Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The impossible

Once upon a time, Brian Grace-Duff was in a play writing class taught by P. Seth Bauer. Seth challenged them to write a scene in their current work that was impossible. Impossible to stage, or impossible to create, just..impossible. And Brian wrote that (in paraphrase) the character Til entered the scene and slowly turned to coal. He tried to move, but slowly broke apart until he was only a pile of coal on the floor. And then he started burning. Donnie walked over and pissed on his brother to put it out. Brian has since cut the scene from his play and perhaps it really doesn't have a place in that script (although I maintain that it wasn't that far removed from the story and perhaps the rest of the story just needed to be as impossible as that scene to match, rather than vice versa). My designer brain was immediately set in motion on hearing both the words "impossible" and well, coal. See, I grew up in coal country, or more specifically in an area formerly defined by coal and that has never really recovered. I know about anthracite and bituminous coal. I've held that magical rock in my hands - the strange structure of it, truly black diamond as it is known. I have seen the oily shimmer that plays hide and seek across its surfaces. The way fire burns deep inside it. I said I wanted to design that moment. That I could see it. In earlier "drafts" of the scene, the character was dressed in a shiny black version of his costume, his action slowly hardening and eventually breaking down until he collapsed on the floor. I hadn't really solved the fire/pissing problem. But the slightly unsatisfied smirks of theater friends suggested to me that I hadn't gone quite far enough. So I keep thinking about it, keep dreaming about it, keep imagining it.

There are a lot of technical things that trouble me - what material do I use for this coal? It needs to have that shimmer and shine. It needs to compact to almost nothing yet expand into a rocky form. How do I cover this person? How does he fall apart? Today I took the first step, trying to figure it out on paper. I'm thinking some sort of strings, perhaps chiffon imitating smoke that would pull this mystery material out from various places of the Til costume, up from under his jeans, out from the waist, through his sleeves, and over his head. But for the effect to work the way I have drawn it, I believe the "strings" need to be on the outside, visible, which doesn't entirely jive with the way the scene has been set. I may also be interpreting the words incredibly literally, as I am wont to do, but until I get myself totally stuck, I want to believe that there is a way to really do this, magically, in a theater, not on a screen. My first drawings are below. Til, as he usually is - ripped jeans, worn in flannel shirt all sloppy, barefoot after the killer party. Drawing two is trying to imagine where the "coal" can come from and how it could move to cover him and all the strings. I realize that I will just need to get some clothing, a dress form (or person) and maybe some trash bags and start making magic because, let me tell you, this thinking it out on paper thing is really not working for me! But I took a step, and forward motion is important. It leads to momentum.

Til - after the party

Til - turning into Coal

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