ghostboy by charles o’grady

Charles O’Grady shares some thoughts on our next dinner and a show text ghostboy.

ghostboy is an experiment on several levels.

First and foremost, it represents a fascination I’ve had for several years with the idea of
doing horror genre texts on stage – something I think people tend to assume isn’t possible, given the number of times it’s been done badly or has read as goofy or gimmicky. Realising I had little to no chance of writing a horror for the stage that was genuinely scary on my first go at it, I decided to write a play about horror, in some ways. It’s still full of ghouls and ghosts and haunted houses, but more as an interrogation of the horror form, and what the supernatural has come to represent about our own consciousness and self-perception.

It’s also a foray into queer horror, but moreso my attempt to articulate why I feel all horror is inherently Queer. Subverting the mundane and making it abject is both a tenet of horror and of Queer art. Horror also makes a point of engaging with transgressions of gender and sexuality as a focal point for the creation of monstrousness. There are a number of crossover points between Horror texts and Queer coming-of-age texts – most notably, the eroticisation of trauma. I wanted to take this idea of eroticised trauma and explore it on both a human and supernatural level.

Secondly, this is an exercise in creating poetic and non-linear, conceptual work that also
maintains a story and characters that an audience relates to. The characters in this play are in some ways intentionally written as cookie-cutter conduits for ideas or archetypes – Ghost, Boy, Daddy, Doctor, etc – used to explore conventional queer narratives. There is also a bedrock of Horror genre references that inform the play’s aesthetics, for example:

  • Freddy and Jesse’s homoerotic interactions in A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge
  • the fetishised pathology of Buffalo Bill’s gender transgression in The Silence of the
    Lambs
  • The Sixth Sense’ so-called Big Twist Moment
  • The convention across many haunted house horrors of a monster that hides in a
    closet
  • Werewolf coming-of-age narratives
  • The villain of It Follows, a monster specifically constructed as a punishment for
    sexual transgression
  • Everything about The Lost Boys
  • Everything about Strangers By the Lake
  • The “I’m not a girl” scene in Let the Right One In

Look, I just really like horror films, and I like that they’re all metaphors for coping with or overcoming or succumbing to trauma and grief, and I like that houses are always a metonym for their owners and haunted houses therefore are “haunted” minds, and I’m a big gay nerd.

Finally, ghostboy is not just a play. The text I’m writing is designed to work both as a play
and as a poetic novella or poetry collection – and, in this, is designed to function as both
those things simultaneously. This is not just because I want to double my chances to ever
make money off of my writing, but also because I’m interested in the stage play as a textual form that can stand on its own. Most theatre makers will tend to assert that the stage play is an unfinished text – that it cannot be finished until it is on a stage in front of an audience. And certainly I think a lot of scripts are written and formatted for functionality, rather than to create an enjoyable reading experience, which is fine and has always served the writer-director dynamic well. However, coming from a background in poetry as well as working as a playwright and director, I am interested in finding what, if anything, could make a script as visually rich for a reader as for an audience. There are limitations in the script format, of course – but there are also limitations in the prose format, and the poetry format, some of which, I think, can be enriched by the conventions of script writing.

In terms of ghostboy, this crossover has meant that expanding on the play’s text in certain places, in ways that would not necessarily be seen on stage. I’ve written a lot for this play that is not intended to be a part of a stage production, because it serves to fill the gaps created when you take away the visual/physical elements of theatre. Also, because a book can be a lot longer than a play, and the story I’m telling – whilst it can be condensed into an appropriately long show – feels bigger than what a play can contain.

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