Exactly one month before we went into rehearsal for The Forecast, the American author George Saunders published an essay in The Guardian. Saunders' short story “The Semplica Girl Diaries” was the original inspiration for the show, and the essay became a kind of auger for the creative journey we were going to embark on.
“What writers really do when they write” is in essence an extended meditation on the process of revision, and it's a meditation delivered with Saunders' trademark off-beat wit. Revision, Saunders argues, isn't just about making your work “not suck”—it's about affirming the common humanity that exists between writer and reader:
When I write, “Bob was an a**hole,” and then, feeling this perhaps somewhat lacking in specificity, revise it to read, “Bob snapped impatiently at the barista,” then ask myself, seeking yet more specificity, why Bob might have done that, and revise to, “Bob snapped impatiently at the young barista, who reminded him of his dead wife,” and then pause and add, “who he missed so much, especially now, at Christmas,” – I didn’t make that series of changes because I wanted the story to be more compassionate. I did it because I wanted it to be less lame.
But it is more compassionate. Bob has gone from “pure asshole” to “grieving widower, so overcome with grief that he has behaved ungraciously to a young person, to whom, normally, he would have been nice”. Bob has changed. He started out a cartoon, on which we could heap scorn, but now he is closer to “me, on a different day”.
How was this done? Via pursuit of specificity. I turned my attention to Bob and, under the pressure of trying not to suck, my prose moved in the direction of specificity, and in the process my gaze became more loving toward him (ie, more gentle, nuanced, complex), and you, dear reader, witnessing my gaze become more loving, might have found your own gaze becoming slightly more loving, and together (the two of us, assisted by that imaginary grouch) reminded ourselves that it is possible for one’s gaze to become more loving.
Limbik, at our heart, is a devising company. And one way of looking at devising is as a process of group writing. At the end of the day, we create theatre by collaborating with actors in a rehearsal space. The material that ends up onstage is born through provocation and improvisation, through movement and in conversations—and then shaped and structured. Only those structures will be torn apart, rebuilt and reassembled over the course of the process. Multiple times. This unfurls within individual scenes and across the show as a whole.
It's like building a house from blocks of clay: You can mould each individual block to as fine a level of detail as time will allow—a gable over the front door, divided light windows, a espresso maker on the kitchen hob—until you realise you have to pick up an entire room and move it to the other end of the house, or there's no space for that second bedroom, or you need to add in a set of double doors to connect two rooms that were previously walled off. Because increasingly (and here we see so much truth in Saunders' essay), in trying to make our own work “less lame,” we're considering the audience's journey through it. How will they experience the flow?
And in this, we will confess, our final moment of revision comes in front of an audience. It is not until that moment of communion between the performers and an audience that we truly understand what it is we've actually gone and done. Worlds of insight are gained in split seconds; creative knots release themselves; and we facepalm when truths that should have been self-evident suddenly cannot be ignored. So bit by bit, in whatever time we can find, we make little changes based on the insights gleaned from yesterday's audience, and try them out in front of a new one today. Over time, those little changes add up, and slowly but surely the show becomes what it has always desired to be. While we couldn't predict the final version of The Forecast when we set out to create it, we always knew was that there would come a point when we'd need an audience to partner us in the process. That's one of the joys of working in theatre: you've got company.
Limbik bring The Forecast to The Garage on Friday 2 June, 7.30pm. Click here to book your ticket.