Wednesday, March 29, 2023

From Monologue to Fringe Show?

Perhaps you notice that I avoid discussing current events/politics/religion etc. It’s because it’s pointless to vent about the epidemic of stupidity we’re currently living with. But I have to say this: the American people must rise up: every mother, every child, every student, teacher, and educational employee and strike for the abolition of firearms in the US.

Why do these insane psychopaths choose school children as their targets? Why innocent people? Why children? It’s time to hold politicians responsible for the carnage. They are culpable for these deaths for having not taking any action. With each school shooting, it seems the odds go up that there will be more deaths of innocent teachers and students. Nothing says more about America that its school shootings. America, you are a pathetic and despicable nation. Fix yourself.

Yesterday was great because the self-loathing was gone, thanks to nice letters from three former colleagues. And I have time to do house and yard work now, no dread of who’s calling, clinic and anxiety about things to do/not done. It’s like a second retirement. I completed my duties with the clinic by dropping off a lot of material to the clinic staff yesterday afternoon.

It was a positively glorious day yesterday. It was the nicest day yet this year, reaching 16° in the afternoon. It was wonderful to do the little bit of yard work that I did. I hope to do more today.  It’s thrilling to see the yard go from disaster zone, to a source of calm and pride for me. Two branches fell that are too heavy to lift. But I have my chain saw for that. And a small forest of branches, cones, twigs, needles and do droppings.

I experienced sporadic ‘rushes’ of good feeling through the afternoon. Last night, in twilight after a spectacular day, I rose from the sofa, and I felt it then. Something brings to mind, in a flash, that I am free of the clinic. I keep re-realizing in scattered moments that I have no more responsibilities. I have time for yard work, and I feel this joy of retirement or the last day of school.

I had ambitions for medicine until I learned how much more schooling it takes to become a specialist. After that, I did not know what to do. My favourite thing was theatre, but I never once considered it as a profession. I had no career ambitions. I was going to UBC because that’s what everyone I knew was doing, and it was expected of me. 

I took two more courses each year than was required, and I saturated myself in arts courses: literature, linguistics, creative writing, and every course on Shakespeare that the university offered. With no career ambition whatsoever, I thought it wise to take a one-year program to become a teacher. When I graduated, I accepted a contract offer that required me to teach for a minimum of two-years. I told them, after my first six months of teaching, that I would not be extending my contract.

I was justifiably proud of my academic achievements. My brain was brilliant at regurgitating what I was taught in books and classrooms, I could mix in decent analytical conjectures and I could write well. But I had no vision of being anything. When I quit teaching, I was starting at square one on a voyage with no destination.

My teaching job was theatre, and I loved the job and every minute of my two years teaching. But I did not want a lifetime of being a teacher. I have rich and vivid memories of those years. I knew fuck all about theatre, I just loved it passionately. When I took the job, I had to create two shows a year for the school. 

I approached my job, not to create actors, but to use theatre to teach my students how to present themselves, not characters, to the world. To do that, I wanted the group to conceive a production with me, in their voice, and then create it with me. I also taught them how to have emotional impact on people, as much as for the board room as for the stage. When I quit my job, I left my students awash with praise from the school, their parents, and major media for our take on theatre as a classroom for successful life skills.

When I left, I still had my passion for theatre that is still alive in me. (Monologue.) But now I had some experience in the discipline. I was entitled to a year of employment insurance when I left teaching, so I wandered into the offices of the Arts Club Theatre, just as it was about to explode with a production of Jacques Brel, and made the director an offer. 

I proposed to work for free, days and nights, for a year, if my jobs and duties were many and varied so that my year of experience would be a cross-department training course. My unemployment officer was happy to authorize payments for a year while I learned new skills, if the Arts Club agreed to hire me as an employee at the end of my training year. And the theatre did agree. I got the bi-monthly unemployment payments for a year, and Jacques Brel was my first show (front of house and assistant stage manager).  

Boom! New career and much more than that: A family.

Adequate intellectual skills and all my education gave me no direction. I was born with two intense passions: animals and theatre. My passion gave me my career, and a magnificent series of huge emotional highs all my life.

Do you know where this is going?

It’s Springtime, and as we came into the season, I looked at the work that needed doing everywhere in this huge yard I have, and I saw the coming year as having a fraction of my time due to the workload that was coming with our move to fundraising. Yes folks, a Come to Jesus Moment.  I chose Pinecone Park. 

Cleaning up and maintaining the yard is my active season. I bank good-weather action so that I can slouch through Winter without guilt. I can have at it, then rest, and repeat that cycle through the day. When I clean up after the Winter season, I feel like I am cleaning a beautiful face that I touch-up through the Summer. I wanted lots of this kind of work, I did not want to be bound to my computer and in meetings all Summer.

Choosing to work in the theatre was about following my passion, making decisions with my heart not my head. Quitting the clinic was an emotional decision, and the right one.


I found a great line for my script that might get a laugh Here’s what was in the script.

About how my world was changed the day

Mother one gave me away. 

To the church, where all the nuns would say

the Virgin Mary was my mother. (I grimace here.)

And then eventually, there came another.

Connie was my mother two…..

My line that might get a laugh, goes under the line above about the Virgin Mary. Here’s what I improvised while running my lines one day:

Does that mean Jesus is my brother?

I’m talking, at this point in the script, about the things my psychiatrist considers to be the origin of my neurological disorder. To me, it’s been the burden of my life. If people listen to my monologue, they will be seeing me memorize and practice a million times, a bunch of words, as many words as they use every fifteen minutes of their conversational day, so that I can be fluent with strangers (the audiences). It’s the ‘why’ part of the story of my change in relationship with the living. Levity lets me inform without self-pity.

With no boundaries to my life choices now, I have an idea. I bogged in the past about adding to the monologue. I’ve decided what I’m going to do for part two.

Part One is called Finding Voice. I deliver part one using rhyme and rhythm to achieve not only fluency, but fluency without a script. I want to look fluent.  

This is my idea about part two: It begins with me getting a quasi-Aussie look by putting on clothing or getting a prop (a kangaroo?) from off stage and doing the second half in my quasi-Australian accent. Speaking with the accent, I’d use cards I’ll make, as props. Each one will be an image that reminds me of what story to tell, and part two will anecdotes that pertain to the history of nervous breakdowns and their treatment.

I’ll improvise each of the stories. Having cards eliminates blocks. The cards will work as props with points in text on the back to cue me. I don’t have to memorize anything this way. I am perfectly fluent when I use my Aussie voice. The interesting irony is this: My total personality and total fluency is available to me in a voice that isn’t mine. In my authentic voice, life is mighty different. MIGHTY different when you live it.

Breakdowns have an interesting story. My condition would have had people think of me as a witch at one time. I like the witch story because I think it’s cool to be linked to a word with such mystery and misunderstanding in it. A good five minutes of part two will be about Oliver Sacks, but I also plan to kill the public misconception that there is a speech centre in one’s brain, talk about two of my closest and dearest friends dumping me because of my condition, and about how my changed relationships with doctors.

The audio tape, the monologue (without blocks), and an estimated 20-minute second part, that’s a 40-minute show—an acceptable length of time for a Fringe-type show. Just to be clear: This is a festival where, last Summer, I saw a show by an actor who did the show with the script in her hand. Our festival is a long way from slick. Act one reveals the norm (a tape of me talking with a bad stutter); in acts 2 and 3 I use two different adaptations to achieve fluency to tell a story that’s part theatre, part TED talk.  

My show’s subhead (for marketing) can be: “Three acts in 40 minutes.”

This show will end my story-telling career that began with The Flame in Vancouver. I did eight shows for The Flame. And I’m thinking of taking it to the annual conference of the Canadian Stuttering Association in the Fall. 75 years old, and on the road. All this is possible IF, and only if, the monologue goes over well.

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