Saturday, 30 May 2009

A Double Life - 1

I'm mulling over whether to join the 24 hour play writing competition again. I joined in 1999 and 2004, and thought, "once in 5 years is not too bad" but I'm not sure. It doesn't please me at all to think about whether I'm less creative now than I was as a kid.

I’ve always wanted to post the play I wrote in 1999. Time really flies, it’s 10 years later now. There are some parallels: in this play, A is the older version of B. Because of some time warp, they are living in the same physical space. 10 years ago, I was in the same position as B, thinking about my choices in life. Now, I’m in the same position of A, thinking about the choices that B made 10 years ago.

I was lucky that the premise came to me very early on. The game master said in a throwaway remark, “try to incorporate the stimuli into the play. Don’t just make it happen once. Twice is even better.” A bulb went off in my head: a play where everything happens twice! The same life lived twice over!

I had recently watched “the Double Life of Veronique”, about twins living different lives in different countries. It was an intriguing prospect. I had named the play “A Double Life” in explicit reference to that. But I had made a variation on the theme: This was twin brothers, 10 years apart.

The plan that I had (and at that time I only knew about the first stimulus, the UE square Mall) was that I would write a play about a person looking back at his former self, and reflecting upon his life. I had already decided that the central theme of my play was going to be karma. It was a favourite theme of mine. Yes, there are a few coincidences but otherwise everything that happens happens for a reason. Shakespeare's plays were about karma and in a way that influenced me. A quote I pulled about Shakespeare: A.C. Bradley argues," the playwright always insists on the operation of the doctrine of free will; the (anti)hero is always able to back out, to redeem himself. But, the author dictates, they must move unheedingly to their doom." That is an approach I have also tried to take.

The miracle was that I was able to work all the stimuli into my play without having to deviate from that basic plan. First, if you are going to enter one of these competitions, common sense tells you that you put the physical setting of your play to be the same as the location of the competition, since the physical location is the source of most of the clues. Still, some things were unexpected, like the plaster. I was lucky that I could fit that in, whereas somebody might just run out of ideas. Still, no matter how many plot twists I had to put into the play to incorporate the clues, the basic shape was sound. A person, going through life, reflecting on his mistakes, and making mistakes. I never had to change that.

There was a fair amount of amusement at reading this again. I was a little surprised that I managed to come up with all these ideas in 24 hours. I knew that I only managed to win something because I wrote the best play I had ever written. (OK, the second best play: that one I wrote in school has a special place in my heart.) I’m also surprised at how horny I was at that time.

(the following is an email to my sister)

I wonder if I told you that I joined the 24 hour play writing competition. It was OK... just a bunch of people sitting together for 24 hours and getting totally sick of each other at the end of it.

For me the real fun began when I was about to hand up the play. We were all given a floppy disk each and were told to save our play on it, and they would print out a copy of the play. 2 hours from time, we were told that there was to be no handing up during the last 2 hours, in order to prevent chaos and confusion. I deemed my play finished / irrepairable by that time but by the time I had finished fumbling with the ejection, the handing up process had closed. I was pissed off, naturally, having been denied an opportunity to go home early, but at least I had the thing ready on disk and I was waiting for 4 o'clock to arrive.

Suddenly I remembered that I forgot to format the script, so I just popped in the diskette, did the formatting. But when I wanted to get the diskette out, the button came stuck. PANIC! People were hovering around me, offering helpful advice, screaming into walkie-talkies, tearing their hair out. I being I at the eye of the storm was in zen calmness. Fortunately for me there was a cyber-cafe nearby and I popped in to borrow their facilities. I emailed a copy of the play to myself, retrieved it one of their computers, and copied it onto a diskette.

So now that we got that out of the way, what dey do is to give us 5 stimuli at 4 hour intervals and we would write a play incorporating these 5 stimuli and mostly be happy that the insanity was over. The 5 stimuli were:

1 One day in UE square mall (to be quoted in verbatim at the start of the play)

2 Under a bridge (they drove us under a bridge in a bumboat for that stimulus. We could incorporate anything that had to do with being under a bridge.)

3 A wedding of some sort had to be in the play, or made reference to.

4 A warehouse (they brought us to one which used to be for holding tea leaves, and now contains lots of canned food)

5 A plaster. (The first aid appliance, not the building material)

The thing:

A Double Life
Scene 1

A and B take up positions on stage left and stage right respectively. All is dark save for one spotlight each on both A and B.

A: One day at UE Square shopping mall I saw somebody who looked just like me. What he was dressing, what he was carrying, his manner of walking. unmistakable. But as I turned to call him..

B: I turned around and I thought that there was somebody calling after me. I looked around and I couldn't see what was wrong. But there was this figure.. I could have sworn..

A: I disappeared behind a pillar and hoped that he did not see me.

B: But I caught a glimpse of him. I wanted a second look, but he was gone or something. No, he wasn't gone. He was still there. I knew it. He was just there, hiding away from me..

A: I didn't know if he was still there, but I definitely had the feeling..

B: I don't know if he knew I was watching him. I wanted to see if he was coming up again..

A: I couldn't get up. I knew that if I got up, that would be it, he would see me, we would see each other, and then he would come over and..

B: I wanted to get to know him better. I would've come up to him and say, "Hi, I'm..

A: Mr So-and-so, he would want to know how I was doing, and he'd come and ask about.

B: I'd wanted to know if he had his wife and kids ..

A: But I didn't want him to know, so what I did was I waited.

B: So I walked up to the pillar..

A: And I made a dash for it.

B: And I saw him make for the car-park.

A: I didn't look back to see if he was still there..

B: And I gave chase..

A: Yet when I got into my car.

B: It was there and then that I got a glimpse of him. I was..

A: I nearly ran him over. He was right in my path. I stopped just in time...

B: And when I got to the side of the car..

A: I sped off again. Just like that. I don't know if..

B: I wished I took down his number. I was just so stunned. There wasn't much light, but I was pretty sure that.

A: How could there be anybody who looked so much like me? I wanted to know if there were somebody.

B: He was just like me from the outside! I thought I was looking into a mirror.

A: But I couldn't bear him knowing about me. That was just not right.

B: What could he have to hide away from me? It was a big car. A great big volvo..

A: Sure. I wouldn't really mind knowing about him.. But at that time.

B: He must have seen me. he must have been avoiding me for the very same reason that I wanted.

A: I don't know. I just couldn't. Something inside me said..

B: But that guy.. his car.. What I wouldn't give to be in his shoes.

(Exit B, enter A's wife, Jackie)

Jackie: Hey, you're back early!

A: (flustered, struggling to regain his composure) Well. I couldn't find

that piece of antique furniture that you were talking about. There wasn't much else to do there but.

Jackie: And you did drop the suit over at the laundry, didn't you?

A: Well. I. it must have slipped my mind or something.. Shall I..

Jackie: well, doesn't really matter. It's probably closed by now. Are you alright. you're not your usual self lately. I got the maid to prepare some chicken soup for you.

A: I'm fine, actually. And nothing's the matter.

Jackie: All the better that you're alright, and nothing's wrong with you. There's the stocking operation that's coming right up, and a lot riding on it's outcome. I dunno about you, but father said . (A bristles at the mention of her father and turns away) . hey, are you listening to me? Father said that there're a couple of very capable new people around right now, and any one of them could displace you as the next favoured man. It's all up to you to prove to father that you've still got what it takes.

A: I know, I know. The stocking operation is really my problem and not..

Jackie: How can you say that it's not my problem? I always get worried sick about you all the time. I haven't a problem with father. He's been at it long enough to know when to start another operation and when to lie low. But I think all the time about what would happen if they were to catch you and throw you in. Who's going to pay off the installments for our properties in Johor?

A: You can't always expect things to go your way all the time, right?

Jackie: Is that what you're going to tell me when they throw you in? What's the matter with you? You didn't always use to be this way. You were always the most alert one, the most willing to learn. Now look at you . How are we going to upkeep our way of life if you are just going to spend the rest of your life getting the meagre cut of the profits, if you don't eventually inherit father's position? Take away the monthly installments on all the furniture we have, all of Sam and Jane's tuition, we're not very rich at all.. How about having to pay the Chauffer and the gardener every month.

A: All right, all right. I get your point. there's no need to get so upset. Just leave me alone now, alright? I've got a lot on my mind already..

Jackie: OK. But I just had to remind you about what's it like out there. (turns coquettish, sits down behind A, wraps her arms around him) You go there, do a good job, and don't let me down, alright?

A: (simmering down) OK. I'll see what I can do.

Jackie: Remember, father still thinks very highly of you, even though you nearly screwed it up the last time.

A: Yes. don't remind me about that right now.

Jackie: Alright, I've got to fix dinner right now. (exits.)

(Lights off, except for spot light on A, he's in a thinking position.)

A: Why did I run away? Why would it have bothered me if he asked me about my life? I couldn't tell him I was married to a daughter of a bootlegger, I could lie, but he would look into my eyes and tell me immediately that I was lying to him. But I gotta know more about him . I'm going to find out more . I have to know what it's like being him if he hadn't gone the same way as I did. (Off spotlight.)

Scene 2 B and his friend and colleague, Linda are talking at the photoshop, eating canned food.

Linda: More peas?

B: (mouth full of baked beans) Oh, it's alright. (Swallows his food) So I couldn't understand it. Why did he want to run away just as he was about to see me?

Linda: He was probably too freaked out by what he saw.

B: Oh, I freak people out, is that it?

Linda: Hey, you got to consider that he's someone who looks just like you. I'm surprised you didn't get freaked out at all. I would have thought it was really creepy.

B: Well, I didn't really give a second thought to it. But I was really really curious to have a second look at him, just to see what he was like.

Linda: Most likely he got scared off by you. Can you imagine what it's like having the shock of seeing your doppelganger compounded by having him run after you on sight?

B: Hey, I only really noticed him when he started dodging away from him. That was when I first realised that something fishy was going on.

Linda: So, what made you want to go chasing after him?

B: I. don't really know. was it recognition? I just had to go see what he was like, I mean, someone out there, who's just so much like me, I just had to know about the life that he's living.

Linda: But you don't even know what he's like on the inside. All you know is that on the outside he just looks and walks a little bit like you.

B: That's not all, alright? He was like, you know, the very splitting image of me. And anyway, whatever's a person like from the outside, it's a manifestation of what he's like on the inside. That's the first principle of photography. Everytime I take a picture of another guy, I'm not only capturing his outward appearances, I also uncover something about his soul.

Linda: That's true. That's what taking pictures is all about.

B: And if you have 2 people who really look alike, talk alike, walk alike, I suppose deep down, they do really have something in common. After all, it's what's inside of you that finds its way to the surface of a person.

Linda: But we're only talking about stuff like facial expression, body language.

B: That's what I mean, you see? Eventually the kinds of expressions you have on your face are going to shape what your face will look like eventually.

Linda: Well . that's true. We're having canned peaches for desert today

B: That's a rare luxury.

Linda: So suppose you were going to meet him. What're you going to say to him?

B: Well, we'd sit down and share my life experiences. Maybe we're fated to go through the same kinds of experiences together, but I may have gone through something he hasn't yet gone through, so I could tell him about my experiences, and maybe we could.

B: All that canned food .

Linda: That's all we can afford. We're going to have to cut down on the living expenses. I'm down to my last thousand dollars.

Linda: Well.. (looks at how B's fixing up his equipment) who're you fixed up to shoot today?

B: Jennifer (fill in your own last name)

Linda: Oh, wow, you actually got her.

B: Well, she's .

Linda: Just merely the hottest model around today. Plus she's the daughter of some rich trading company's chairman.

B: Ho.. I didn't know that last bit.

Linda: So you're in good company, aren't you?

B: Well. every model's just a pretty face to me.

Linda: Yah right.

(B finishes packing his equipment, and both him and Linda start walking off the stage)

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