Third Format’s a Charm, Composing, 25/02/2018

I’ve had a super-stressful week, and I’ve dealt with it as best I can in a few ways. Most of those involve writing about Félix Guattari, getting some research work done where I can, and lots of coffee.

I’ve also taken another artistic decision. I’ve laid my project of Doctor Who essays to the side – I still want to write philosophical reviews of the new series on the blog as episodes come out later this year, but I don’t think my energies will work best on major statements about the show.

Reasonably accurate depiction of myself. Once I get into a groove
On Saturday, I outlined how the novel version of You Were My Friend will go. And I made a symbolic gesture for myself – I wrote its first sentence.
She wasn't doing much of anything at all when the knocking came from the door.
I’ve been trying to do justice to this story since I first developed it – it’s been about four years since I first pitched the idea. I hoped that You Were My Friend could be the ground of work as a theatre writer.

But we had virtually no box office – we were swamped by audiences flocking to see Billy Bishop Goes to War at the higher-budget theatre down the road from our production in Hamilton. They had a higher promotional budget – and more experience marketing theatre. Hamilton was consumed by mournful patriotism after Nathan Cirillo’s murder – which happened less than two weeks before our debut.

The director and crew I worked with on the play You Were My Friend returned to the more sure bets of bigger-budget productions of established content. It suited them well – I approached Mel and Jeannette because I’d seen their brilliant production of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal the year before, and she was already a friend.

Beyond the poor luck of our debut, I also think the story was still incomplete. Its presentation was powerful, but having to stick to one set and two actors may have been too much constraint. When I adapted You Were My Friend into a film script, I expanded its world.

You saw key background events that were only described in the theatre. You met other characters at the supporting or bit level who I could flesh out in more detail than I could when their only existence was as a name in someone else’s dialogue.

You can only do so much on a stage. I mean, you can do so much on
a stage, but not all stories are suited to it – at least not without some
serious changes in expression. Could you do a stage adaptation of,
for example, War and Peace on minimal budget and with only four
or five actors? Maybe. But a lot would have to change.
I hoped to ground the abstract quality of the play in the material reality of Toronto as a city. You Were My Friend began with a single set that became surreal nightclubs and Albertan mountains.

But I wanted to shoot in Trinity-Bellwoods, the streets of Kensington Market and Chinatown, surreptitiously in the back of city buses. It never worked out, though.

In nearly three years, I could never get the damn thing shot. Shooting a film takes equipment, crew, and actors. Acquiring all those takes money and time. I didn’t have the money, so I didn’t have the time as I was too busy trying to make sure I had enough money.

I first started working on the project with Sam, the lead actress from the first version in the theatre. We had a few conversations, but eventually we decided to part ways on the project. I think it was largely down to me – Looking back, I think I appeared dismissive and argumentative when we would critique each other’s work and ideas. I didn’t mean to, but I did.

Oddly, it's the lowest-investment and most isolating form of art that I think lets me create the most expansive world. You Were My Friend the novel can let me fill out the characters’ minds and memories as well as the world they move in. The labyrinths of the narrative can wind deeper into time, space, and thought.

All thanks to being able to string the whole world together with words alone. As for publishing, I’ll soon start reaching out to small publishers in Toronto, but may ultimately publish and promote independently.

This story began as an artistic inspiration from some of the struggles the GF went through earlier in her life, when she was underemployed and had little to no family support – just like my lead character Vicki.

I want You Were My Friend to be reasonably successful not just to honour her in this powerful figurative way, but also to share that struggle with other people who’ve experienced it in my society. It's a work of artistic and ethical solidarity. I want it to breathe and live beyond those nine forgotten performances in a Hamilton indie theatre.

Let the pages fly.

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