Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Christmas Story

Every year at Christmas for our neighbor gift, we share a new Christmas story. Being a storyteller, it seems like a good thing to do. Well this year, my daughter Kate wrote the story. She is a student at Utah State University and has a sense of humor all her own. When I read her writings, I wonder why I'm even trying to be a writer at all! Enjoy:

The Christmas Plant
A Gourley Family Epic

There are those who question the legitimacy of this story, a few call it myth, and there are those who dare to say it is fable, but I am here to tell you that it is history. Every word is solid fact.

It all began at 6:14 PM a few days before Christmas when Richard Gourley, the father figure in this tale, announced that it was time to trek to the local Albertsons and hunt for a luscious Christmas tree. The man cub Adam and the wee girl child Kate zealously cheered for joy while the Megan sat on the couch and did nothing—needless to say Megan has no part in the rest of this story, but I thought it essential to mention her existence because she is part of our family. Anyway the two youngest of the Gourley clan dressed snugly in warm yet functional garb and ran out to greet their destiny. For this tree hunt would define their young lives and perhaps suspend their childhood above the vast quandaries of life and make them ponder for a moment the meaning of Christmas (don’t worry this won’t get too sentimental so keep reading.)

The Richard and the two children drove successfully to Albertsons and began scrutinizing the evergreens. Now each had a different philosophy by which they abided: Richard sought economy, while Adam searched for hugeness, whereas Kate, the true visionary, looked for a tree that fulfilled basic aesthetic needs. And there it was—in a transcendent moment they all gasped because before them was the perfect tree. Of course they bought it. It was shaping up to be a lovely trip. The man from the store offered to secure the tree to the car roof, but father’s hubris always was his square knot. Therefore the three lurched out of the parking lot with a haphazard tree perched on the roof of their car. Rounding a particularly icy corner Kate detected an odd whoosh.

“Dearest father,” said the darling child, “I do believe our tree might be gone.”

“Impossible, I used a square knot,” grunted the father.

But then again who’s to say what’s impossible? It was vital that they brought the tree safely home. It was their duty. Rolling down the window Kate looked out at the snow zooming by. Adam the stalwart pacifist sat peacefully as Kate dangled out the window to check on the tree. Kate clung to the car like a baby marsupial and poked her head up above the roof line....the tree…..was……….gone. The tree they loved so deeply was gone. The roof was an absence. Squinching back into the car Kate announced the dreadful news, but like prophets of old her truth-speaking was met only by the incredulous statement: it can’t be so.

But it was. When they reached home all was made clear. Stepping out of the car the three travelers stood and faced the ultimate conundrum: they had picked and paid for a Christmas tree, but all that they saw was a staring void were a tree should be. Broken and weary they shuffled into their home with no bounty except for some orange twine that once held the most beautiful tree in the world. As they entered mom greeted them with an idea—they would buy another Christmas tree, but somehow the magic had gone out of the adventure. There could not be two most beautiful trees in the world. Then Richard was struck by true Christmas genius or perhaps another bout of frugality. He pointed to an unnamed tropical plant forgotten in a corner of the room and decreed: “This year, we will have a Christmas plant!”

And thus the Christmas plant was born. The family tenderly decorated the palm leaves with kindergarten clothespin Santas and strings of lights. As they sat around the unconventional Christmas tree they smiled because they realized that the true meaning of Christmas was not a perfect tree but the true meaning was love (If I remember correctly Megan possibly helped to decorate the tree. We will say that she did because it supports that time old theme of family unity). This is the very end of this story but that famous plant still resides in a corner of our front room and has in recent years grown to monstrous proportions.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Persephone Revisited

Well the end of the semester has come and gone and I survived! Persephone can emerge from the darkness for a few weeks before it starts all over again.

Looking back on the blogging experience, it wasn’t so bad after all (refer back to my first post in August 2009.) I’m glad Mel made us blog. I enjoyed having a place where I can process through some of my thoughts and challenges. I’m not sure anyone read it (Mel, are you even out there?) I’m not sure I care. But I’m glad I had a deadline to force me to write more often. I am going to try to keep going – even weekly, although I’m not sure I will without a grade tied to it. Perhaps I’ll post some of the things I write for my classes next semester. Who knows?

So, thanks Mel! It was a great semester! Ha, I even joined Facebook today – I’m really getting sucked in now – the pod people have got me…

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Stepping into the Light

This morning I woke up and looked out my window. I saw the mountain shrouded with fog with our neighborhood Christmas tree shining through from above. There was a light dusting of white on everything – and I was filled with joy!

I sat through ward choir with the basses at least a half a measure ahead and the alto section desperately fishing for notes – and I was filled with joy!

Today I listened to beautiful music, spent time with people I love and did a few nice things for others – and I was filled with joy!

For the first time in weeks the knot of fear inside me relaxed, the fuzzy-headed exhaustion lifted and I felt as if I was stepping out of a long dark tunnel into brilliant light.

Now maybe the change from the past few weeks is thanks to large amounts of sleep – and surely that’s part of it, but Much Ado About Nothing opened and I feel exhilarated that I have survived!

This truly has been a transformational experience for me – I have gained new skills and abilities as a performer, I have experienced personal insights and growth and I have forged on through an emotional and physical challenge that has pushed me beyond my limits.

Am I now a phenomenal actor? Not likely, although I definitely have improved – but I am more interested in becoming a phenomenal person and I have just taken a giant leap forward in that direction.

I feel phenomenal…I feel powerful…I feel bathed in light.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Letter to Leonata

Dear Leonata,

Well we open Much Ado About Nothing this week and I can honestly say that to portray you I have never worked so hard, been so challenged or felt so terrified in my life. The last couple of months have been exhilarating, upsetting and exhausting. I am passionate about learning, so in the end, because I have learned so much I am so grateful for this whole experience, but I have to admit when I woke up this morning with a big knot of fear in my stomach I thought, “Can you please just go away?!”

As I have studied you, I have learned much about myself and for that I will always be grateful. I have learned that I did not know how to scream. In your big emotional monologues, I have to scream – and I was at a loss as to how to do that. It’s not that I’ve never raised my voice, but I came to the somewhat surprising realization that I did not know how to scream. I can now – I practiced!

When comparing myself to you, I learned that I apologize for myself – all the time – often on a daily basis. I use self-depreciating humor, I preface what I have to say with a tone of voice or words that excuse what I’m about to say. I even move apologetically. I’ve come to realize that I’ve done it all my adult life, probably beginning back in ninth grade, when I purposely set out to take my rather large personality and make it fit more acceptably into the society around me. You would think an apologetic person would have self-esteem problems and I’m sure some of mine is related to moments when I am feeling less than confident, but most of it stems from hiding. Deep down I have always felt as if I have great power and ability (a great gift I thank my parents for,) but I have often felt that my confidence and joy made others uncomfortable. I have also felt that as I pursued things outside my home, that I was open to criticism from others who did not understand or appreciate my choices – so I have hidden the larger parts of me and apologized them away. This has been a rather shocking self-realization and I am still processing what it means and how understanding this changes me, but one thing is certain: it does change me.

The last thing I learned is that I am very cut off from my body. I have developed my intellect, my character, my talents, but not my body and my emotions. I have a highly developed ability to control and process my emotions in acceptable ways, but not to feel them fully. I have always felt a barrier in my performing and my writing and I think this is it. Until I can experience and process emotion more fully, how can I portray them on paper or on the stage? Next semester I am taking Movement for Actors, which I suspect may end up being one of the most important classes I take at school. I really look forward to exploring this more.

So Leonata… you terrify me. You’ve made me look at myself in new and surprising and sometimes painful ways. You live life raw and real and I don’t always know how to deal with that, but you inspire me to push towards more authenticity in my life. I will not be the same for knowing you. My dearest wish this week is that I can breathe you in and give you life with all the passion and pain that is you – and when all is said and done that I take a piece of you home with me to stay.

Thank you for the journey,

Wendy opens as Leonata in Much Ado About Nothing at UVU on Dec. 3, 2009. Call 801 863-PLAY for tickets.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Laban - Discovering Character through Movement

We’ve been studying another interesting thing in Acting 2 that I think applies to the writing of characters. It’s Laban (pronounced LAH-bahn) – a way to identify different kinds of movement. It’s based on three pairs of opposites: Direct/Indirect, Sustained/Quick and Strong/Light. By pairing these elements in all their possible combinations we get: Press (DSS), Glide (DSL), Slash (DQS), Dab (DQL), Wring (ISS), Float (ISL), Punch (IQS), and Flick (IQL). We have spent time moving in all these ways and thinking about which ways we love moving like and which ways we hate moving like – what energy are we? It’s been very interesting.

I am Glide – at least that’s how I see myself, but I have Press in me as well. The opposite of Glide is Slash and that definitely is the one I hate the most. The energy I feel most connected to is Sustained. I can relate to all the movements that are sustained to one degree or another: Float, Glide, Press and Wring, although I find Press and Wring exhausting. I am quite uncomfortable with all the quick movements, especially the strong ones. This really plays out in my day to day movement and to how I move on stage. I can have some grace, especially if allowed to move slowly or smoothly, but I can be pretty awkward if I have to do anything fast. I have to slap someone in Much Ado About Nothing – while saying a line and turning around – I took me a ridiculous amount of time to get this down and I’m still working on it – it’s embarrassing, really.

I’m a pretty direct person as well, although I am not adverse to some indirect, as I enjoy float and I can be wring if distraught or overly tired. I think the indirect parts of me are my creativity and, when I can let down my direct guard, my spontaneity (but I have to consciously put it aside, spontaneity is not my primary inclination.) The hardest part for me to figure out was strong or light. I feel as if I’m both. I feel a great deal of inner strength, but I hardly show it at all outwardly. In thought and intellect, I think I’m strong and don’t have a lot of interest in light, fluffy subjects; but in temperament, although I can be feisty and passionate, I am pretty even tempered – pretty glide-like. So I’m a lot of Glide, with a determined Press when necessary. Does that make me passive-aggressive? Or bi-polar? Ha! I hope not – I’d rather say I’m multi-layered! I would think a well developed person could have positive aspects of many energies – they all have their purposes and strong points.

So how does that apply to the work of character? I think developing character through physical aspects is very intriguing. It adds whole new layers to who this person is, how they interact with the world and what they’re about. Since I’m obsessing about Leonata right now, this was the first place I applied it. I think she is definitely Press (that’s where I best connect with her – determination and absolute resolve.), but she’s also Wring and occasionally Slash (and that’s where I struggle most with her.) These energies help me further understand Leonata and trying to implement Press and Wring physically on stage will, I hope, help me look more outwardly powerful. As a writer I plan to explore these energies with all of my characters. I think Laban is a useful tool to help paint a more complete picture of character.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Turning Memory into Meaning

I also maintain a blog for a Sunday School class that I teach and we were discussing how to preserve family stories and history. Below is a post I wrote this week about some ways I have taken bits of memories and developed them into fuller stories:

Preserving memories from our own lives and from the lives of our families is important, but what if we want to pass on more than brief reminiscence? What if we want those who come after us to get a sense of who we are and what our lives stood for? What if we want to pass on meaning as well as memory?

This can be done if we look for elements of story structure in the pieces of memory and tease out a fuller narrative. Our bits and pieces can also be woven together in a pattern of theme. Our brains are hard-wired for story. We learn and connect through story. And all story has patterns. We recognize and are satisfied when we interact with a complete story. On a very basic level stories are about struggle. We are the protagonists in our own lives and we are always struggling against something: a playground bully, our boss, the society’s standards, ourselves. In a story, as in life, someone is breaking the norms or pushing against someone or something else. When we pass on personal stories, we often gloss over the struggle, but the struggle is where we learn. The triumphs will not mean as much if we do not understand the struggles.

If we triumph over something less noble, we have a drama. If we have a noble purpose, but are unbalanced or overzealous and crash and burn, we have a tragedy. If we are breaking some rules, getting into trouble, but learn our lesson and all turns out well, we often have a comedy. Even though our lives don’t come wrapped up in a perfectly formed story, all the elements are still there.

Also look for simple plot structure in the memory. What was the status quo before the story? What was an incident that changed all that and who or what caused it? What are the struggles that came from that change? Who won or triumphed at the end? Did we return to the same status quo or was the status quo altered permanently and what was learned? For example, I tell a story about how I was a wrestling champion at my 5th grade summer camp. It’s a pretty funny story all by itself, but by emphasizing the social norms that I broke by being a girl wrestler in the 70’s, and my conflicting feelings over facing a boy I liked in the championship and contrasting myself with the perfect popular girls, I can show an heightened sense of drama and triumph when I win in the end.

Grouping memories around a theme is also a great way to tell a story. When I wrote my dad’s life history, I broke it into three categories or chapters. The first was called Heartland. It was about his growing up years in the Teton Valley in Idaho. The second was called Wings. It was about his adventurous nature as a young adult into adulthood and the creative, unique parent he was. The image of the Wing’s title page is that of a parachuting firefighter, which he did one summer to earn money for college. The final chapter was called Refiner’s Fire. He was a chemist who grew crystals in large furnaces that seemed like volcanoes to me. This chapter talks about how he faced his oncoming death at 38. Here’s is the opening paragraph to Heartland, to give you an idea of how I used theme in my father’s history:

Everyone has a homeland. It’s where you were born and raised. Most people also have a heartland. A place that echoes with warm memories and stories you can call your own. Sometimes your homeland and your heartland are one and the same, but sometimes they are not. A heartland can be filled with the majestic beauty of nature or it can be a city apartment in a high-rise building, it could be a swing in a big oak tree in your Grandpa’s backyard or in the arms of someone you love best, and sometimes… it can be a whole valley.

The Teton Valley is not my homeland. I was born and raised in California, but my father was born there in 1934, in a little log cabin, just off Highway 33 in Tetonia Idaho. The Teton Valley is the place that calls to my heart and tells me that I am home. It’s the place I’ve come to just about every year of my life to swing out across the creek on my Grandpa’s farm. It’s the place I come to pick huckleberries with my cousin Jed. It’s the place I come to feel six pairs of loving arms around me as my six aunts still give me extra attention and love, trying to fill the space left empty when my dad died when I was eight years old. The Teton Valley is where my dad was first nurtured, where he started thrusting down his first tender roots of life. It’s a place that played a big part in what he would become.

Then I related all the stories of my dad growing up, complete with pictures. Then at the end of the chapter, I wrote:

The Teton Valley’s breathtaking beauty and immense harshness seeped into my dad’s blood. Years of hard work built sinew and gave him backbone. A sky and land wide enough to let an imagination soar formed his intellect. A devout, hard-working and loving family molded a steadfast and gentle heart. I’d like to think some of that valley DNA exists in my bones and beats in my heart, calling me home to my heartland… a little farm with a creek and a barn nestled at the base of the Tetons.

One more idea on meaning: The motivation for writing my dad’s history was that I realized that his own grandchildren did not know very much about their grandpa. So to connect them further to the stories and the project, I had each grandchild create a picture to illustrate one of the stories. It really worked. As we published the book, each child was excited to see their artwork!

The pictures don't have to be great works of art. Here are two samples. Above is a rattlesnake cooking in a pan - my dad killed one on a campout, and yes, we ate it! Below is my dad sliding down his barn roof in the wintertime on a shovel. I told you my dad was adventurous!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Understanding Emotion

Last week in Acting 2, a life coach came in and spoke to us about emotional response and how to apply what we learned to the characters that we just worked on in scenes. This information is very applicable to the process of writing characters as well. So, here's what I learned:

Emotions are our first language. When we are young we are very in tune with our emotions - how we feel is how we react - but as we grow up we cover up and disconnect from our emotions. Every feeling - both positive and negative - has great power for insight. If we are not paying attention to this process, we are missing valuable information about ourselves. The presenter highly recommended journaling to create better awareness.

My favorite thing she said was that there are laws that govern emotions. If we can master the laws, we can break them - opening the way to amazing things.

If you want to fly, the first thing you have to do is understand

One of these laws is that the emotional response that we see or feel on the surface is not the primary emotion. Take anger. Anger is a protective emotion. We are protecting ourselves in some way. If we dig deeper, we might find embarrassment, frustration and usually at the core are the primary emotions of fear and/or pain. We are fearful or hurt when a belief we hold is not being reinforced or is being threatened.

We all hold beliefs and every event of our lives are filtered through these beliefs. If the belief is a negative one, such as "I am unloveable," this belief can be rescripted. It is difficult work, but we can change our view of ourselves and the world to something more healthy by being aware of our emotional responses and figuring out their underlying beliefs.

We also have meta-emotions and this is what sets us apart from all other living things: Meta-emotions are how we feel about how we feel. This adds more layers of emotions as we start to judge ourselves and others usually accompanied by more emotional responses.

Being aware of our emotions helps us to be more emotionally responsible. An emotionally irresponsible person:

1. Blames others "You make me so mad!"

2. Projects their own feelings on others "Why are you so irritated?" (when in fact they are the ones that are irritated.)

3. Tranfers emotions they don't know how to handle onto others. (if they didn't get the love they wanted from their father, they would transfer that need and/or anger onto someone else.)

When dealing with emotionally irresponsible people it is important to set boundaries. Clearly and calmly state what is acceptable and know that what you do will speak louder than what you say. Follow through on your stated boundaries. Don't be someone else's emotional garbage recepticle.

So how does this apply to acting and/or writing characters? Well I started immediately applying it to Leonata. It was helpful for me to understand that Leonata is not an emotionally responsible person. Her emotions are definitely out of balance - which make her hard for me to portray. It was also helpful to understand that her anger - unbridled rage, really - is masking fear. She is a woman in a man's world - in the middle of a war - and the events happening in the story, put her and her household in a very precarious position. It's much more than just loosing social face and standing. Her grief in her second monologue is also covering up a lot of stuff. Fear is still there, but also guilt and shame perhaps at how she treated her own daughter and bewilderment at how her world - and many of her beliefs - have crumbled around her.

This presentation got me looking deeper at character and realizing more fully the many layers that make up a human being.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

In Leonata's Footsteps

In Leonata’s Footsteps

Some very interesting things happen when you change the male part of Leonato in Much Ado About Nothing to a woman. Some very interesting commentaries on women’s roles emerge. Below is a cutting of my favorite Leonata speech in the play. Here she is refusing to be comforted or counseled by her brother Antonio when her only child, Hero, has had her honor slandered.

I pray thee cease thy council,
Bring me a woman that so lov’d her child,
Whose joy of her is overwhelm’d like mine,
And bid her speak to me of patience.
If such a one will smile and pat her hair,
Bid sorrow wag, cry ‘hem’ when she should groan,
Patch grief with proverbs, make misfortune drunk
With candle-wasters – bring her yet to me,
And I of her will gather patience.
But there is no such woman, women
Can counsel and speak comfort to that grief
Which they themselves not feel; but tasting it,
Their counsel turns to passion, which before
Would give preceptial medicine to rage,
Fetter strong madness in a silken thread,
Charm ache with air and agony with words.
No, no! Til women’s office to speak patience
To those that wring under the load of sorrow,
But no woman’s virtue nor sufficiency
To be so moral when she shall endure
The like herself. Therefore give me no counsel.
My griefs cry louder than advertisement.

I pray thee peace, I will be flesh and blood.

It’s basically saying that women are good at counseling forbearance when they are not feeling the grief, but not good at bearing up when they are the ones grieving. It speaks to the expectations of women to keep up appearances and to be patient in all things. I love, love, love the line: I pray thee peace, I will be flesh and blood.

I feel this is my journey in playing Leonata. She requires a good deal of passion – unbridled rage and grief – that I am having a hard time accessing. I was a very free and passionate child, but have spent my adulthood carefully schooling myself and being socialized into a disciplined, balanced and even person. I am a pleasant person, but am I flesh and blood?

I still want balance. I still want pleasant, caring, kind and any good thing that I have been able to develop within myself. And I don’t want to be unbridled – there lies the way to destruction, but I do want authenticity and passion – life giving passion.

It is a matter of looking hard at the layers of constructs surrounding me. Which ones are life giving and which are encrusted and hindering? The process of peeling away those layers can be confusing and painful, but I fear pain less than I do mediocrity. How can I offer anything to the world as a person, a writer, a performer, a friend if I – the good, the bad and the ugly – am not authentic?

I will be flesh and blood.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Adaptation Process

I was contacted today by a newspaper reporter who was doing an article about adaptations. I think the article is in conjunction with the opening of Something Wicked This Way Comes at UVU’s Noorda Theatre this weekend, which is an adaptation of the book by Ray Bradbury. The reason I was contacted was Katie Farmer referred her to me as I had just done the adaptation on Tom Sawyer.

So, that got me thinking about the adaptation process. I am no expert, but I thought I’d write down some of my thoughts on the process for my weekly assignment.

Read the Source Material. This seems obvious, but a good deal of research goes into an adaptation. I usually read the book straight through the first time and then read it at least once or twice more taking copious notes. I like to get a paperback so I can write all over the book itself. Then I expand my research into the author, looking at his/her life, what else they wrote, what they have to say about the work and any historical research needed.

Analyze the Work. This is where Katie’s classes have come in so handy. I use her model to define the major characters and what role functions they play in the story. I identify the kind (drama, tragedy, comedy or satire) and any sub-categories by looking at who wins and loses in the story. I look for plot patterns and other identifying plot features. It is very important to fully understand the work before playing with it. When adapting there are a lot of things you can change and play with, but one should keep the foundational structure the same or you have fractured the story and most likely you’re adaptation will be rejected. For example, to have Injun Joe reform in the end changes his role function. I can change other things about him. I personally was uncomfortable with the racial slurs aimed at him in the book. I didn’t feel that I could change his name, as it is so iconic, but I took out all the “half-breed” comments. Instead, he was a murdurin’ lowlife or some other such name.

The next step is to decide what is the most important thing about the story or its theme. This can be different for each person, but as you will be the author of your adaptation, this is your chance to pull out what you think is important. This doesn’t mean you hit your audience over the head with your chosen theme, but it does color your choices. Adaptation is all about making choices. You most likely are working with source material that is much longer than your finished play will be. Choosing your theme gives your work focus. Every scene you choose to include should serve that focus and other scenes, no matter how much we like them, will have to fall to the wayside.

Once I have clearly defined the focus and direction of the piece, I try to map out the scenes from beginning to end. I make sure that the important elements of inciting incident, dramatic question, turning point, rising action, climax and denouement are all still there. Don’t be too tied to the sequence of events as played out in the book. As long as you don’t change foundation parts of the story, you can change a lot of stuff and will need to if it is going to work in a new medium. At this point I often have to make choices based on my cast and where the show is going to be performed. Is it a show that will travel to schools? They I have to keep the cast and presentation small. Is it being mounted in a large theatre? Is it a community production that wants a cast of thousands? These are all elements that need to be considered. Then I get writing, usually moving from beginning to end till I get the whole story down.

The last stage is rewriting. I like to look at the piece as a whole, and then shape and trim it. I like to see what’s working and where it feels like it’s dragging. At this point and at any point in the process it’s very helpful to read it out loud, have it critiqued by others, have actors read through it. Feedback can be hard to come by and hard to take, but it is an essential part of the process. Try to create a coaching situation where you can workshop your work with others.

Adaptations can be full of pitfalls and problems since you are tied in many ways to your original source material at least on some level, but they can be a lot of fun and an excellent writing challenge.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wendy Goes on the War Path

I've just been cast as Leonata (a female version of Leanoto) in Much Ado About Nothing at UVU. Our version is set in the Mexican revolution in 1913. We are Zapatistas, fighting for our lands and freedom. I will look very much like the woman in the old photo above. Don't miss it! I can pretty much guarantee you it will be the only time you'll get to see me as a pistol-packin' mama!

Dec 3-12, 2009 at the Noorda Theatre http://http://www.uvu.edu/theatre/noorda/index.html

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Labyrinth of Meaning

We are studying tragedy in my Script and Text Analysis class, and it was recommended that we watch an excellent example of a dark tragedy: Pan’s Labyrinth. It has all the earmarks of a dark tragedy; it is a serious work, is vast, epic and heroic, it deals with big issues, is beautiful in its writing and execution, it aroused emotions of pity and fear, was cathartic, had a noble protagonist, was relentlessly honest, had a Savior figure that is a sacrificial lamb (quite literally in this case,) deals with spiritual or elevated concerns, has a noble protagonist that is not always understood and has a tragic flaw (in this case, Ofilia escapes her world through a belief in magic,) the tragic hero dies and as in the case of a dark tragedy (not so in regular tragedies) the system was taken down and pretty much everyone dies except the safe character (Mercedes.) Mercedes is also the footprint who will raise the new innocent baby in a more humane manner. This rather long list comes from the research of my Analysis professor, Katie Farmer.

Beyond it being an excellent, picture-perfect example of dark tragedy, what really caught my fancy about this film are the layers of meaning and mythological symbols. I admit it; I’m a little fanatical about myth and folktales. I’m not sure I even understand why, but it has something to do with the power imbedded in the stories, especially stories that were handed down for centuries by word of mouth – for these are the ones countless numbers of people felt were important enough to keep passing down. Think about it – it’s pretty remarkable. I think it boils down their universal truths and I’m sure for every story that was passed down, a hundred less-worthy ones fell by the wayside. The writing in Pan’s Labyrinth is very mythological in style and scope, and like all good dark tragedies, it is beautiful and epic as well.

So, onto Pan’s Labyrinth’s symbolic meaning…. A labyrinth itself is highly symbolic. It represents a spiritual journey to the core and the cycles, twists and turns that all journeys take. It can also represent birth and rebirth and the transition from one world to another – which strongly reflects the movie. The labyrinth can also represent the four cardinal directions and the crossroads that form between them. Crossroads is a reoccurring idea in the movie. All the meanings of a labyrinth cannot be easily detected for a labyrinth is a holder of secrets, but it can also mean a inner, upper spiraling of knowledge or awareness (as in Piaget’s cognitive theory.) As related to the movie, it could be the moving away from the violent, twisted-masculine world of Vidal to the more humane and altruistic world of Mercedes, the doctor and Ofilia.

Our protagonist, Ofilia, has a highly symbolic name as well. She mirrors Shakespeare’s character from another famous dark tragedy, Hamlet. Both are innocents overcome by trauma and perhaps going mad, although their losing touch with an unbearable reality could be seen as a sane choice.

And that touches on one of the main themes: People dealing with trauma and the choices it drives them to. Looking at the movie and its symbols through the eyes of Carl Jung can be very helpful in understanding the mythological references and how they apply to the traumatized psyche of Ofilia. In Jungian theory, all portions of the story, the good, the bad and the ugly all refer to parts of our own psyche. So everything that Ofilia encounters in the mythic realm, is just her mind trying to work through her intense trauma. Jungian analyst, Donald Kalsched, said, “When human resources are unavailable, archetypal resources will present themselves.” That is exactly what is happening to Ofilia in this movie.

Ofilia is at a crossroads in her life. She is being uprooted to a new and very dangerous world and her mother is ill and ineffectual. Her position is very precarious. At her crossroads, she hears the classic Campbell’s “The Call” and she crosses “The Threshold.” At this point, she meets a fawn who gives her a book, called The Crossroads. Its blank pages can then be filled in by her subconscious to explore the knowledge she needs to learn to continue on her journey – her journey to face “The Shadow.” At this point in her journey, her reality is split into two: the ordinary realm and the mythic realm. The fawn is of the mythical world and is of earth, magic and ancient knowledge. This is in great contrast to the ordinary world which is disconnected from nature, the soul and basic humanity. The Fascists symbolize this ordered, highly clean world. The Rebels, in another contrast are of the woods – somewhere in between, but more aligned with the mythic world. Both the mother and Mercedes tell Ofilia that there is no magic or they no longer believe in it. This also shows the tendency to get disconnected from our souls/subconscious as we grow up.

It is interesting that to complete her first task, Ofilia has to take off her brand new dress (a great symbol the Vidal’s world,) and enter the filthy, muddy inner bowels of the old tree. She is covered in earthiness by the time she is done. In the belly of the tree, she has to face her fears. She tells the giant toad who she is and that she is not afraid. Both of these simple statements hold great power in facing up to life’s challenges. As she faces up to what she fears, she is awarded the key to self-knowledge, freedom and life (the tree regenerates due to her efforts.)

Her second task is much harder and more disturbing. The child-eating monster could represent Ofilia’s own appetites and passions. When she indulges in the two grapes, she awakens her monster – the appetite within. It is interesting that as the monster’s eyes are in its hands, it cannot see while it is indulging its appetite. How true for all of us. Ofilia barely escapes as the monster is eating and perhaps her experience is one of finding the balance between repressing our passions and indulging in them.

Her last task is all about obedience, which I think is really linked to the theme about keeping our humanity through our own journey. The doctor states it well, when he walked away from Vidal and said, “I cannot obey just like that, just because you tell me to – that is only for men like you to do.” He is right, but he pays for his courageous humanity with a bullet in his back. Leading up to the third task, the fawn mirrors this by telling Ofilia that he requires absolute obedience. Up to this point Ofilia has been walking the tightrope of obedience. As she enters the mythical world, she begins to disobey her mother inadvertently, by doing things her mother would never approve of: going out into the woods by herself, getting covered with mud and continuing to be involved in magical thinking. She is also inadvertently disobeying her new step-father by not divulging what she knows about Mercedes’ rebel activities. She also starts to think for herself. For example, in the second task, she follows her intuition instead of following the fairies and opens the right door. This is a trial and error process, for the next time she thinks for herself by disobeying the fairies by eating the grapes she almost gets killed and her actions costs the life of two fairies. At the climax, she is again at a crossroads. She desperately wants out of her reality, but to gain access to the magic world and to obey the fawn is to take the life of her new baby brother. She, like the doctor, refuses and pays for it with her life. But as she lay dying, she comes to realize that by giving up all, she has gained all – she has retained her humanity.

I have never thought of the issue of obedience as connected to humanity, but after viewing this movie, I can see that they are strongly linked. The choice between obedience and disobedience can be tricky and dangerous on many levels. We have to carefully choose where and to what we align our obedience. In the end, it should be a matter of humanity.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Character Study - Cor

I am writing a play for my New Play Workshop class. It is a piece for Young Audiences called The Storytelling Stone. The protagonist, is named Cor. I have read through the chapter in my playwrighting book on Character and have decided to write some thoughts on Cor, covering some of the ideas in the chapter.

Cor is 13 years old. He lives in the distant past in a foreign land besieged by war. The land is thought to be the birthright of two different tribes, who have fought over it for centuries. Cor belongs to the Pastio tribe, farmers and sheepherders, who have lived in the area for three generations. Recently, the Nava tribe invaded and Cor’s family – father, mother, sisters and grandmother were killed. Cor was brought from his family’s land into the village to serve as a slave for a prominent Nava family.

Haley Joel Osment dressed very much as I envision Cor

First Dimension
Cor stutters and is hesitant to talk.
Cor is fearful and traumatized.
Cor is loyal, especially to the Storytelling Stone.
Cor wants his freedom, but has nowhere to go.

Second Dimension
Cor is mistrustful of and angry with the Nava, but also grew up with stories from his Grandmother that gives him a broader view of the “enemy” than most others around him.
Deep down inside, Cor has much wisdom to share.
Cor has an inner core of strength instilled by his family.
Cor’s integrity to his promises made to the Stone will push him to courageous actions.
Cor wants desperately for people to stop and see each other’s stories, and for each person to be respected and valued regardless of tribal affiliation.

Third Dimension
Cor feels so alone that he is willing to reach out to a boy (Lux) who has treated him with utter contempt.
Cor is so powerless that he latches immediately unto the idea of being a Stone Reader – it gives him a sense of purpose and divine calling – an anchor in an unstable and cruel world.
Cor’s integrity to the Stone becomes his driving force and he pushes past fear to take a courageous stand.
His integrity and loyalty to the Stone translates into loyalty to Lux.

Cor’s stutter is a clear individualization that sets him apart from the other characters. He is also one of the only meek and open characters (besides Fabula,) although many of the other character gain an increase of openness and centeredness after coming in contact with Cor.

Basing Characters on Real People
I had not originally based Cor on anyone, but if I had to chose someone, Haley Joel Osment from Sixth Sense comes to mind. His haunted eyes, his hesitancy and pain could very much be of the same color as Cor.

Character Arc
Cor has a dramatic character arc in which he finds his voice. Situations are such that he increasingly has to step forward, past fear, and claim his destiny. A narrative device also hints at greater things to come at the end of the play.

Character Catalyst
The Storytelling Stone and some of the events beyond Cor’s control are catalysts in the story, but his motivations as expressed above are what truly drive his actions.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A New Adaptation

Last week, a friend of mine from Park City, called. I used to work with Dana at the Egyptian Theatre there. She used to be the Artistic Director of the theatre. She called to say that the theatre has asked her to direct the Christmas show this year and she was wondering if I could write an original adaptation of the A Christmas Carol. Over ten years ago, we did a version of A Christmas Carol together. She was the director and I was the musical director. It’s hard to find a good version, so we found the best we could and doctored it up. It was a musical and we didn’t end up using half the song because they were pretty lame. Anyway, the best part of our production was the caroling quartet. I found authentic arrangements from the time period of traditional carols and we had the quartet sing as they changed all the scenery. The audience loved the quartet. So based on that, we decided to throw out all the other music this time around and further develop the idea of the quartet being central to the show. If Dana can cast it with singers who can act well, the quartet will also play multiple roles.

The fun part of writing a script for a specific production is that you can tailor fit it perfectly to your needs. That’s how the Tom Sawyer adaptation arose. We were asked to tour a production of Tom Sawyer and we knew we couldn’t travel with more than five people. There were no scripts in existence that had those parameters, so I got to write it and once it was cast, I put specific things in for the specific actors that we had. For instance, our Becky Thatcher is a wonderful singer, so I put in a short hymn for her to sing during the funeral scene.

So now I’ve spent the last week writing the first draft of Christmas Carol (and getting far too little sleep) and am now waiting for further direction from the designers and the director and waiting to see who gets cast and then I’ll start the rewrites. Meanwhile, I’ll keep going over it, cleaning it up and trying to add in some humor It’s a very fun process – not quite like writing an original story – but very good experience none the less.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Charlotte's Web Review

If you have kids, you need to go to UVU’s Noorda Theater and see Charlotte’s Web (it runs through Oct 3, 2009.) Heck, if you don’t have kids, you need to go see Charlotte’s Web. It is a delightful production. I’ve seen it twice and would happily see it again. The adaptation is by Joseph Robinette and is considered one of the finest children’s adaptations ever written – and it is. It follows the story faithfully, while giving some surprises and new insights, especially into the character of Charlotte. Add this to a whole passel of excellent character performances, full size animal puppets and spectacular sets – what could be more fun!

The adaptation does two things that I really like: It helpes me get to know Charlotte better and gives Wilbur a stronger character arc. The changes aren’t big, just subtle, but this is a subtle story to begin with and anything more would not be in sync with the tone of the book.

I don’t think anywhere in the book we hear Charlotte’s thoughts, but here and there throughout the play, we hear Charlotte talking to herself; we get into her head. This makes the story stronger. It is Charlotte’s story after all, but because we see it through Fern’s and Wilbur’s eyes, we don’t often don’t feel that. Charlotte seems more like a real entity and a caring friend. We see more of her internal struggle over going to the fair. To her it is choosing between helping save a friend’s life and procuring a future life for her babies. The dilemma is definitely stronger in the play. Her death is more tender as well. The play makes it feel more like Charlotte’s story.

I often hear people complain about the character of Wilbur. They say he is weak and whiney and that he only thinks of himself. He is a character with a very weak power dynamic, but that has never bothered me too much because he is functioning on the level of a small child. We don’t look at a 4 year old and say, “What a selfish person!” Wilbur is just that, a child. I admit that in the book he does not have a strong character arc. The strongest thing he does is order Templeton to get Charlotte’s egg sac so he can take it back to the farm, but when Spring comes and the spider babies are flying away, he seems as despondent and whiney as in the beginning. The play shows Wilbur growing in courage, love and maturity. He tells Templeton near the end that it doesn’t matter how long he lives, but how he lives and that he loved. It’s a simple line, but speaks volumes. When the babies are flying away, he is not happy, but seems to better understand the way of the world. He makes a stronger footprint for Charlotte in the play.

I must say that these subtle changes are greatly enhanced by the actors Jana Grass and Jacob Porter who gave genuine and tender performances.

The whole big wonderful play is amazing – so get out and see it!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

It is Alive!

This week I experienced a miraculous thing… a birth – the birth of a play – my play. It is a curious thing to see the words that you labored and agonized over take on breath and flesh and become a living thing. And I really can’t call it “my” play, for by now my DNA has been mingled with that of the director and the actors to create a new amalgamation; perhaps more like the reanimation of Dr. Frankenstein’s creature than a new born baby, but either way, I happily declare, “It is alive!”

I should give the disclaimer that the play is an original adaptation of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, so the words are more Mark than me, but like the good Dr. Frankenstein I have cut and sewn and added in a few original parts and the results are much less frightening. You won’t run screaming from the theatre, I promise!

We have a great cast and it has been so fun to see them bring the material to life and to hear the audience respond, laugh or just watch with delighted faces. The show is traveling to schools throughout Utah, but you can still catch one of the remaining public performances. They are at the Orem Public Library: September 25, October 2,9 and 16; and at UVU’s Noorda Theatre Experimental Box: October 17.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

New Horizons

This is an auspicious week (not to mention, an incredibly busy one as well.) On Friday, Resonance Story Theatre’s Tom Sawyer opens. We were asked last spring to create a traveling production of Tom Sawyer to coincide with the Orem Public Library’s Big Read. The Big Read Kicks off on Monday, September 14th and you can read more details about the whole thing at: http://www.orembigread.org/. Resonance Story Theatre partnered with the new Noorda Theatre at Utah Valley University (http://www.uvu.edu/theatre/facilities/noorda.html) and Tom Sawyer has become the Noorda’s first touring show. I wrote an original adaptation to accommodate a small cast. There are five actors who play multiple roles. This has been a wonderful project and we have a great cast. Besides performing at the Orem Library and the Noorda Experimental Box, the show will travel to 18 schools throughout Utah and to the Egyptian Theatre in Park City. You can get all the details at: http://www.resonancestorytheatre.com.

This week has been full of firsts for me. I workshopped my very first scene of a new play I am writing in a class at school. I learned I have a lot to learn, but the process of getting feedback is invaluable and I am determined to seek it out no matter how uncomfortable. I’ve been helping out with the props and costumes for Tom Sawyer, so another first is I’ve been making things with power tools! I’ve built a prison window and worked on the picket fence. It’s been fun. Another great first is I was hired for my first freelance analysis job. A producer is paying me to look over a children’s theatre script and write up an analysis. Thank you Katie Farmer, my script and text analysis professor, whose incredible 30 years research on analysis has given me marketable skills. I really loved working on this project and ended up with a 7 page type written analysis, using Katie’s model and my own experience to give, what I think, is valuable and usable thoughts and ideas on how to strengthen the script. I would love to do more of this type of work.

I can’t tell you how much I love my life. It’s a little crazy right now with school and opening the show, but every week brings me new and varied experiences and I feel as if my head is just exploding with new thoughts and possibilities.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Waking Up

I just spent the weekend at the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival for a marathon of stories and I couldn’t be more tired and content! I heard everything from personal stories, tall tales, Edgar Allen Poe, folktales, ballads, African-American poetry, folk music both old and new and on and on. I have laughed, I have cried… I have felt my heart and soul expand. One teller, Angela Lloyd, sang an old ballad about Sleeping Beauty while adding her own comments in between the verses. She talked about how dusty Sleeping Beauty was and how she had morning breath. It got me thinking… No one ever thinks about how hard it must have been to wake up after a hundred years. We just get the kiss and then move right to the “happily ever after.” Don’t you think her head would have been spinning from all the changes (not to mention marrying a complete stranger one hundred years her junior!) She might have been shocked at the new fashions that (gasp!) exposed the limbs, or her country might have been conquered by another and now everyone speaks a different language. Think of all the ways the world would have left her behind. It would definitely have been a fish-out-of-water experience.

This resonated with me because I feel as if I am in the process of waking up. For twenty-three years I have been a mother. I have been primarily involved in the development of others. I’m not complaining. It has been, and still is, my most incredible journey. It has made me who I am and has shaped my character. No matter what I accomplish in my life, it will never compare with the accomplishment of succeeding in and surviving motherhood.

But there are parts of me that have been asleep. Hopes and dreams… and whole sections of my brain! Going back to college in my forties is definitely a fish-out-of-water experience. I spend most of my days hanging around with people the age of my children – it makes for an interesting social landscape. I live in this surreal world where, because of my age, my professors treat me as if I have experience and knowledge and yet every day there are moments when I am learning huge new things that are just so basic – things a simple idiot could have figured out intuitively. I want to cry, “Wait, while I wipe the sleep from my eyes.”

The process of waking up is awkward and humbling, but it’s also exquisite. The act of peeling away my outer, crusty layers of old thoughts and immobility to expose the new, raw, pink me can be almost unbearably sweet and painful. It’s not just learning how to act or write a play, it’s expanding my mind to new thoughts; it’s opening my soul to new ways of looking at the world. It’s the process of becoming an artist - a skill that is not nurtured by my society.

So, world, please excuse me when I’m groggy. Please be tolerant of my bumbling attempts. I cannot turn back, for no matter how painfully awkward the way, I feel driven by the power of story… I feel driven by the promise of learning… I feel driven to wake up.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Mockingbird Fly

The goal of the scriptwriting class is to write and the goal of the blog is to post some of what I write for Mel to review. So I looked at what I've written in just the last week and I was surprised at the variety of writing. As verified by the "recent documents" on my computer, I've edited an appendix for a professor's textbook and a column for the national publication Storytelling Magazine, I wrote two grant reports, posts for my new blog, and most exciting, I wrote the three first scenes of a new play I'm working on (working title: The Storytelling Stone.) That was a good writing week! I know grant reports sound dull and dry, but I'm going to post a narrative from one of the reports. It was from a project I did last fall called Mockingbird Fly. Writing the final report reminded me how much I loved that project and what an impact it had on my life. I spent over 100 hours researching and writing the script and also acted, sang, musically directed and produced as Resonance Story Theatre. http://www.resonancestorytheatre.com/

Mockingbird Fly

“Somewhere we read a little child shall lead them… These young people are about their father’s business.

They are carving a tunnel of hope through the red mountain of despair and they will bring to this nation a newness and a genuine quality and an idealism that it so desperately needs.

Keep this movement rolling in spite of the difficulties and we’re going to have a few more difficulties. Keep calm.

Keep moving! If you can’t fly, run! If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl. But by all means, keep moving.”

Martin Luther King
on the Children’s Crusade

Mockingbird Fly was true community collaboration as Resonance Story Theatre joined forces with Orem City, the Orem Public Library, SCERA, UVU’s Contemporary Dance Company, Theatre Department, Education Department, and Center for Engaged Learning to bring to life this powerful performance piece. Inspired by To Kill a Mockingbird, Resonance Story Theatre created a show that wove dialogue from the book, music, dance, folktales, and true narratives from Americans who were involved in pushing the cause of civil right. Mockingbird Fly showed just how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go.

Atticus Finch said, “You’ll get along a lot better, if you can learn this simple trick. You’ll never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

This was our directive, to create a performance piece that would address the issues of race found in the book, To Kill a Mockingbird, and to raise awareness and understanding – to allow our audiences the chance to climb into someone else’s skin. We used the power of story – real stories of young people who had stood up and made a difference – and music and dance to reach our audiences. We also used images. When we said the Freedom Riders hit some trouble once they got to Alabama, a picture of a bus with black smoke billowing out of it, was worth a thousand words.

The response to the piece was overwhelmingly postive and qualitative research was gathered as UVU student essays. They show the acquisition of new knowledge:

“It was crazy to hear how many things they had to go through to get rid of the Jim Crow laws. I had always heard it was hard, but it didn’t really have the same aspect of seeing it acted out.”

The essays show the deep connection the audience made with the stories and how music and dance deepened that connection:

“It was truly inspirational and you could feel the emotion. I loved the drums; it made my heart beat fast as they grew faster and louder. This production made me want to cry when remembering how hard it must have been for these wonderful people. They had so much hope to go on.”

The essays also showed processing and relfection:

“I hadn’t heard of many of the people they spoke about and the small ways they stood up for their freedoms. I love how small acts of what was once considered rebellion and defiance are now seen as acts of heroism, showing that just because people don’t agree with what we are doing at the time, does not mean that the action is wrong, but rather that the minds of society are
not yet developed as they should be.”

We feel the impact to Orem audiences was significant, as reflected in the essays. We
reached every goal of connecting Orem enitites & people. For the writers, directors and cast,
Mockingbird Fly was truly a remarkable experience and we were all changed.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Persephone Personified

Here I am. This is my blog.

I am here because Mel commands it. Mel is my instructor at Utah Valley University for my beginning playwrighting class - an otherwise perfectly pleasant person, except for the fact that we have to blog for our class.

I have returned to school and they call me a non-traditional student. That's just their polite way to say that I'm old. And being as ancient as I am (a decrepit 44 years) I am a bit of a technological hermit. Oh sure, I have a cell phone, laptop, a website and I email everyday, but I am a hold out on everything else. I have turned down about one billion invitations to join Facebook, Linked In, MySpace etc. I have never sent a text. And I have ignored the advice of many in my line of work to get professionally connected online, and most of all to blog.

I have scorned them all for two very good reasons. The first is on principle. I think our society is too fractured already. I don't text because I'd rather talk to a voice - a real person. I have to email, it's a necessity to getting things done, but I will always choose the most human, real form of communication I can. I have seen younger students around me not answer a call, but then text back their friend (you know you do it!) We are loosing the skill of real communication and connection. I find that scary.

The second reason is simply...time. Especially for the next two years while I finish my degree (theatre arts with an emphasis in playwrighting,) I just don't have the time. Again, well meaning fellow artist (actors, storytellers, writers) have advised me to market, to blog, to get Linked In. I just smile, then run for the door. I've got more work than I can get to, so I don't think spending time doing these things to get work I don't have time to do is a wise choice.

So against my moral beliefs and busy schedule, here I am... in my very own blog. I feel a bit like Persephone. You know who Persephone is, don't you? In Greek mythology, she is the daughter of Demeter, Goddess of all living, growing things. The two live in a idyllic world, roaming the woods and fields without a cell phone in sight. But then Hades, the God of the underworld, spies Persephone and want her for his wife. Does he ask for a date? Does he approach Demeter for permission? No. He thunders out of a crack in the ground in his chariot pulled by black horses, grabs her while she's picking flowers and drags her down to hell.

So this is me, being dragged kicking and screaming down to blogger hell. I guess that makes Mel, Hades (sorry, Mel.) But the story has a happy ending - sort of. Demeter is so upset that all growing things die, until Zeus commands that Hades returns Persephone to her mother. The problem is, Persephone ate 6 pomegranate seeds in Hades' garden, so she has to live 6 months out of the year with Hades and 6 months with her mother - and that's how we get the seasons, according to the Greeks. When I was a kid, I used to think, what's up with the pomegranate seeds? The story makes more sense when you realize that the red pomegranate seeds represent sexual knowledge, so there you go.

So perhaps I too may find some pleasure in blogging hell. Who knows? Maybe after the semester's over, I might find that I return to the blog time and time again.