So it got around to 7pm again, and I made my way to the RC for session numero deux. We began by discussing Now or Later by Christopher Shinn (which we had been given to read the previous week). Overall It’s a really interesting piece, sort of an American state-of-the-nation play. Be warned, if you intend on reading it/going to see it for yourself, (and I would recommend it) the rest of this paragraph contains spoilers. The piece follows the son of the soon-to-be president elect of the USA (John) on the eve of his father’s electoral victory (John Snr.). It is almost certain that his father (a democrat) will take the presidency, and this is not the issue- rather the rather sticky situation of pictures of John Jnr. appearing at an Ivy League college party dressed up as Mohammed. There also emerges a video of him simulating fellatio on ‘Pastor Bob’ – a Christian far right fundamentalist loony. Think Harry dressing up as a Nazi had he been 3rd in line to the throne on VE day. However this is not a stupid prank, John Jnr had recently been embroiled in some complicated freedom of speech issues on campus- anti-Muslim cartons had been put up and Muslim groups on campus had used this to challenge the university’s freedom of speech policy- demanding punishment, calling the pictures an incitement to hatred/violence. John wrote a piece in the student magazine defending the freedom of speech policy which was the construed into an attack on the Muslim groups. A female liberal fellow student who also happens to be holding a ‘naked party’ attacks John Jnr in a lecture regarding this, he and a friend (on the spur of the moment) decide to go to the party as Mohammed and Pastor Bob to make clear the irony of the student completely defending the Muslim group’s right to quash freedom of speech- whilst also holding a party that a Muslim state would render illegal. The whole piece centres on whether or not John will make a statement apologising for his actions.
The play makes some interesting and uncomfortable points about the clash between public and private worlds, about the ‘narrative’-driven nature of modern politics, the difficult nature of left wing politics with regards to Islam, all played out within the gulf between a father and his son. Several very good points were made in the RC group discussion – for example the choice to close the piece down into a single space/time frame, to allow the complex issues to breathe, and also, the choice not to have a Muslim voice in the piece, which I think made it much clearer the confusion and misconceptions, and also doesn’t pretend to even begin to understand the other viewpoint. It is an uncomfortable read, phrases such as ‘these people’ and ‘more sophisticated than them’ made me cringe, but also made me think ‘yes I believe in the right to believe what you want, but a religion, any religion that disagrees with that, I must also disagree with- any kind of evangelist sect/religion’ I also have very deeply held beliefs about the freedoms of women, and although my dissertation research revealed that Islam is not historically sexist, and indeed stresses complete equality in monetary, personal and business spheres, it has (like many other religions) been subsumed by patriarchy, from which we get FGM, dowry, female-property laws, ridiculous rape laws et al. But the fact of the matter is that literal Islam – as it is read by many, fundamentally subjugates women, gay people, and other freedoms and human rights. The play emphasised the difficulty of this liberal debate by placing someone (gay, incidentally) seeing a situation in black and white, set against a debate of many, many shades of grey. I think that the play was overall very economical and well crafted, though perhaps suffered for the great weight of ideas and difficult argument (even 3 hours long I don’t think the piece would ever feel long enough), and the final decision a little disingenuous, it was a very interesting, and pertinent piece. I might ask my semi-Muslim, and strictly Muslim friends to read it though, would be interested in a reaction from their point of view.
Following the discussion of this piece, we moved on to working on the pieces written following last week’s session. In small groups we read out, and gave feedback on the short scenes – my scene was set atop a hill in Lincolnshire- two people are meeting there- A has asked B to come, she wants him to finally tell her it’s over- their relationship having finished, but him generally saying not forever. A loves B still. Although B has a family, and their not being together for 8 years, B won’t say it’s over, because there’s still something there. A is also losing her home – Lincolnshire has been given over to widespread flooding and is being completely evacuated. They are meeting on a hill on which they began and ended their relationship. As usual my first draft was far too cryptic, one guy got what A wanted, and not the flooding thing, and the other guy the other. This didn’t surprise me, but was still useful to know. We then did some work on filling out character backgrounds, and on the dreaded transitive verbs- ‘actioning’ words. IE the idea that a line of dialogue is only useful and dramatic- that is, active- if it has an underlying action; ‘I persuade you’, ‘I evade you’, ‘I tempt you’ etc. Always good for filtering out all of the pretty sentences which don’t actually move a piece on, though I do feel a tad tiring when applied in detail. Anyway, idea is to use those exercises in order to redraft the scene for two weeks time. We also have to read some or all of the following plays:
- Spring Awakening
- A Raisin in the Sun
- King Lear
- Krapp’s Last Tape
Which should be good, I’ve already read Lear (though don’t have a copy) and have the complete Beckett, but I’ve bought the first four anyway, because the more plays you read the better really, especially when you can’t afford to see them!
So yes, that was Monday. In other news I had a fun birthday weekend with a meal out and some Jazz/Funk, but am extremely tired following London/Weekend out/not sleeping well last night because of a cold. Feels a bit odd to be going to work on my Birthday (tomorrow), turning officially mid-twenties (24) and generally not seeing anyone on my actual birthday, but ho-hum, such is getting older yes? Bah!
Thanks for reading.