Fornes. I pulled them out and looked each over. The play I settled on was one that I had written set in a hotel room. As soon as I put those two women in the elevator, in action, my imagination re-sparked and I was off.

Our plan for the workshop was to spend half of it around the table and half in an elevator. The cast was Andrea Lee Norwood and Ann-Marie Kerr.  Emmy Alcorn of Mulgrave Road - who commissioned the piece- came into Halifax from Guysborough for the workshop  - there are no elevators in Guysborough. After a couple of intense hours around a table we all squeezed into the production elevator at the Neptune Theatre for this crazy little workshop. We borrowed a cleaning cart we found in the hallway and Ann-Marie used Heather's coat as a baby. Our elevator kept getting called even though it was technically “locked”.  Emmy had to get off for a bit and we had a hell of time getting back to her floor. Then about half way through I had to take a break from it all, I can get very nervous in small confined places. It was a great afternoon and we all laughed a lot. What I discovered was that being so close to the characters and unable to walk out electrified the experience. Rather than being an “audience member” I become a witness. That’s what it felt like to me at least.
I think Andrea, Ann-Marie and Emmy were pretty puzzled about the piece at the beginning of the day and it was fun to watch as they came to it line by line. I loved how Ann Marie was right there, all her own mothering instincts arriving like a freight train. The small space seemed to amplify all of it.
I came in hoping that I was on the tip of something---meaning hoping I was writing something very intense. Now I’m pretty sure of that and I’m happy that this play has found the right home in this project.
My next steps actually don’t have to do with the element of elevators per se, but rather  with exploring the script itself in a fairly conventional way. I’m considering adding a layer of class—or race— to the play. What if the baby is Asian and the mother white? Not to make a big statement but as another layer.
I am very excited to see and read the other elevator plays. What did people do? How did they solve the problems? How did they approach the task within the "rules"?.
They sound amazing.
Looking forward.

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