“On Creationism” a short story by Dan Sherer
A short story from Under a Tree at the End of Time by Dan Sherer. It’s 11 March, 1970 in Indiana. Ray and his daughter Robyn are by the creek, fishing.
You know you asked me the other day if I was god, and it made me laugh.
I didn’t know what to say. I’ve been thinking about it, and no, I’m not. And you know we go to church every Sunday, and we pray to god. What do you think he looks like? You don’t think he looks like you do you?
I guess a little.
That’s very nice but you know, I used to go to church with my parents, because I had to, and I used to pray to god, and listen to the sermons, and I used to sing the hymns. I liked that. I liked singing the hymns. Do you like singing the hymns?
Yeah. Singing’s good.
What’s your favourite hymn?
My favourite hymm? All things bright and beautiful. Like today. And the hymn says he made them all. And the thing about it is, if he made them all, it means he also made all the bad things, and if he’s the loving god he’s supposed to be, I don’t think he would have made the bad things, the bad people. Animals that tear other animals to pieces.
Who made them?
Well if you believe in god, then god made them. But I don’t think that would’ve happened you see, because I think they just happen, these things. In fact, they didn’t just happen because to start with, there wasn’t anything…there wasn’t anything except stuff.
Well, like water, earth. That sort of thing. Stuff.
No. The bible says, you know at the beginning of the bible it says that god created it, yeah?
Well. So what it says is that he just made it all, in one go, that it just came out.
I don’t think that’s right. You know. What I think happened is that things grew, things started…you’re gonna learn this one day. When you’re a bit older.
God made them grow.
Well they might teach you that as well.
Casting announced for “Indiana New Works” reading
We’re delighted to announce the cast for the reading of “Under a Tree at the End of Time” as part of the Indiana New Works Festival on 3rd December.
Nine new plays by playwrights connected to Indiana will be presented from 2nd – 5th December at the Howard L. Schrott Center for the Arts, 4600 Sunset Avenue, Indianapolis.
Scenes from Real Circumstance’s new play Under a Tree at the End of Time by Dan Sherer will be presented on Tuesday 3rd December. The reading begins at 7pm, admission is $7 for the public and free for Butler University students with ID.
Directed by Owen Schaub, the cast comprises:
RAY, age 66: Dan Bolin, Chair, Butler School of Music
ROBYN, age 16, Ray’s daughter: Kyra Rudolph
JIMMY, age 38, married to Caitlin: Jacob Swain
CAITLYN, age 34, from Dublin, Ray’s daughter, Robyn’s half-sister: Veronica Orech
“You know, there’s a way you could see the history of the planet, the history of this funny, scary world? Wanna know how? Go get in a rocket ship, one that can fly away from the earth super fast, faster than daddy’s truck when he’s driving angry, faster than the wild horses outside the town, faster than the speed of light. And keep going til you get to some star that’s like, just as far away from earth as to look like a star, but the other way round. So that when you land on the star, and look back the earth looks like a star instead. Got it so far? Then you gotta build a telescope, massive, huge and ginormous all at the same time. It’s gotta be so big and so powerful that you can look through it and see right to the surface of the earth, close enough to look at each street and each house and each tree. And guess what? You’d see it how it was millions of years ago. It’s like when we see stars here on earth that have already burnt up, but the light from them takes so darn long to get here we get tricked all the time into thinking that these things are there when they’re really not. Neat, huh? I know life is like that too, going back in time, seeing things that happened a while ago as if maybe they only happened last Tuesday or 5 seconds ago. And I think my daddy has magic powers like that. Or I should say, I KNOW he does, because I do. And that way you can find out what’s real truth and what’s lies. So if you looked through your telescope and saw Jesus walking around and turning water into wine and what not, well you’d have to come to some agreement with yourself that that must be true after all – what if you saw a dinosaur come and rip his head off? That’d be gross. The moral of the story is, lying is bad and you shouldn’t; you can get into all sorts of trouble and really you only hurt yourself. So don’t lie. And don’t drink milk before you go to bed either.”
“Have you seen the hair on James Dean? I think it’s got this little life all it’s own. It’s tight and curly in those pictures when he’s happy, and I swear to goodness when he’s looking lonely it sorta droops down. Like it’s following his sadness all the way. I got a whole lotta new books from the library, and sometimes I read with my feet up on the wall next to the tv, lying on my back so it gets stiff from the wood, and the tv is on too, and then daddy comes in and clomps about and I love it when he’s there but sometimes I worry HE doesn’t love it quite so much. That’s why you see, I’ve gotta make him smile once a day, once a day and rub my nose in soot or something and then we can bring her back.”
“I don’t seem to have a whole lot to say right now. It feels like a chore to talk some days, like my mouth’s saying Uh Uh, you need a rest. And my head sorta agrees with that.”
“I know that I hung on a windy tree
Nine long nights,
Wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin
Myself to myself,
On that tree of which no man knows
From where its roots run.”
“People seem to lose their kids all the times. There was this woman who lost her baby, my mom’s friend, she was crying about it and groaning and such. But I remember mom saying it wasn’t her fault. Now fancy that, you go and lose yourself a baby and people say it isn’t your fault? It doesn’t seem right to me. Should have tried to not lose it in the first place.”
Improvisations, narrative choices, and writing
I finished the final day of improvisation for Under A Tree At The End Of Time on Friday, which means somewhere in the 160ish hours of improvised footage I have the play; at least a version of it.
People often ask how much of an idea I have about a project before it begins, or even during improvisation. With this piece it is fair to say I have had particular images in my head at various points – stage pictures that I thought we might be able to achieve – and that over the course of the last two weeks I have been navigating via them; sometimes arriving at them, at other times bypassing them as the logic of the narrative takes us elsewhere. I am certain though, that the material we have generated is very rich.
It is also worth noting that I regularly repeat improvisations to get different perspectives on the same event; not because the actors haven’t delivered accurate work, but because, legitimately, imaginary circumstances can lead to more than one set of behaviours. Repeating improvisations, therefore, is like having more than one take in a film: it gives me more options when I compose the final script, both in terms of language use and also, more fundamentally, in terms of what actually happens to the narrative. For example, the last improvisation we did – also the last narrative beat, because I work chronologically (or near enough) – was repeated to give more than one possible ending; though I think I know which one will end up in the play. (The first one, in case you want to know).
Now I have perhaps the hardest task of this process of work; which is to transcribe the improvisations and then formally structure them, before rewriting, honing, and refining the material into the finished play. This period, now, is most like a traditional process of writing, except that the narrative beats are (in potentia) already defined, so I have a very strong skeleton of behaviour and encounters to work from; and a great wealth of language and images that I can utilise. Some scenes may be almost exactly as originally improvised; others will be conflations of a number of improvisations; and some will be original conceptualisations based upon material ‘around’ those improvisations. That is, not material as improvised but material that was talked about, thought about, or tangentially related to those improvisations, which might help ensure the formal success of a dramatic structure.
To help me at all points I have the huge advantage of being able to call up actors to ask them to clarify what they said and did – each actor maintaining a very detailed personal notebook of their work. Those notebooks will become even more important as we move into performance, as they provide the most detailed circumstances of every encounter, which then helps us to treat each performance as simply another improvisation, legitimating and enabling the particular acting aesthetic that I strive for.
A final note to thank the company of actors: Jot Davies, Ben Caplan, Keeley Forsyth, Lawrence Werber, and Tamsin Joanna Kennard, whose commitment has been absolute.
You can watch improvisations on our Blip chanel, see some of the images and music that will contribute to the design of the production on our Pinterest page, and read a collection of relevant facts and narrative moments in Storify. There will also be new short stories and extracts of material (that may or may not be in the finished script) put online over the next few weeks.
The world grows, Time passes
Day 8 of this improvisation period to build “Under a Tree at the End of Time”, and the play-world has grown vastly. We have now covered the bulk of the narrative and have a huge wealth of material to draw upon, to hone into the final script.
The work so far has taken place between Tuesday 13th January 1981 and Saturday 14th February 1981, at Ray’s house in Time, Indiana; we’re making a leap of 4 months today.
We’ve uploaded improvisation footage to date to our Blip video channel (see right), which includes our first improvisation period that took place earlier in the year.
We’ve gathered visual references into our Pinterest mood board – the latest pins are below, and you can follow the board here.
We’ve also been sharing certain moments of the story and logging facts and details on Twitter as we go – from aspects of the law in Indiana and key events in the US in 1981, to the theme tune to Flash Gordon and and the song that’s playing when Jimmy takes Robyn out for dinner in Lafayette. You can follow below.
Improvising Time: immersion and circumstance
Our previous improvisation period, which took place earlier in the year, ended at a particular moment: with the arrival of Jimmy and Caitlyn at her father Ray’s house in Time, Warren County, Indiana on Tuesday 13th January 1981, where he lives with his other daughter, Robyn (see previous post for plot recap). The purpose of the current period of improvisation is to pick up from that point and then to move onwards; the material being generated out of the consequences of that arrival. You can watch the improvisation footage here.
Day One of our work (or Day 11, as following on from the previous improvisation period) focused on immersing the actors back into their characters, and into the circumstances of the day of Jimmy and Caitlyn’s arrival in Time. I am reminded that the possibility of immersion is almost entirely dependent on the actors’ capacity to imaginatively invest in context and circumstance; and consequently my work is fundamentally ‘about’ articulating place, time and previous circumstances in ways that are useful and coherent. I focus on small practical details of the senses rather than generalizations of circumstance, or suggestions of emotional states. What do you see, smell, hear, feel (sensorally)? What is the specifity of that condition? So I am interested in exactly what it might feel like to fire a gun, what colour the engraving on the barrel might be, how strong the smell of sulphur. It is not therefore a question of the weather being hot, or cold; but rather how hot, how cold; and what would the differentiation actually mean in practical/behavourial reality? Out of the summation of such tiny details, the actors are able to best determine what their accurate behaviour should be in relation to the circumstances in which the characters are embedded. Their behaviours (which includes, of course, what they say) then generate new circumstantial conditions, again constructed in sensoral detail. So, slowly, moment by moment, the narrative moves forward.
A little summary of the narrative over the last three days: Robyn doesn’t want Jimmy and Caityln to be there, but she is under pressure from Raymond to be hospitable. They all eat together, with awkward conversation. Ray gets drunk with Jimmy, and tries to get to know Caitlyn. Caitlyn and Robyn argue in the middle of the night out in the fields, surrounded by snow. Ray’s health is beginning to deteriorate but, so far, only Robyn really knows, and she hasn’t told anyone. Ray takes Caitlyn and Jimmy shooting whilst Robyn is at school. Caitlyn and Jimmy argue in private. When Robyn returns from school she throws all of Caitlyn’s and Jimmy’s clothes out into the snow. Ray asks Jimmy to see if Robyn will talk to him. Robyn asks Jimmy where his and Jimmy’s baby is – Robyn having been told that they would be arriving with a newborn. Jimmy tells Robyn that the baby hadn’t been in God’s plans for them.
Catch up with “Under a Tree at the End of Time”
On Monday we start a two-week development period for “Under a Tree at the End of Time”. The story so far…It is 1981 in the village of Time, Indiana. Raymond (Lawrence Werber / Jot Davies) is a former mechanic who lives with his teenage daughter Robyn (Tamsin Joanna Kennard). Robyn’s mother Connie left when Robyn was very young. Robyn has had a solitary but not unhappy upbringing. Caitlyn (Keeley Forsyth) arrives in Time from the UK with her husband Jimmy Ellis (Ben Caplan). She has not seen her father for 30 years. Raymond is getting old and has sent for her, but he is not at the house when Caitlyn and Jimmy arrive. Robyn, hearing the dog bark, walks to the front of the house. She has been told that some friends are coming to stay with their baby, but they have arrived too early. There is no baby.
Catch up with the world of the play
…through Artistic Director Dan Sherer’s blog – which includes improvisation footage
…through a growing collection of images and videos on our mood board
…through the gallery of Time, Indiana, from a visit earlier in the year to the village where the story takes place.
We are also starting to share short stories from the world of “Under a Tree at the End of Time”, which you can read and follow here. Latest stories include:
- Caitlyn and the kazoo: read here.
- The bird: read here.
- On religion: read here.
- On creationism: read here.
- A bag of kittens: read here.
Auditing the creative process
How do you make tangible and tactable – and indeed digital – the unconscious or inexpressable process of generating art? Theatre is at least better at manifesting creative labour as materially available than most art forms. You can ‘see’ part of it happening if you really want to (cf. this current talk of embedded criticism: Daniel Bye, Postcards from the Gods). But I don’t mean ‘what happens in a rehearsal room’. I mean the labour that happens to get you to that moment in the first place; so the work of the creative imagination. The work of the idea.
Well it just sort of happens doesn’t it? Hmm. Well maybe yes. But that might not be good enough for very much longer. Due to the nature of the audit culture of financing in the arts, it is becoming increasingly necessary to have something materially ‘to show’ for your work beyond the product of art itself – arguably the final product is the least significant thing. You need to have products all the time, ‘tangibles’ along the way, so that you are continually ‘engaging’ in materially accountable ways, and you are seen to be doing so. You need to turn every part of creative labour into something with a recognisable output, which can be documented and, in the current zeitgeist, ideally, made digital.
The problem is that it is the nature of artistic creativity that it necessarily only finds its materiality in the final product. That’s why you do it. If you could make that expression continually and in myriad easier ways, you would. Wouldn’t you? If making art wasn’t the only way of getting all this stuff out, you would do everything else, and not bother with the actual art bit because it is too hard.
But that doesn’t mean we won’t try. And so begins a great experiment: to find ways to make the intangible tangible. To find ways to think in outputs. To create in outputs. To output your way to the actual output, which is subsumed by the torrent of outputs from which it is constituted; and of which it is, at best, only the last output.
Whilst I look to solve this little quandary this blog may take a little hiatus, to be replaced by something more accountably of output.
Why some actors are more “real” than others
This week in my theatrical and academic work I’ve been thinking about the construction of selfhood. A few years ago I watched The Overwhelming at the National Theatre. Tanya Moodie was in it. She was great. (Hi Tanya.) So was the shady American from Spooks. There was a young kid in it too. I don’t remember so much about him, except that I think he might have been bumped off in the first scene. Or at the very least, threatened. Most seriously. Anyway yesterday I learned that young actor had been Andrew Garfield, our once and future and Spiderman. And then I thought, if The Overwhelming was being staged now, not only would Andrew Garfield have been the big draw with the piece being sold on his name, but I would also have remembered something about his performance.
It really brought into focus the strange complexity that operates when you watch a piece of theatre in which the social narrative of the actor overrides their identity as a character, or at least where it brings a peculiar (additional) attention to it. So if The Overwhelming was on now, it would ‘matter’ how Andrew Garfield did. Now in one sense (the most obvious one) this is a function of fame, but I am interested in the complexities of the social circumstances of which ‘fame’ is only a particular iteration. Because I wonder that it is not just that Andrew Garfield is famous now (it’s time to let go of him: please insert your own equivalents from now on): it is that in some way he seems more real. We know him. He is somehow a more deeply established self than the others. His ‘real quotient’ is higher, somehow and he weirdly matters more. There are of course huge paradoxes here, with not the least being that if the ‘real quotient’ of an actor is so high, it threatens the integrity of the work – even the very best. And secondly, of course, the increased self-hood that he seems to have (that is making you care disproportionately how he does) is, of course, a fabrication: part media, part self-construction, somewhat designed, all in your own head.
Yet the narratives of those that make our theatre, as opposed to the narratives of the theatre that they make, seems to be so important. We go and see the work of our friends, our peers – not because of the stories they are telling, but because of the story that they are. And our witnessing of their theatrical work is an attempt to mimetically claim ownership of their own personal narrative, to make it part of ours. I think we go and see XX in whatever because unconsciously we think it means they are going to be our friend, so that when we subsequently self-make ourselves, we too are more real. And all this means we probably missed the play.
Food for Thought: American Capitalism
I am just on the way back from York Theatre Royal where I have been discussing the future life of Under A Tree At The End Of Time with Artistic Director Damian Cruden. He is very excited about the project and about Real Circumstance’s continuing relationship with the theatre. We’re hopeful of collaborating with YTR through to Spring 2013, fingers crossed.
But mostly what we talked about was American Capitalism, and an American way of life that was like a boat in the wash of an underwater earthquake; the big wave is still coming but the boat thinks it has already passed. And maybe now, now, America is just beginning to realise that it hasn’t. I think what is hardest for me to remember is that every behaviour – every political and social act – is read morally in America. So success is morally good, it marks the good self, as well as rewarded/rewardable self. And in this, America remains within a zeitgeist of Puritanism: the working self is also the morally good self, and therefore the absence of labour (which might be read as the absence of opportunity for labour) is rearticulated as a mark of immorality: the immoral, unsuccessful, unworking, poor. Failure in America cannot be articulated except morally; a moral failure of the individual to individuate him/herself.
Similarly, ‘more/less’ is morally gauged – I would argue as a function of Capitalism’s capacity to render itself fractally through social life. More is good in America, resulting in (to us/me/Damian) a celebration of excess. Just too much stuff. Too much food. Damian reckons it’s a race-memory (well, not a race memory, but a culturally embryonic memory) from old Europe; of literally being scared that there wouldn’t be enough to eat. But at the same time, now, in NYC, as food almost literally spills into the streets from every store, there are posters up saying, “Please give food. 1 in 7 people in Manhattan are starving”; and middle-class professional people are living in the woods in New Jersey (google “Tent City”) because they cannot pay their rent. Food for thought. Too much food.