So, in a previous post, I talked about what I learned at the “Dream Logic” session at the Dramatists Guild conference in August. In this post, I’m going to talk about some examples I came up with on how you can use your dreams as a basis for play.
Start with Some of your Dreams
David and Kato had us write down a sentence or two about three of our dreams:
- A dream we had the night before.
- A dream we remember from our childhood.
- A dream we have over and over.
Any of these can be a play.
I don’t remember if they said anything about why they chose these three types of dreams. I’m guessing that #1, a dream we had the night before, is easy because it’s recent; maybe remembering that dream helps us to remember others. #2, a dream we remember from our childhood – that’s probably because childhood is a special time in our lives. And #3, a dream we have over and over, has a lot of meaning for us, otherwise we wouldn’t dream it so many times.
An Example: A Professor’s Anxiety Dream
As I was writing down these three dreams, I thought of another dream I used to have.
You know when you’re a student, how you have those dreams where you get to class and you realize there’s an exam and you forgot study for it?
When I was a college instructor, I used to have the same kinds of dreams, only in reverse. I would dream that I’d get to class, and I’d realize that I’d left my lecture notes in my office. Which was all the way on the other side of campus, as far away as it could be.
The worst and scariest dream was that I’d get to class, and I’d walk in, and my students would just be staring at me. I’d realize that it was the day of the final exam. And I’d forgotten to prepare the exam.
The essential; the emotional through-line of this dream
This is a standard anxiety dream. The essential part is that I’ve arrived at my classroom, unprepared. Inadequate. Having to cover for my mistake.
A short play: “Professor Penberthy Stalls”
I could write a play based on this. A 10-minute play in which a professor arrives in class, and realizes she’s forgotten to prepare the final exam. What would she do? Would she stall? Would she make up the exam on the spot? Would she blame the students? Would she tell them to create the final exam themselves? Suppose she couldn’t say outright that she’d forgotten to prepare the exam. She’d have to act as though everything was just fine.
Another Example: The Dream of Things Left behind, of Work Unfinished
One of the dreams I have over and over is about an apartment I lived in in Atlanta, when I was a grad student at Georgia Tech.
The apartment doesn’t always look like the real apartment. Sometimes the layout of the rooms is (roughly) the same, sometimes there are rooms added on in dream-logical places.
When I first started having these dreams, I’d dream that I had to get back there, that I’d forgotten to pack up my books. Or that I had to get back there to pack up not just my books but everything, all of my possessions.
As the years have gone by (yes, years), I’d dream that I actually got to the apartment. I would start packing, or I’d find that I’d already started packing. I might have a rental truck, or I might have no way at all to get my things out of the apartment.
Later on, there started to be people in these dreams. Sometimes they were new tenants, sometimes they were people who lived there and were helpful to me.
The essential; the emotional through-line of this dream
I have unfinished business in Atlanta. Or, it’s probably not literally Atlanta, but graduate school. I intended to get my PhD, but I never did.
Although there’s no reason I couldn’t get my PhD. I’m not dead yet.
In any case, I’m trying to find something I left there, or complete the task of leaving.
This apartment, by the way, was this totally crappy shotgun apartment in a double-shotgun house. It been built somewhere around 1910, as part of the housing for mill workers at Atlantic Steel. It didn’t have central heat, just unvented gas space heaters; in fact, it originally just had fireplaces for burning coal. And no matter what you may think about the South, you really do need good heat in the winter. I had more colds, sore throats, runny noses, and sinus problems in those eight years than ever before or since.
And in case you missed it, yes, I lived in this totally crappy shotgun apartment for eight years. Oh, and did I mention, it also didn’t have air conditioning? I bought a window unit for one room, but that was it.
As for graduate school. Oh God. I went to Georgia Tech for the PhD program in Artificial Intelligence. But after two years, I was put on academic probation, and not long after that, I failed the qualifying exams. I think I did that (unconsciously) deliberately, because I hated my advisor and I hated the program.
After a year and a half of teaching at Kennesaw State, I went back to Georgia Tech, in a Masters program in Information Design and Technology. Now that program I loved, although I took way too long to finish my thesis. It was long enough, and involved enough, that it was closer to a PhD dissertation than a Masters thesis. (Maybe that counts as overfinished business.)
Just thinking about this reminds me that I have a lot of unfinished emotional and mental business around Georgia Tech and grad school. I’ll bet it’s all represented in my dreams about this apartment.
A full-length play: “The Books”
There’s a space. There are boxes, and books, and other possessions. Maybe they start on stage, maybe they’re brought on stage.
Sometimes the walls of the space change. They move around, they’re different colors; sometimes the windows have curtains and sometimes they don’t.
Other people come in and out. There’s the landlord; sometimes he’s rented out the space to someone else, sometimes he wants to rent it out and wants everything gone. There are other people; sometimes they’re helpful and pleasant, sometimes they’ve settled in and think they’re the only renters.
There’s the main character. She’s trying to get there, into the space. She looks through the books, trying to find some particular ones. She packs up things. She tries to move them out. She can’t.
Act I: Trying to Arrive. Act II: Searching and Packing. Act III: Tenants.
The thing is, I’m not sure what everyone would say. What the hell dialog would I write? But is that the point?
But How Do I Actually Write a Play like This?
At the end of my last post on Dream Logic, I said I’d talk about practical things. But, truly, all those practical things seem like a dream now.
Writing a play like what I’m talking about here – I’m not sure where to start. Most of my plays are naturalistic, with representational sets and “logical” dialogue and actions.
How would you write a play like this?
Or do you think I know enough to get started and I should just start the damn thing?