For the past two summers, I’ve harangued whoever happens to be with me on the Scottish isle of Gometra to participate in the “Gometra Theatre Festival”. Each participant is required to write and direct at least one 1-5 minute play, assembling whatever props they need, choosing performers from the pool of available talent, and carving out rehearsal time from their busy schedules of walks, reading, games, farm work, and household duties.
This year nine of us came up with twenty-one plays over a couple of days. Here are four of my five.
I walk in from one side of the stage. Gesturing to an audience member, I ask them “Can you come stand here in front of me? Thanks. Can you be a door?”. I open the door and walk through. “Ah, okay, now I need somewhere to sit. Just kneel here, would you: you’re a chair.”. The audience member kneels with body straight and I sit with my back against them.
To another audience member, I say “And you, just sit in front of me over there and be my television.”. I turn the television on using the chair’s hand as a remote. If the telly starts speaking or making noise, I mute them with the remote.
Turning to the audience, and looking at each in turn, “I’m sure everyone has felt that in the stories they read or tell, or in the films they watch, some or most of the characters are merely tools for progressing the plot, or for developing a single central chrarcter.
“They are presented as people, but they do not breathe. They are presented as people, but they are actually props.
“Inevitably, at times our real-life relationships fall victim to similar malaise. It’s ever so easy to forgive our own lapses when we are the central characters.”
Harmony Versus Stability – Celestial Mechanics Edition
Two performers stand facing the audience. One (A) holds an orange buoy, about the size of a soccer ball. The other (B) holds a ping-pong ball. A starts to sing a sustained note. B joins in unison, but slowly raises their pitch while A holds theirs steady. When B reaches the third of A’s note, they hold it there and wobble their ping-pong ball from side to side, increasingly vigorously, until they hurl the ball away.
Somehow, The Natural Choice
[Ad libbed along these lines.]
Everyone close your eyes. It’s important that no-one cause a distraction. It is important that you do not open your eyes. No harm will come to you. Imagine you are comfortably warm, and the air is fresh and pleasant. Nothing is amiss. You’re in a large, featureless, dimly-lit chamber. You are surrounded by a transparent plastic globe, like a human-sized hamster ball; but that is okay, you are meant to be there, you are safe.
By taking a step in any direction you can move the ball. Controlling the motion is a little awkward at first, but you quickly master it, and start to explore the dimly-lit, featureless chamber. As your eyes adjust, you notice a small screen, built into the interior of the globe in such a way that it is always at eye level and always slightly off to your left. You scrutinise the screen, and it flicks into life and displays, faint grey upon yet fainter grey, the word CHOOSE. Choose what? you wonder. You continue exploring, rolling your globe around the dimly-lit chamber, with CHOOSE always nagging at eye level. Exploring, you discover a cluster of four passageways leading out of the chamber. Dark grey voids on dark grey walls. They are just large enough for your globe to fit through. Clearly you must choose one. For now, there is no discernible difference between them, but still don’t make your decision immediately. Think of which one you choose. Now go through it.
The moment you enter the passageway, an image, a picture comes onto your screen. It could be in colour or in black and white. The screen can display any image. Look at the image. Don’t be shy. This image represents the first word or the first line or paragraph or chapter. You wonder briefly what the image would have been had you chosen one of the other passageways – for sure it would have been different. But you cannot go back to check; you chose this passageway, you got this image, and you must press on, contemplating the image before you as you walk your globe down the passageway.
Very soon you come to a branch, where the passageway splits in two or more directions. Again you must choose, again your choice will influence the next image on the screen. Or, the next instalment of a story that you tell both deliberately and inadvertently. Don’t go through yet. Look once more at the image on your screen, the first image. Now go through. A new image. What is it
The passageway continues to branch and turn and fork. Some passages might be different from others: perhaps some slope up and others slope down; perhaps one smells of the sea and another of baked bread; perhaps one is red and one is lilac. Each decision you make advances the narrative, and you will roll through the labyrinth, enthralled by the images, by their succession, and by your role in creating them.
For the next thirty seconds, I’d like you to continue exploring, choosing, witnessing how the images change, one to the next. Fifteen seconds of silence. I’ll stop you there, sorry if you wanted to continue exploring. Think back on what you’ve done: you’ve concocted a series of images, the beginning of some kind of story. Skeletal and unfinished, incoherent perhaps; but maybe it has a visual timbre. You must hold on for a moment to your images and the tracery of narrative that their sequence embodies.
During this experiment, I put you in a strange situation, I controlled your surroundings and your actions, at first even your state of mind. Yet still, you decided which turnings to take. And you created the images, for an unknown purpose. Maybe you reached for them, or maybe they dropped into place. They were, somehow, the natural choice for you.
This was a story you told behind the privacy of closed eyelids, without the self-consciousness and the conceptualisation and the grasp needed to convey it to anyone else; and I think there’s some significance to that.
You may open your eyes.
Scene From The Library
Someone stands facing the audience with their arms making an “O” shape about their torso. They smile. They are an Avocado. The Lunch Chef enters the library, looks ravenously at the Avocado, and tries squeezing its arms inwards; but the arms are rigid, the Avocado is unripe. Disappointed, they leave. The Avocado continues to smile.
After a long beat, Lunch Chef enters again, and repeats the squeezing. But the Avocado is still too firm. As they leave, they throw it a longing glance. The Avocado smiles. They are driving Lunch Chef wild with desire.
A Mouse enters, skipping, sniffing. They are furtive, but we all know this is their kingdom. It quickly detects the Avocado and approaches with visible delight and a short adulation of the mouse gods for its good fortune. It takes a bite from the Avocado’s leg (lifting it up at the knee to signify the missing flesh).
Hearing the approach of Lunch Chef, the Mouse scurries away. Lunch Chef enters, and squeezes the Avocado as before – finally it is ripe! Lunch Chef’s little dance of glee is cut short when they notice the bite taken out of the leg. Lunch Chef falls to their knees in depair, cursing the heavens.