|Hatchet Cove, Friendship, ME|
I was unable to attend the first read-through on Wednesday, and so attended the second rehearsal on Thursday. The company inquired about backstory. I asked if they had any ideas about that themselves and they, the four-person cast, director and stage manager, said they had plenty, ideas that had come up the night before in my absence.
This was fine with me, more than fine. Any “backstory” I was to provide at that moment would have been stuff I was making up off the top of my head. I asked them to tell me what they had thought of, and objected to little, if anything. They had read the script, and were inspired by what was there to create more or less psychologically correct histories.
In his book True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor, playwright David Mamet opines that “backstory” is pointless bullshit, that there are only words on a page. Play the words and the play either works or it doesn’t, bringing your own ideas to the work is irrelevant. That is one very simple way to look at it.
Human beings think backward and forward in time and space, and just as the words I say (or write) are informed in the moment by what have experienced and what I expect, so, too, an actor wants to know what they have experienced and what they expect in order to speak a line or perform an act. It is, as they say, in our nature.
And this is a ten-minute play. How to interpret a line, any line, requires a little imagination. You could just speak the words on the page but it might not be very interesting. Like, you know, any of Mamet’s recent work.
The original title of this short play was brief and alliterative, but I didn’t feel it captured the “gothic romance” which I believe best describes the story. For this first production, I changed it to the title of a song by Modest Mouse, the lyrics of which are a direct address to one beloved who has died.
It wasn’t even a song I had been familiar with, I just Googled songs about death, and this one resonated with me, the mood and also the title, as this play takes place in a town on the coast of Maine. It's a bit of a mystery (as which of my plays are not) or as I have called it, a gothic romance. Director Kelsey Jones promises to make it weird, and I am here for it.