The Home Game

John Ardussi dropped by earlier today and invited me to see a new play The Home Game at the Performance Network this evening. Two of the actors with this local theatre group John wants to use for the first short. The Home Game turned out to be extremely good. Well written, well acted. Very funny yet very poignant.

Thinking about this afterwards, I was reflecting on the relative importance of having a great script. It gave the actors powerful material to work with. Yet without good actors, that material wouldn’t have come to anything. The script is the seed–and extremely important–but it needs nurturing to come to fruition. One without the other doesn’t leaves an empty harvest. Which reminds me of Andy Trussler saying that everything is important.

Saying everything is important feels a bit too restrictive. There has to be room for maneouvre, some freedom to make mistakes. Some elements are crucial–script and acting, sound and picture focus and exposure in a film–while others can be looser, like shot framing and to some extent even image quality.

John was lamenting that most theatre writers in the US seem to write a two act structure which consists of comedy for the first half and tragedy for the second. Watching Home Game I could see it had a structure like that, but to me, ignorant audience member, it struck me that it had light and shade. Comedy doesn’t work without pathos while something overly serious tends to alienate audiences.

Human beings do tend to laugh in the face of adversity. You have to show both. I disagree with John that this structure is predictable. But I only disagree to the extent I’ve been stuck on the same thought train before.

Fear of structure. I remember being stuck for ages, unable to write meaningfully, because I could see the structure in everyone else’s writing. So mainly, I either wrote very surreal pieces or simply overwrote.

I thought Vince Landon in particular used to write to a predictable formula on the St Albans Observer. Set the scene, powerfully, graphically, then introduce characters and questions, explore them and finally answer some of the questions and close with another descriptive scene. Something like that. Kind of. I rejected that formula. It seemed to easy. And yet… Yet Vince’s writing never bored me. That should have told me something. Embrace structure. Then once it’s ingrained, forget about it. Move on and write.

Structure is necessary but it’s the quality of the writing, the dialogue and the plot, which count. As far as this light/dark playwriting idea goes–and I didn’t think The Home Game came down squarely in an easily disected two acts like that–I’m not adverse to it. I like being lifted up then brought down to the depths, before being given either a final lift back to how I felt at the start or a push over the precipice. Feelings and raw emotion. Yes, using structure is a form of manipulation. But then, that’s drama.

As long as it isn’t obvious, as long as no one can see up the magician’s sleeves, the purpose is to entertain, to communicate, to take the audience on an emotional journey, perhaps with a mental and spiritual component thrown in. You can’t really do that without relying on some kind of structure. Experimental forms where everyone or everything just floats about conveys only a fraction of a well-written play or film.

Structure is the support for the words.

5 Responses to 'The Home Game'

  1. steve scoles Says:

    Okay, here’s the deal, but I’m only helping you this once and I am only doing this because I have been staring at a blank screen all morning and so far this is the only thing that has inspired me to write.
    Structure… is.
    As a writer you can either take responsibility for it or not but the very act of writing will create one, but more importantly the act of reading or watching will also create one by which I mean that your readers/audience by virtue of the attention they pay to your piece impose their own structure (crudely, I will just see what happens before I got to the toilet).
    The classic structure of a drama matches broadly the life of Christ in as much as it follows a sequence where the hero starts or ascends to a great height/success/importance, fails or falls due to a tragic flaw in his character (Hamlet’s was procrastination) but in the final denouement (crucifiction) rises again to heroic status. This seems to lend itself to three acts, Shakespeare tended to use five acts while Alan Moore, the world famous Northampton based graphic novellist does whatever the f**k he wants. You seem intimidated by structure Keith. My advice is to deliberately set out to undermine an established form, such as creating something that looks like a classic beginning but actually reveal by the end that your beginning actually contains the information that will conclude the piece in the audience’s mind. Perhaps I am just talking about a twist. A film-making, horse-fancying drug dealer I once knew claimed that the Colour of Money is structured like a game of snooker in a series of ‘frames’. Most of all tho mate, DO NOT LEARN this, take control. You are the new god of your universe. Make structure what you want it to be… a list, a rhyme scheme, a menu, acts, four quarters, a timetable… no more help now they are putting me back in my jacket…

  2. Keith Says:

    Hey, thanks. Always nice to get feedback. You know, I think I already know a lot of this. I’m not intimidated by structure so much as fearful of boring my audience. Keep it light. Keep it moving. Change change change. Don’t let them guess what’s coming next.

    Of course, this same thinking was the Warchowski brothers’ undoing with the final instalment of The Matrix. They tried too hard to surprise the audience, to stop anyone guessing what was going to happen next, and in the process they lost their connection with that audience.

    Not that it’s comparable to The Matrix, but with my third short, The Car, I relearned straightforward simplicity.

  3. steve scoles Says:

    The Matrix is pants and if you aren’t from an affluent democracy where you live with the illusion of relative freedom then it doesn’t even qualify as pants. The fact that so many people were prepared to S**k S*t*n’s C*ck over The Matrix makes me feel that it was actually a huge missed opportunity do REALLY do something disturbingly subversive. And you say you KNOW this stuff but do you DO this stuff man… simplicity is only a virtue when it’s an illusion. The beauty of a McDonalds Cheeseburger is that you cannot see all the death and exploitation that created it, you can only see the spotty teen who served it to you (which may be worse actually). Sorry for prattling on like this. I’m sure you never intended these comment boxes to be abused in this verbose manner. I find it easier to talk to you while you are in the New World. By the way, there is some guy in Ann Arbour who produces a Science Fiction magazine which has caught my attention…

  4. steve scoles Says:

    By the way, imagine I am putting on the accent of the French bowls instructor from the Simpsons (who seduces Marge) when you read these comments. Especially the first one. I think it conjures the correct ambience of pretentiousness. Cheers. I’ll try to add less in future, just something like: “bollocks”. Does anyone say ‘bollocks’ in the US? Perhaps you could popularise it as your gift to the nation…

  5. Keith Says:

    For someone living in a country with a claim to have “an illusion of relative freedom” you seem reluctant to embrace the freedom of writing the words Suck Satan’s Cock out in full. What does that tell you?

    Despite its unoriginal origins (see Pi for example), The Matrix was one of the first films in a long while to take us to a truly believable and wholly different reality.

    Ragging on McDonald’s is symptomatic of having a chip (or is a fry?) on your shoulder. It’s a big successful organisation. It’s so big that it’s bound to fuck up now and again. That doesn’t mean every burger is evil. Or comes from death and destruction. Although I can tell that the buns are full of sugar.

    Feel free to keep prattling. I’ve forgotten what I was going to say and I am so far behind with blogging that some thought-provoking comments here won’t go amiss.