A playwright’s diary – 2Palimpsests – A playwright’s diary 2

a playwright’s diary – 2

Today’s discussions were generally around narrative techniques, mainly on
flash backs.

A flash back is everyone’s favourite. Or at least it is something that has to be tolerated for want of a better technique for movement on the time axis across a story.

I am always amazed to note that while the flash back has grabbed the eye balls and the mental eye for quite long, its sibling, ‘foretelling’ is not that popular. For that matter, foretelling is not something defined afresh in modern literary theory. Our twin epics Ramayana and Mahabaratha use it to a certain extent -almost all the curses of divine beings provide opportunities to the great poets who created the epics to visit a character’s future albeit briefly and return.

Among modern authors, Muriel Spark was an enthusiastic user of foretelling. Her novel ‘The prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ bears ample evidence to this.

Among Latin American authors, while magical realism could be made easily acceptable, Garcia Marequez could only handle foretelling cautiously in ‘One hundred years of solitude’ and emboldened with its success, went for a no-holds barred narration in ‘Chronicle of a death foretold’.

In Tamil, I can only speak for myself. Having arrived at the literary scene without any back bag of home grown form or technique, I could boldly experiment with what all I thought possible, in my first Arasoor trilogy novel, Arasur Vamsam (English version – The Ghosts of Arasur). The foretelling by the dervish gang about Kittavayyan becoming John Kittavayyan is one small example for this.

However, today’s discussion was not about foretelling but only on flash backs. Or the need to have it. A flash back to the protagonist’s past involves a switch over from a 21st century office at present to his lower middle class house a few years ago. Shifting and rearranging set properties for going down the flash back and re-entering into the present may involve more than 3 minutes. Is it worth keeping the viewer waiting in the auditorium’s darkness for that long that too twice within 5 minutes, that being the duration of the flash back?

The execution team suggested let us do away with the flash back altogether and have its substance inliad in the dialogue based proceedings of the present.

I put my foot firmly down and said no.This is one instance when the author has to be firm about the environment and ambience the author wants to create. When a leap into the past to revisit the tipping point and return is crucial to the proceedings that are to follow, leave the author to have his / her say. Let what is written get done, without even a comma, semi colon or a full stop excluded or included.

And while on the topic of the sets, why can’t we instead of replicating reality, induce imagination of the viewer through subtle suggestions? Like a palimpsest.

A palimpsest is, as the dictionary defines – Something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.

For entering into the flash back you need not hide the present – let the office be there as it was and as it would be. No need even to use a drop and hide it. Instead create a small space on front stage lit differently where the flash back happens with minimal set props to suggest a lower middle class urban residence. What else could be the right metaphors for that life except the plastic pots and a sticker kolam? The characters simply walk into the past and return to the office surroundings which is the present.

The palimpsest sure will create an unique viewer experience as the present and a past in stark contrast together will fuse visually and convey more than regular scene sequencing and stage management.

An interesting experience and discussion indeed.. otherwise I would not be sitting wide awake at 10.45 PM and banging on my key board like this..

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