Mark and I sat around for days, talking and taking notes. Then we took the book D.V. and indexed it into sections. We whittled it down to our favorite stories. We also had access to audiotapes of her talking, so we also had the advantage of learning how she told a story. We also read other things about her, what other people said, interviews, etc. At first she was hilarious, just that; then we began to find her very moving. I found her gallant, no bitchiness about her, not interested in going on about something she hated.
Something else that fascinated me while working on this piece was the amount of minutiae that you unearth about a person's life. I would explore how she would get ready in the morning, the objects she touched, her life.
Getting back to those first steps, I filled legal pads with notes that we took from all our research. There were index cards that had various stories laid out. We played with the arrangement of things. We were trying to build it, give it a climax. We decided to only use stories that were germane to moving the play forward. It really was heartbreaking, because there were a lot of great stories that we couldn't use.
I found the index cards to be a very valuable tool. The cards can be 2
placed on the floor and can assist you in finding the play's arc. You can rearrange them over and over until you have the best sequence, the best arrangement.
As far as shaping the piece, I used Gertrude Stein as a model. The things that were most important to me were the following questions:
3. Who are we talking to?
4. Where is the character in her life?
Answering those questions is, I believe, crucial to a successful one-person show. I find that so often they are not addressed in one-person shows. I spent months answering them.
So what we had were these wonderful stories. What we needed was a linkage, something that could hold them together. Basically, what we needed to supply now was a dramatic line.
Originally we had a maid in the piece, another character. She would come on and say "Oui" or "Non." We thought this was great. But eventually, as the piece developed, we let her go. You must realize that we took six years to write the play. We did readings and workshops during that time. And after each reading or workshop we would take another leap forward in the development of the script.
Since this was collaboration, you should understand the relationship that I had with my co-writer, Mark Hampton. We both intuitively understood the woman. But I, as an actor, was trying to make everything real and not campy, based in emotional things. Mark wanted to put in jokes. We both would give in to each other, depending on how it went in the reading.
From the very beginning, I knew that there had to be one set, and it had to be where she would talk. It seemed inevitable that it should be her living room.
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