Fairytales, Dragons and “Clockwork Child”: Playwright Garret Schneider’s Blog #27
There is a quote which I read while researching a play about futuristic high school students living in northern Maine (which is a story for another time). While the play has joined my burn-pile, the quote has stayed with me:
“Fairytales, are more than true. Not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be defeated.” -G.K. Chesterton
So many times we have an idea: a play idea, a character idea, a lesson plan, a way in which the world should look, and we either try to create that idea, or justify it. Once we either justify it or create it, we think we’ve done our job pretty well.
But think of all of the skits that you have to sit through when you’re watching Saturday Night Live (do people still watch that?), or the plays where a director puts the idea of the play onstage, or a ten-minute play where the writer though it would be deep to put five historical figures onstage and have them talk about themselves.
I don’t care if you can put historical figures onstage, I don’t care that your concept of a twist ending is to make the old lady the devil, I don’t care if this episode of celebrity jeopardy has two Sean Connery’s. It doesn’t matter that dragons exist. What matters is what you do with them when they come to you.
So many times I think that the idea is good enough, that having a cool concept makes a good play. And then I start writing it, and remember that the characters carry that concept. That the more time I spend explaining the concept into the world, the longer it takes for my play to start.
In writing Clockwork Child, I spent pages and pages trying to explain a world where a 19th Century mathematician on her deathbed could be rocketed back in time. I laid the traps and organized it so that the audience could get a nice little jolt when it happened.
Then I realized that it didn’t matter. That no one wanted to see a play which so laboriously tried to setup time travel. If I was in the audience, I wouldn’t care about the mental games Ada Lovelace plays with herself to prove that she hasn’t gone back in time. That’s ridiculous. I don’t want to see a time-travel play. I don’t want to see a Victorean England play. I want to see a work which has the audacity to use both of those in a way which speaks to me right now.
Time travel exists. Great. So what. What are you going to show me about it right now?? Well, I am going to show you a woman going back in time and mentally abusing her younger self so that she is too scarred to ever become a scientist. And she won’t do it by yelling. She’ll do it by finding what her younger self loves most, and encouraging her to take it apart.
Time travel is the vehicle for something highly-theatrical, for the exposure of the battle with both of your selves. I saw a preview for this movie which perfectly illustrates this: Another Earth. A movie where a 2nd earth is found right next to our own. A girl wants to go to the second earth and encourage her other self to be honest about an accident.
I’d pay money to watch that. This is something which I always need to remind myself: don’t write for the dragon, write for the battle.
-Garret Schneider, Collider Playwright
Collider New Play Project is a part of the St. Charles Summer Theater Festival (July 14-31, 2011).