For her local project cohort 3 BGF-er, Hazel, wrote and directed a short play about people at a bus stop having a conversation about their experience of loss, inevitability and hope, framed by the context of climate change. A fantastic and creative local project - way to go Hazel 👏
Read on below to find out more about Hazel's experience of carrying out her local project, in her own words, and to watch the play itself:
So, for my Bright Green Future local project, I decided to put on a play. Art, after all, is the beating heart of our society! The life blood in our people’s veins! It was also much more in my comfort zone than sitting at a stall selling energy efficient light-bulbs: I’ve got a weird brand of shyness which hates being at the centre of attention, but is perfectly happy stood on stage, I presume because I can hide behind a character and lay responsibility at the feet of my drama teacher. But it wasn’t a cop-out. This project let me engage with the grubby little goblin in me demanding I create, and let me do one of those secret things I’ve always loved: walking upstage and telling people how they should feel.
Now important context here is that I did have experience in theatre. I had acted in two decent plays, and a third bad one (in all fairness, I was 11). Apart from the bad one, they were stressful and energy intensive projects which despite everything ended up well. Even when we had only one month to perfect a two-hour play, it turned out well. Even when three days before the final performance, our lead villain didn’t know his lines, it turned out well.
Throughout this entire project, this past experience lent me confidence that it would turn out well- despite everything. Sadly, it didn’t lend me much else.
As it would turn out, roughly two years of dramatic experience (we’ll just forget about that play when I was 11) wasn’t enough to lend any expertise in play writing or directing- or so little an amount it was negligible. Honestly, I had been relying on experience in writing to aid me most here.
Writing was a hobby I had nurtured since I was 9, but I hadn’t actually finished any stories though, nor attempted to write any scripts.
Still, I thought to myself. How hard can it be?
As my first draft proved: quite. In an especially nefarious way, in that it seemed good until I had some friends-turned-cast members read it. Like Clark Kent ripping open his shirt to reveal that famous S, my cast ripped apart my script to reveal a performance threatening boring, promising awkward, and wrapped up with a sour taste of disappointment and regret.
The issue is, I had written it like prose. I had hoped to focus on little, subtle, undercurrents of emotion to avoid that preachy pro-environment tone which I don't think has a positive effect, and to communicate some fun human emotions. But that didn’t translate to a script- instead, my characters’ reliance on social norms to avoid uncomfortable topics came across as my characters desperately needing a session with Tea Addicts Anonymous.
Take this for example:
“Ben’s hand twitched, then grabbed his mug. Whatever thoughts were going on behind his eyes- whatever Helena’s comment had made him think- he was terrified of it, and squashed it. Tea, now that was safer ground. Everyone liked tea, and it didn’t cause existential nightmares.”
To: a guy standing slightly stage right, twitching and then drinking his tea. Your attention might not even be on him, despite my best efforts, because there would be three other people on stage at the same time, also trying to communicating their characters.
So, what did I do? The only reasonable thing: scrap it and entirely rewrite it. No, scrap that, I wasn’t going to rewrite it. The entire concept was flawed. I had to go back to basics.
I created a folder on my laptop called “Play- Attempt DEUX”, with the uppercase French representing impassioned motivation, and a small amount of desperation. My first script had taken me perhaps two weeks to write, and after extensive editing and cutting, was a whopping 16-pages long. Where to begin? How could I prevent that happening again?
I started by monologuing, like an evil villain, for five pages, assessing what went wrong in the first draft, and how to prevent that happening again.
Here, I planned. I used what I had learned from the first script to create conflict, develop realistic characters, inspired by real people, and pick a sensible setting I could recreate on stage. The result? A beautifully concise single-scene plot with only 2.5 characters, and the modest set of a bus stop. Kept the names from the last script, but that was all. Helena, this time, was a researcher working on biofuels, until all the funding was switched to a crude-oil project. What irony! And now she was drunk at a bus stop, convinced everything was hopeless, and determined to tell everyone it. Ben, meanwhile, was also at the bus stop, and was uncomfortable. He found Helena pushy and annoying (which, she was), and eventually burst out yelling, “Nothing’s goddam inevitable!” Which he knows, because he managed to escape the abusive household he was raised in, despite thinking it’d be inevitable. The 0.5 of a character was an old man I threw in for a second to monologue about the grand scheme of the world, linking together the themes of Ben’s child abuse and Helena’s end-of-the-world-ing.
The difference from my first script was fundamental, but they shared the same basic theme of hope. My first play was about a teenage girl originally going nowhere with life, but then finding her passion in environmental issues, pulling a complete 180° and becoming motivated and hard working. This change prompted the other cynical, older character, to believe there might actually be hope. In the second play, I instead explored this theme through the conflict with Helena’s pessimism and how that unintentional trod on a few tender issues for Ben. After all, his optimism, that things would change, would be something he would carefully guard, because it was what gave him the energy and determination to push through his dark household. This let me talk parallel to what I believe is a strong theme in environmental campaigns, this idea of is it hopeless? Can we achieve anything? Without being excessively on the nose, and also just allowing me to enjoy weaving characters and stories.
Next was the actual directing. I assembled my curious cast of friends I had previously acted with on past productions- an assurance that they could act. At first, I hesitated to offer guidance: I didn’t want to tell them what to do! Didn’t want to act like I knew better! Which is literally the job of the director. Then I had to learn just how to offer advice. Jumping in every time something didn’t work: no line of a play exists alone. It’s always influenced by the one directly before, and the body language and positions on the stage, leading up to the one that will follow without jumping the gun. But if you constantly interrupt the play, then you interrupt and obstruct this flow, creating obstacles that would never exist if you had just kept quiet.
So, I took a leaf from my drama teacher’s book, when she had been directing plays I’d been in. I spent the entirety of the performance scribbling in a wee book. I had to develop a shorthand to make that work- one I had to remind myself of each week.
Our first rehearsal was 11th April, during the Easter Holidays when everyone was free. The performance date was originally June 6th, but that got moved to June 20th. That left us about 10 weeks to make this work- remember how I said we’d previously pulled off a two-hour play in a month? This was more than two months and so was plenty time to pull off a 6-page, 20-minute performance.
Except, it would never be that simple. We had to work around other commitments and bus timetables, sometimes going two weeks between rehearsals because availability was so awkward. This meant that come the 15th of June (five days before performance!) a main character had not yet learnt his lines. I don’t think our rehearsal schedule was entirely responsible for that, nor his business. Ironically, this was a comfort- if he hadn’t learnt his lines because he hadn’t put the effort in, then maybe that meant in the next five days he could! After all, it was a short script.
But ultimately, I was powerless there. I could only watch hopeful each rehearsal that he wouldn’t need a prompt. Everything else pulled together nicely- it was a pleasure to watch these characters come to life! To track their movements across the stage, and for my notes to be filled overwhelmingly with positive comments!
Eventually, it was the final rehearsal, the morning of the 20th. We would be performing as part of the school’s annual music performance, and the room was dressed to the nines in preparation. Our cast member still had not learnt his lines, but we had come to terms with it. We had put maximum effort in, and there was nothing to be ashamed of. Plus, I can say with a clear conscience that I was proud of it! Despite the nerves of the cast, I knew that they were brilliant actors, and that they had managed to bring to life my ambitious little project.
I caught the cast backstage in the fifteen minutes before the performance. We were going to be the first on stage, and I would give a little speech talking about Bright Green Future and the message behind this play. I’d then have to run up to the lighting deck, but I wanted to speak to them.
They were nervous. The audience wasn’t what we had expected when we first wrote this. The room was full of parents and baby siblings here to support their family performing tonight. “I’m going to go up there I talk about how my parents beat me as a kid!” exclaimed one of our cast. Talk about a mood killer. I could get nervous about tonal appropriateness, but really, it was too late now.
Sitting in the lighting deck, the nerves hit me. In the wings of a stage before a performance, you go over your lines. As the director, I didn’t know the lines. For a minute, I worried, because I had no idea how this would turn out.
With bated breath, I watched my actors enter stage right. And then I relaxed- I started grinning. They were brilliant. The energy buzzed so smoothly through them, and their presence filled the stage. Despite their depressed characters, their bodies were never static and boring. And the audience laughed at the jokes!
It’s on YouTube now, if you’re curious. If I’m honest, I’m quite proud of it, even if I do struggle to watch the first few minutes I’m on camera.
If you’re even more curious, I’ve put the first draft on a Google Drive for you to see all my first mistakes:
And the final draft I used for my play: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ZPXKcylSnWji9jvmYykul9LIPP4kCpAV9szqYBVDZ3Q/edit?usp=sharing
Perhaps you’ll be able to learn from this. I know I did.
By cohort 3 BGF-er, Hazel