Thursday, 6 July 2017

Consequential Loss - Notes On A Radio Play And Autistic Theatre

I recently took the plunge and joined up with a theatre group for autistic people.  It's a pretty new group and the people there are varied.  There autism is as varied as they are.  What everyone shares is enthusiasm.

The core group meet currently for one day a week, being joined for the morning by a group from a local college of ESPA (Education and Services for People with Autism).  We have fun and are supported in what we do by two paid staff members who work more or less full time for the Twisting Ducks Theatre Company which is run for people with learning difficulties and (now) autism.

I feel very fortunate to be able to go and have fun with the people of Spectrum Theatre - the autistic child of the Twisting Ducks.  It is hoped that in the future some extra funding can be obtained which would mean that the work of Spectrum could develop a lot further.  Also in the near future there's going to be an eight week creative writing course - which we're really meant to call creative storytelling in recognition that there may be people on that course who have amazing imaginations but who can't write or can't write well enough to set down their fantastic stories on paper.

I'm also very fortunate in that the current funding obtained for Spectrum means that the day that's laid on for we autistic people is free of charge.

I've met some great people in Spectrum, all autistic and all experiencing joys and trials that accompany our condition.  And it's just one more way for me to open up to my own creative possibilities and the possibilities of others.  For now it is a place I will stay.  I make no predictions for the future.

Almost the first thing the core group were asked to do was to write a radio play.  Each of us would write, with the idea being that we will record the plays and put them out on a local community radio station.

I've written quite a lot in the past year, though not as much I would have liked.  But I've never attempted a play either from scratch or from adapting one of my crazy stories.

I have now written a play.  And then it had to be edited - the censor's pen had to be used.   The broadcasts would be daytime and I accidentally wrote something with adult content and language including rather more swearing than families would appreciate.  I'd written a late night show or something to adapt into a theatre piece with a 15+ age warning.

I've been my own censor though.  The fruity language has been removed or toned down and I wonder in places whether I've lost realism.  I've adjusted quite a few lines.  Watered down sex references and some imagery that the BBC controller would have banned.  I'm glad the actual plot is unchanged.  There's still the darkness and light, the despair, the betrayals, the hope.  I'm glad I haven't been asked to make the plot insipid

There's also the matter of religion.  One of the characters is a religious homophobic bigot.  I can write religious bigots.  I know the subject first hand!  The character is quite extreme but I've known people who are equally extreme and equally nasty about it too.  I thankful I didn't get quite that bad myself in my own years of religious homophobia.  I think that the character worked as I wrote her.  She's still there too.  She's surviving the censor.  But her language and bile is a little mellowed.  I also considered the intended audience and wondered whether they would be up in arms about my attack on the Christian faith.  It's not really that of course, just an attack on a particular manifestation of the faith, the version that names people like me as abominations.  For a late night broadcast or a theatre I'd let it stand.  But not for this intended broadcast.  So I've taken pains to point out that not all Christians are like that.

Since the broadcast will be in Newcastle I've pointed to a few of the churches here in which being queer won't result in the preacher abusing you or consigning you to hell for your sexuality and gender.  Who knows?  Perhaps someone will hear it who is a Christian and is queer too but hiding the truth and fighting against themselves through guilt.  Just as I did.  Perhaps someone like that will hear and something will be planted in them that helps them seek out a place where they can live their faith in more freedom.  I can live in the hope that a radio play might do some good.

I've deliberately kept the scenes simple.  Deliberately linked them with narration from the main character.  I think, as a first attempt at writing a play, it has worked out well.  Unfortunately I now want to re-edit it to put some of the fruitier language and imagery back in and have two versions of it to play with.

Each of us in that core group has written a play.  They are as varied as we are.  I've ended up being the only one of us to include nothing from the realms of science fiction and fantasy.  Much as I love those genres - and need to get back to working on my post-apocalyptic dystopian novel - I've ended up firmly rooted in the real world.  The other plays are each filled with their own surprises and it's a good thing that they are such contrasts from each other.

My first scene was initially written at a Spectrum session.  We were all told to write a scene.  One simple idea popped into my head and it just flowed with hardly another conscious thought.  Two friends meet in a cafe.  One confesses to the other that she is having an affair.  She was having it with a man named Graham.  But as I wrote his name my pen paused, almost the only break it gave to my writing hand.  My pen considered its options.  Crossed out the word Graham.  And wrote the word Erica.

Since that day I haven't made any enormous changes to the scene - just a few, arising from details the characters gave me about themselves as they wrote the rest of the play for me.  It's always nice when people can hardly believe that I've just written something from scratch in a writing session.  That happens sometimes.  Other times I can hardly write anything at all and any words that get miserably scrawled should really only be filed in the embarrassing section.

I hope that writing the play has taught me something about the process.  Something I can put to good use later.  I hope too that it will give me a little more confidence in writing conversations.  I never used to include much in the way of conversation because I didn't think I understood the rules of conversation well enough to write one.  I hope that this play is a step on the path to being able to write realistic and engaging talk.  I don't think I'm there yet.

Sometime soon I'll probably post the whole play here.  Unless I go crazy, edit it more and try and get someone more professional to record it.  That's always a possibility.

So, onwards with Spectrum.  See where it leads.  I'm guessing it may throw me in a few surprising directions.  And I'm happy with that idea.

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