Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Everything Afterwards

Everything Afterwards

There are anti-climaxes and then there is finding out that you've passed your MA whilst you're having breakfast in pub in Brockley. What can I say - had it not been for the time of morning we would have been perfectly placed to have cracked open the vodka.

But, given that I am officially not a young person and all that and have jobs, and rehearsals, and re-writes and writing, the most exciting it got was ordering another coffee. There has been some downgrading from last time when I got in a fountain and 'acquired' a guitar.

Rock and indeed roll.

Having said that - if I'm honest I'd pretty much put to one side the whole 'passing' bit. Unlike last time round, there had been the luxury (horror?) of continuous assessment. I'm still at a loss as to whether continuous examination is a good or a bad thing - on the plus point it didn't almost kill me like end of course exams did, on the down side there was no glorious second year (though on a technicality there wasn't a second year, glorious or not). But it did mean that pretty much since November last year we'd been pushed between assignments with little time to take a deep breath. In particular the last six months of the course passed in a blur of endless evenings spent in the library with those final project element deadlines clustered around essays about 'Chicks in Chains' and science and form in A Disappearing Number and the placing of August: Osage County in the tradition of American Family Drama and adaptations of Ovid. It remains that when I think of Goldsmiths I will always think of: our circular table, being in the computer room with Arsenal Fan until stupid o'clock with me shouting at the printer and sitting in the library stairwell having long phone conversations with Breakfast Club Boy when deadlines loomed and I'd over-written by 2,000 words and he had a 150 word essay.

But the good side of the continuous assessment - I knew I'd have to rather spectacularly screw-up on my final project to render me with a 'fail'. In the end I was wonderfully consistent - a clutch of 66s, with a 61 on the self assessment essay I wrote in 12 hours (and which, Breakfast Club Boy not so tactfully told me at the time, read like journalism) and a 72 for my Dramaturgy portfolio (Ha! My ability to do textual analysis wins the day again! If only I could be paid to write 2,000 word essays on single texts).

But grades were not really the point. We'd said it often enough - how do you grade writing? The Icarus Project, a site specific piece I wrote, gave me nothing but a headache when I wrote it. For several weeks I went to the show and tell class with the sheer panic of - I am still stuck. And then I pulled something out in the days before it was due in and got my best grade of the entire course (that 72 included). The Rabbit Catcher, a twenty minute piece about Burlesque, had the opposite trajectory. I loved, loved writing this and when the first ten lines were read out in class it just - well, ego all in check - sung. One of the Writers told me at the end of the course that when he'd heard those lines he wanted to write like me.

Of course in marking it bombed.

The only time any of my writing projects dipped below the invisible 60% marker. The Icarus Project had been rigidly simple (bulked with gimmicks I still think) whereas The Rabbit Catcher was 'too dense', a charge which I don't think was entirely unfair. But did either mark tell a story in itself?

Absolutely not.

That night after the day of pub breakfasts and MA results Breakfast Club Boy asked me - implying his own answer - if through it all I'd learnt anything from the course itself.

I paused.

Me, I'd not had the unabashed confidence of youth to be lost (hear me, from my four and a half years seniority talk, but it is true). However, I knew what he meant.

I never once cried because of work during my undergraduate degree.

Whereas I suspect I will always remember the day - just over a week before my rehearsed reading at the Soho Theatre - that I came out of a classroom and cried. Then tried desperately not to cry down the phone to Breakfast Club Boy before I succumbed entirely and Arsenal Fan had to take me to the pub.

Writing being writing, and everything involved in that, it's difficult to entirely distance yourself from it. And, in places, the course bruised me. Just as I suppose every one of the other writers might say it had them. It's one of the reasons that I've not written about this before.

There's also the fact (and I know this holds true for a number of people) that we had this notion at the beginning of the year that after the freedom of the first few little writing projects we'd do the final project and come out with a play which we could send out to every theatre-slush pile, every competition, every possible source.

And I didn't.

My final project has a couple of scenes that I'm not modest enough to hold back on when I say they absolutely rock. One of them - a two hander in a hospital room which has so much subtext that it hurts - is possibly the best thing I've ever written. But the play as a whole? It is at once better than anything I have ever written whilst also being full of more gaping chasms of failure than anything I've ever written. Until last week - when I thought I'd better get my act together and send it to two Directors who are interested in it - no one outside of the markers and Breakfast Club Boy had actually been given a copy. I've softened my stance on it a little, and there are two theatres I am going to send it to, but as the magic, this is me play I imagined I'd write at the start of the course - foreverafterwards is not it.

If I were to look at what I came out with in terms of ready-to-go pieces then I can clutch only two things: an academic essay that I was told I should submit to a journal and a 20 minute young persons play named Marshmallows that Playwright Tutor subsequently used in a workshop with a group of teachers and which I suspect I will quite happily submit places.

But I realise even as I write this that part of all this failure to achieve the perfect Corinne Furness play (whatever that might be) is because I have learnt so much during the course that takes time to settle down. I almost wish I could do it again with all I know now.

And, as weird as it seems, maybe writing a play will never be as easy as it was when I wrote Some Sort of Beautiful. When I knew some stuff, but didn't know enough (the innocence of which maybe is what Breakfast Club Boy was bemoaning the loss of). And in those degrees of easy, writing a play will never be quite as easy as it was before I did my MA.

But what I do write will be - I can already see - is better. Even though I will see its flaws more clearly than I ever have.

If I am to be truly honest then I think those two pieces I mentioned earlier - The Icarus Project and The Rabbit Catcher, the first two things I wrote for the MA - are the pieces that hold the key to everything afterwards though I have not yet learnt all of the lessons from them. In one I found a new way, in the other a new voice.

I suspect if (when) I look back in fifteen years time I'll pin the writer I've become to one of those two pieces.

I just don't yet know which.

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