I recently sat at a table full of opera people and tried to talk to them about opera. But that was a mistake. Because our countries may be neighbours, but actually we don’t speak the same language. I didn’t know what they meant when they talked about their next project, or their ambitions, or the thing that they loved. The one thing we shared was a belief in social etiquette and so they returned my clumsy interest with their own. I’m writing an adaptation of Hedda Gabler, I said. To be met with blank stares.
Luckily the silence was interrupted by a joke from the other end of the table.
Some one said, I mean, do you know another tenor?
And oh how the opera people laughed.
Last night I saw some contemporary dance. I wasn’t expecting to understand it. The only metre I have by which to judge dance is that if they do the same thing at the same time, I know it’s right. Everything else is a mystery. But I liked the part where they collapsed very very slowly. And I liked the part where they shook hands. And I liked the part where she held him and spun him around. And I liked the part where they passed a current of energy back and forth between them. And I liked the part where they were naked. And I liked the part where they ripped up the floor and used it as a cape.
I didn’t like the part where they screamed at the audience. I found that part terrifying. But the dance people liked it. They ruffled in their seats. They made sounds of light wonder and amusement.
A few weeks ago, when I was shortlisted for a playwriting award, I spoke about it with someone I don’t know very well. She reads a lot, especially poetry.
So, she said, what’s it like to write a play?
Um, I said. And tried to think of a succinct answer. An answer that she would find satisfying.
But she cut in: Because the thing is with plays, is that people read novels.
Right, I said.
And you know, she continued, people read poetry.
Sure, I said.
But with plays… She trailed off.
Yeah…? I said. But she had finished.
We fell into silence. We let her unfinished sentence hang in the air, between us.
A version of this post was sent by email on the 6th May 2018 as part of Internet Care Package.
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