When reality supersedes fiction

One of the most favorite new things I did in 2015 was start to write plays. I’ve been involved with amateur dramatics in one way or another most of my life. It started at the age of four with the quintessential end-of-year ballet show where I hopped across the stage with my fellow pint-sized bunny rabbits. Then my repertoire expanded to include jazz and tap dance and a very brief delve into musical theatre (I still have my Oliver & Annie costumes stowed away in my parents attic). I stuck with dancing on the stage until my first year of university, after which I preferred to be ‘behind the scenes’ as an choreographer and stage manager until the day I was coerced back onto stage as a chorus girl for my hometown’s production of Copacabana (which was a hell of a lot of fun and I kinda wish we got to keep the costumes!)

However, since emigrating to the US in 2007 I haven’t orchestrated a way back to being involved in local theatre beyond being an as-frequent-as-I-can-be patron of productions, small and large, about town. But I still love the theatre. The buzz that rattles through the audience when the house lights dim and the orchestra hits the first note of the overture – it gives me chills every time. Or, when the first actor bursts on to the set and drags us into their world. I’m thrilled that the toddler is getting old enough for me to finally introduce her to this passion – though I have to admit I won’t be rushing back to see Peppa Pig Live! again in a hurry!!

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Can you find me?? Copacabana 2006. source: http://www.idaos.org.uk

And so, it isn’t particularly surprising that I jumped at the chance to take a course in Playwriting when it was offered last year. The course requirements involved writing one ten-minute play (does what is says ‘on the tin’ – a complete play that takes exactly ten minutes to run. My attempt at this can be found here) and one one-act play. I wanted to challenge myself with my one act so I decided to tackle something that is a ‘hot topic’ today in the USA and most of the world – Islamophobia and the reaction to terrorist acts carried out in the name of Islam. But I wanted to look at it from a human level rather than a strictly political one.

My premise is straightforward. An eclectic group of girls who meet during their college days are still friends twenty years later even though their lives are now vastly different. They come together for the funeral of one of the girls’ mother – who just so happens to be Muslim.  Oh and did I mention the funeral takes place on the day that a fictitious attack, similar to the attack on the Charlie Hedbo offices in Paris, occurs in New York City. Throw into the mix a new boyfriend who is meeting the group for the first time and is ever-so-slightly (insert sarcasm) Islamophobic.

As of yet, I’ve not posted the play here, or on the website, because it is currently only around thirty minutes in length and I have (had?) notions to expand it into a full length play of around ninety minutes. I strongly believe that the theatre stage is where the ‘extremes’ of real life should be explored; that the reality seen on the stage should be a heightened version of what we experience in our ‘actual’ lives in the hope that we can untangle how we feel about things. To this end one idea I had for extending my play was to paint a ‘heightened’ version of contemporary America where all Muslims are forced to register themselves with the authorities and wear a visible label/branding on their persons at all times in order to make it clear to society around them that they are Muslim. You know, like the Jews were forced to do in a certain country at a certain period of history.

I thought I was onto a winning idea of where to take the play next and how to take it deeper. Then enter stage left, Donald Trump and his run at the US Presidency. For those of you who don’t know me personally it is pretty safe to say, politically speaking, I lie firmly in the ‘left’ camp on most all subjects. But even if I didn’t, even if I were a centrist or even right of center I strongly believe that I would still consider Mr. Trump to be a vile human being. Not only for what comes out of his mouth but because I think he says many of those things just for effect (if you have been lucky enough to miss what Donald has said in recent weeks about Muslims, go do a google search, it won’t be hard to find!)

[Editor’s Note: I deliberately made one of my female characters English so I could have her call The Donald a T*at … and this was before the presidential race started!]

I am an immigrant. But I am one of the fortunate ones. I came here through choice. I didn’t have to flee my home under the very imminent threat of death. I came here for a job and I stayed here for my marriage and family. I also don’t have any outwards signs of being ‘different’. I am Scottish (if I were any more white skinned I would be transparent!) and even though I do still have a slight accent it is deemed ‘adorable’ by strangers rather than ‘frightening’. I can’t fathom what it must be like to come here after escaping war & refugee camps and then hear a person that is running for the highest office in the land call you a potential (probable?) terrorist just because you happen to share the same religion as some thugs that are using that religion to justify acts of horrifying violence.

Are we really entering into a society where daily reality is started to encroach on a fictional world that I thought was ‘extreme’? Or is this all hullabaloo that will settle down again post-election? I have my fingers and toes crossed for the latter.

So where does this leave me with my play? Do I push on and expand it the way I had intended but scratch my head to come up with even more extreme/scary prospects of how America could end up if it starts down the path that Trump claims to want to take it on? Or do I close the book on it. Leave it where it is …

 

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