I recently agreed to perform two original monologues in a show – to be performed next Sunday. I was urged by my friend Joe Hutcheson, another act on the bill, to perform the story that I wrote last week and posted in this blog, called “When I was a boy…”
In my writing workshop today, I worked to change that written story into a performance version. I thought it might be instructive to post the result of that revision. I often have people submit scripts for me to read that were written like novels or short stories, and I always advise them to make the sort of changes I made to my story. My current editing challenge seems a perfect opportunity to share the approach.
Look at my post from last week, see the shape of that story, and compare it to this one. You’ll see what got carved away, what I changed to present tense, where I took out words and added actions, where I changed the shape of sentences to make them spoken word. You’ll see how I altered verb tense to create more dynamics. Starting with the first paragraph, I used present tense to make that, and paragraphs 3 and 5, into flashbacks. I left the narrative (paragraphs 2, 4 and 6) as a memory, spoken in past tense. I think it will work, and I’ll be memorizing it this week. Next week I’ll post about how it turned out. If you’d like to see me do it, I’ll be performing it as part of Selected Short Subjects at Stage Left Studio, Sunday, May 4 at 7:30 pm. Get more information at http://www.stageleftstudio.net/cms-view-page.php?page=Selected-Short-Subjects-May-4
Here is the performance version of “When I was a boy…”
“You’re dead, you’re dead. You have to stay down.” “I’ve been dead forever!” Dead grass poking me under my T-shirt, last year’s T-shirt. It doesn’t cover my back or belly any more. (scratch nose) I’ve been lying here while they fought above my head, then over under the trees, and then in the back of the yard. I heard their voices fade–thought maybe the game was over. But no, here they are again. I drop back down. (scratch back) I hope there’s no ants. You don’t want to drop dead on an anthill.
This was back when I was a boy, or as good as a boy. Me and my brother and his friends, Jay and Ricky, would go to Ricky’s big back yard and play Hide the Hand Grenade. It was an old olive drab hand grenade from Randy’s army set, and the person who was “it” would hide it while we all hid our eyes. Then he’d count down while we all crept around like soldiers, with stick rifles and guns, and if you were within 10 feet of the hand grenade when he got to zero, you got blown up. We had a good time hurling ourselves to the ground, groaning and dying in the dirt. I didn’t mind being dead so much. It saved me from having to make gun noises. I think there must be something in boy DNA that helps them make gun noises. I never did a convincing machine gun. But I could throw myself on the ground just as good as the boys.
I watch the shadows move on the grass, listen to the leaves blowing in the wind. Ricky’s back yard is full of trees. There’s a big one that fell over in a storm. The root ball’s nearly 10 feet tall, and you can hide behind the trunk and kill the enemy. But you have to cross the open yard real fast, or you might get shot. Then you’d have to hit the dirt. Sometimes we don’t do it. “It wasn’t a kill. I’m just hit!” Then you can fight on for a while. But a second hit kills you – that’s a rule.
We made rules and lived by them. We were honorable. We’d go exploring in the abandoned house at the end of the block. It had been empty for years, but the people who lived there hadn’t moved out all the stuff. The kitchen still had spices in the cabinets. Tins of McCormick ginger, and mace, and allspice. The sun came through the cracked windows in big yellow blocks, and when we opened the ginger can to smell it, little bits of ground ginger floated in the still yellow air. We’d be Army men in the house, reliving scenes from war movies, scrounging for food, and watching for enemy soldiers as we sneaked up the sagging staircase. “All clear” we’d shout, as we reached the landing, our stick pistols held tense and ready.
If you get shot on the stairs, you have to drop dead there too, and the edge of the tread digs into your sides. Better to slide on down the stairs and rest at the bottom. But it has to be real. You have to slide down the stairs like a dead man. We go home covered in bruises – our war wounds.
I don’t remember when being a girl became important. I didn’t welcome the biological evidence of my girlhood – sore breasts, stains in my panties, cramps. Women’s wounds were internal, hidden from sight. I longed for the yellow and purple bruises from when I was a boy. Those wounds were badges of honor, not shameful secrets. Becoming a man seemed so much more straightforward – you just got bigger and grew a beard. Becoming a woman meant giving up those egalitarian afternoons, when dying with honor was all that was required.