How to write a play
By Andrew Zadel
Some guy once said, “I am not a writer except when I write”. So, according to that guy, I have not been a writer for quite some time, but instead am just a stodgy international civil servant with a profound, unshakeable and yet completely uninspiring sense of self-loathing. And I trust that guy – whoever the fuck he is. He seems to know a lot about me.
My psychic told me that in a former life I was a playwright and musician in Montreal. But now I work for the UN in The Democratic (and hot) Republic of Congo, right on the Rwandan border. In the last two months the area has seen a major volcanic eruption, massive rebel military advances with concomitant thievery and sexual violence, and the displacement of 100,000 people.
I have written all about it: daily reports, weekly reports, monthly reports . . . it’s kind of like being a secretary in hell. Lots of reports. No play. Ever seen The Shining?
Anyway, despite the Sisyphean office purgatory that actually briefly robbed me of my ability to walk due to the complete atrophying of my back muscles, no one can dispute the fact that I wrote this play called Steel that is going to be performed in Toronto in March by the handsome and talented James Murray.
Other than that, my only connection to the Toronto arts scene is my obsessive and repetitive consumption of the latest offerings of all-girl power trio Magenta Lane. If I can convince the drummer to go see the play, it will be almost like being “on the scene” – in a 21st century “I have given my body to the Internet” kind of way.
This social amputation is almost fitting, however, given that Steel was always written in isolation. The first round was staring out the window of a VIA train from Vancouver to Toronto. The landscape made it onto the paper, but there was hardly a play there.
Luckily, as some kind of slow-burning investment, my dad had bought a condo in the marshy retirement community of Alexandria, Ontario. I locked myself in there for a week with five boxes of cereal, a book about turn-of-the-century railway work gangs, and somebody’s PhD thesis about tourism on the Queen Charlotte Islands. I forbade myself from walking over to the Tim Horton’s, lest I lose a day or two hanging out with bored rural high school kids. My only human contact was listening one night to someone screaming and sobbing violently outside the neighbouring hospital.
So, as planned, I was left with no other options and I wrote. And I wrote and I read and I wrote some more. And then I deleted, and I deleted some more. Art is communication, and I was stuck talking to myself in an unfinished apartment overlooking a Canada geese breeding ground. If you press the delete key often enough, you can even erase the words from inside your stomach.
So the play got written, but only after I made it back to my fellow human beings. There is definitely a small part of my soul that was eaten by Alexandria, Ontario. But at least it seems to have been spat back into the text: the grandfather I knew only as a pair of calloused hands offering me bubblegum, the raw and unfinished country I have wandered from time to time, the eight-foot beams I stacked under summer sun in a Montreal rail yard . . .
I guess that’s why people like this play – because it is about all of us. It’s about getting out of bed every day and doing shit that you don’t want to do, because people expect things from you and you’re standing there staring at a table with no bread on it. You gotta do what you gotta do. You can’t just pack it all in and be a playwright. right?
Okay, back to work. Reports to be written. Somebody eat a snowflake for me.