the ideal state by christopher bryant

Writers 2015
This is Chris.

We asked our next Arvo Tea and a Show writer Chris Bryant to reflect on the development of his play The Great Dark Spot.

I am in a definite state of confusion with this play.

You see, it wasn’t ever meant to exist. It was subsidiary to my ‘graduate work’ at NIDA; this errant Word document I’d occasionally open up and bash some words into before forgetting about it for another few weeks. My graduate play, Sneakyville, traversed America, Australia, and 50+ years of cultural history and philosophy. Accordingly, for the play that would become The Great Dark Spot I set myself some boundaries: one act, straight through. Maximum four characters. One room. (Those with keen eyes will notice, when the reading happens, that I’ve managed to stretch this last boundary as far as I could.)

It was inspired by the tutor of our philosophy

class, who one day told us that the way this generation is going, when the world ends – inevitably thanks to our own hand; through climate change or mass destruction – we won’t even be able to look at the damage caused and say “well, at least we tried.” I wasn’t sure that I agreed, but it sparked something in me regardless, and off I went. It’s a play that’s set in a post-apocalyptic world, post “at least we tried”, but quietly: without violence or destruction or Charlize Theron in a two-piece made of animal pelts.

The title of this play has likewise changed numerous times. Initially it was “ONE ROOM APOCALYPSE PLAY.docx”, and then it was “Mother” – which didn’t last long, a ham-fisted reference to the familial focus in the work and the X-Files-esque term ‘mothership’ – and then it was “The Great Dark Spot”. This last name feels correct to me, indeed came with an “aha!” moment, where two and two finally made four and everything began making sense.

With all its name changes, it has also changed form: evolving from quite a naturalistic play into an odd hybrid of storytelling, interwoven monologue, film, and physical metaphor. It’s a play set in a post-apocalyptic world, true, but this apocalypse takes a back seat to the action of the play and the characters’ internal worlds. Similarly, it evolved from being an (equally ham-fisted) play about the characters’ inaction towards climate change, to a play about the characters’ inaction towards their own lives; effected as they are by personal trauma – the macro in the whirling maelstrom of an apocalyptic scenario that is only hinted at. It’s about incredibly personal loss in the face of an immense depersonalised Loss; about feeling like you should care about something impossibly large but finding it impossible to do so because you’re still focused on something comparatively small.

When I began to write the first draft of the version you’ll see if you attend the reading, I had just been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This was at once incredibly reassuring and more than a little bit harrowing. It came with an assurance that ways in which I’d been acting and thinking had a root cause that wasn’t me, but it also carried the sobering fact that I was, capital-d, Disordered. Unsure of what to do after returning from my psychologist – this kind of diagnosis tends to put a dampener on your day – I sat down, opened up my laptop, and began to write this version of the play. It’s not about PTSD but it also very much is: my own experiences, as they so often do, inevitably colouring the work that I completed around my diagnosis and my subsequent search for meaning in trauma.

I suppose this is all an incredibly long way to say that each iteration of this play has brought it closer towards what I feel like it should be, its ‘ideal state’: during NIDA, after NIDA, after my diagnosis, after the initial VIMH reading, after the Lonely Company showing, and now this version to be read. Making the choice to pursue one particular avenue is inevitably scary, because it forces you to cut off all the other avenues you could have gone down. And this was the case with this play: I kept refusing to commit myself to any particular set of themes or way of exploring these themes, simply out fear. It’s been years since I’ve written a play that’s come from a predominantly fictional place, and adding this particular anxiety into the mix of my concerns essentially stopped me from progressing anywhere with this play.

VIMH have encouraged the play into its current form: given me a lot to think about in terms of clarifying its concept and trimming its narrative fat. Their reactions have also assured me that its offbeat humour is actually, well, humorous. They’ve inspired me to think about the physical representations of the play proper, and have quite simply encouraged me to keep going; to keep travelling down the avenues I’ve started down and to keep cutting off other avenues as I do. They have helped me to push through my anxieties in order to find a version the play I’m satisfied with; a version where I have at least some idea of what I want out of it. Without their support, this would’ve been a very different play: one sitting in the depths my hard-drive, unfinished and wasting space.

The Great Dark Spot will inevitably change once more out of the discussions that arise from this reading. But at least it now has a solid and concrete base. It knows what it is.

The Great Dark Spot will be read at La Mama on Saturday 3 June, 2pm. Buy your tickets here.

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