I’m in the thinking stages of making a show about what it might be like to wake up in your own coffin. Writer Ellana Costa and I want to look at the hard reality of ghosthood. What if you were a ghost with limits? What if you couldn’t defy gravity or boundaries but were stuck for eternity inside a wooden box?
Performance Space (a theatre company based at Carriageworks) are running a short work evening at the beginning of March called ‘Nighttime: Live and Let Die’ and to apply to be a part of it you had to pitch an idea around the themes of death, night, dreams, ghosts, rebirth, etc. Coincidentally, I saw a performance two days before the application was due in which a man dreamt that he had died and yet was awake in his coffin. The avalanche this scene set off in my head resulted in this pitch (I’ll spare you the artistic masturbation and just give you the broad outline):
“Step into my coffin. I’ll show you around.”
Tom has just woken up as a ghost. He’s in his coffin and is surrounded by objects. The only problem is, he can’t make sense of them. What is so important about that whistle? And why is there a bible underneath his pillow?
‘come and join me’ is about the disconnect between how we are seen by our loved ones, and how we see ourselves.
If an audience member gets close enough, Tom will ask them to step into his coffin and help him work out why he’s been buried with a bible, and why he’s wearing a Ramones T-shirt.
When we are grieving the loss of a loved one, we bury them with objects symbolising who they were to us, but perhaps not to them. What if you never told them what you loved about them? Or what if you loved the part of them that they despised?
‘come and join me’ is also about the inexplicable choices we make in life – why we choose to learn the clarinet instead of the oboe, or to be a novelist rather than a dancer. Buried with the objects that mark these choices, we are faced with an eternity of contemplation.
The possibility that I’ve now realised, which I should have put in the application, is this: what if a ghost was given a chance to explain their chest-pieces?
Chest-pieces is an idea I had a while ago that runs vaguely along these lines:
What if every sternum was a door that you could swing out to reveal the six precise memories that have had the most formative influence on a person? What if you could reach your hands inside and take them out, one by one, and roll them between your fingers? I imagine that these six memories would be concentrated, like juice, to resemble something like chess pieces that you can roll around in the palm of your hand. Imagine if you could handle the chest-pieces of another person to discover who they were, rather than trying to negotiate the said/unsaid of language (and our heinous ability to understand our own selves and then communicate that understanding) […] What if these six pieces were lined up before you the moment that you died?
The trouble we have with being alive is that our lives are spooling out like thread – this thread will continue to spool until it runs out. Obviously, this is not really a problem, but the one thing we are denied with death is a definitive line-up of those six chest-pieces, those six moments that you could place in the hands of another human to make them understand how and why you lived your life.
BUT. What if you were a ghost? You would no longer be living. Your thread would have stopped spooling. But you would have your six chest-pieces. And you’d be able to hand them to somebody and make them understand what you lived for, maybe what you died for.
I guess the challenge for Lana and I is to work out how to minimise the elephant tread of language in this imagining.