Editorial--Creativity and The 24 Hour Project by Nick LeBlanc
This weekend I participated in The 24 Hour Project, a theatre production put on by The Collective, a non-profit theatre group out of New Bedford, MA. The premise behind the project is simple; a few writers get together at 7pm on a Friday, they have until 9am Saturday to each write a short play of roughly 10-15 minutes. A group of directors and actors then learn that play and perform on Saturday night, once at 7pm and a second time at 9pm. The second performance is known as the "stumble-through" as there is a bunch of--let's just call it partying--in between the performances, which tends to lead to very loose--and very funny--versions of the plays.
I was lucky enough to be one of the five writers for this April's production. The theme for the evening was "Superheroes" as the timing coincided with the largest blockbuster superhero movie of all time--I won't say the name of it as they aren't cashing me a check to promote it. That's right, you gotta pay up first Marvel!
We were given a series of famous quotes from comic books and told to choose from it, basing our title around the quote and using it to inform our writing in any way we chose. I chose a quote from Wonder Woman, "IF IT MEANS INTERFERING IN AN ENSCONCED, OUTDATED SYSTEM, TO HELP JUST ONE WOMAN, MAN OR CHILD…I’M WILLING TO ACCEPT THE CONSEQUENCES." I, like the jerk I am, chose to name my play directly after that quote. Fiona Apple called me later and told me how happy she was with that decision.
It was a great experience, it is always thrilling to see actors practice their craft, taking your words and ideas and breathing them to life, seeing the way they choose to bend your phrasing, punch up your humor, and internalize your conflicts. As usual, it made me feel insecure and neurotic, "Will anyone understand what I'm talking about? Are my references too strange? Will they think it's funny too?" Luckily, it went over well, the actors told me they appreciated the script, saying I should write for them again. It was a good experience.
Though, there was a moment that almost derailed me. Going through social media with my soon-to-be wife, Steph, after the 7:00 showings, we saw a meme posted on Instagram by someone we knew was at the show that was mocking people's artistic craft. I have shared that meme below here.
Truthfully, I am unaware if this is from a Calvin and Hobbes comic or if it's just some postmodern meme-er co-opting their imagery and inserting their ideology. Either way, I thought it was shitty. My hope was that the post wasn't in regards to my play--or anyone else's work for that matter--and I didn't really take it that way, as I thought that was a selfish and narcissistic way to be. But, it hurt, regardless of the intent. This concept preyed on one of the most powerful anxieties I have as an artist publicly sharing my work, the fear of being viewed as pretentious. Personally, I have expended a lot of personal time and energy into what I create to ensure that what I am representing or commenting on is not presented in a purposefully obscure or intentionally incomprehensible way. My fear comes from a place of dreading is understanding--a concept I honestly talk about in therapy probably every week.
I find it insulting that someone would judge a piece of art without doing the work to know anything about the artist or the artist's intentions. When met with something that frustrates me or confuses me, my first inclination is to blame myself for not knowing the reference or not following the message. Usually, this then sends me into a fit of research until I can at least contextualize what I'm experiencing if not come to a truly full and deep understanding of the work. What I'm trying to say is that it feels like this individual was commenting on the work they were seeing and shallowly demeaning it from some place of ironic detachment as a way to self-soothe. As an analogy, I wonder if this person would find David Lynch pretentious but then argue with me the artistic merit of any of the hundreds of 90's films his work had influenced because they were more readily accessible to their sensibilities.
When I see things like that, it makes me want to clam up and not share a single thing with anyone ever. If there are individuals who judge your work without knowing anything, without doing any intellectual leg work, why bother sharing anything? Is it that the individual gains some sense of intellectual superiority by disregarding a creator's hard work as pretentious just because they don't understand it? After seeing that image, I almost didn't want to watch the second staging of my show because I knew somewhere in the crowd there was a person gaining some sense of pleasure at every person who didn't laugh at the jokes. Knowing that same person they comradeship with each person they saw looking down at their phone during a performance. Knowing that this individual would check their phone for all the "likes" on that image in an hour and use that as fuel to continue to power their spaceship of perceived intellectual superiority.
In my eyes, pretentiousness is defined by this type of aloof judgement, particularly in the way this person went about it. If the person had initiated a conversation with any of the artists or writers (all of whom were present in the room) and questioned that person's artistic intention, I probably wouldn't be writing this now because that is respectful, giving a piece and the artist the benefit of the doubt, and questioning anything they perceived as incomprehensible.
Considering how this person's shallow and silent attack made me want to abandon ship on a project I (as well as everyone else putting The 24 Hour Project) had worked very hard on, I have decided to share my play here. Below is the full text of "IF IT MEANS INTERFERING IN AN ENSCONCED, OUTDATED SYSTEM, TO HELP JUST ONE WOMAN, MAN OR CHILD…I’M WILLING TO ACCEPT THE CONSEQUENCES." It's a satire. If you don't like it or don't get it, let's have a conversation, leave the memes to the pretentious ones.
IF IT MEANS INTERFERING IN AN ENSCONCED, OUTDATED SYSTEM, TO HELP JUST ONE WOMAN, MAN OR CHILD…I’M WILLING TO ACCEPT THE CONSEQUENCES.
A satire by Nick LeBlanc.
PRISONER 1: sad at their imprisonment.
PRISONER 2: angry at their imprisonment, might be inebriated.
SUPERHERO: quiet, proud, self-righteous.
Neither the sex nor appearance of the actors matters, masculine pronouns were used in the text for ease of reading.
When; the present.
Where; large, two-tiered holding cell in some sort of prison for enemies of the state.
PRISONER 1 sits on the lower tier of the multi-tiered holding cell sobbing hysterically, comically so. SUPERHERO sits on a bench on the highest tier picking at his cuticles and staring bravely into the distance, indifferent to PRISONER 1’s sobbing.
PRISONER 1’s sobbing continues for a painfully long time. All the while, SUPERHERO stares contemplatively into the distance, as if considering a distant enemy or challenge awaiting him. This continues for some time.
Eventually, PRISONER 2 stumbles onto the highest tier from off-stage as if thrown in by a prison guard, he straightens himself up, stumbling as he dusts his shirt and pants. He turns toward off-stage from where he had just been thrown.
PRISONER 2: YOU PEOPLE TREAT ME LIKE SHIT! (pauses, he’s indignant) ABSOLUTE SHIT! Don’t you know who I am?
He surveys the situation, SUPERHERO doesn’t acknowledge him at all, PRISONER 1 continues sobbing. PRISONER 2 approaches SUPERHERO, admiring him, lightly sniffing the air around him.
PRISONER 2: They must not know who I am.
He proceeds down the tiers toward the inconsolable PRISONER 1, plopping down next to him. He watches him, shaking his head in disapproval as PRISONER 2 continues to sob. At first,
PRISONER 2 does not acknowledge him.
PRISONER 2 begins to sniffle, mocking PRISONER 1. Soon, he escalates the mocking into full blown imitative hysterics himself. Now, the two PRISONERS are sobbing as loud as they can next to one another, SUPERHERO still ignoring them, lost in his own drama.
PRISONER 2 throws his arm around PRISONER 1 in a sign of faux commiseration. PRISONER 2 stifles his sobbing, confused by the gesture, he pulls himself together, sniffling into his sleeve, looking at PRISONER 1 who continues sobbing.
PRISONER 1: Hey, I’m sorry, are…are you okay?
PRISONER 2 immediate stops sobbing and stares into PRISONER 1’s soul.
PRISONER 2: Do you know who I am?
SUPERHERO chimes in from a tier up, still staring into the distance.
SUPERHERO: It was a moral decision, I couldn’t stand for it any longer. (Long, dramatic pause, he stands up) If it means interfering in an ensconced, outdated system, to help just one woman, man or child…I’m willing to accept the consequences (sits down).
PRISONER 1: (to PRISONER 2) Why…why are you crying?
PRISONER 2 doesn’t respond, stands up, and walks back up to the top tier. PRISONER 1 stares hopelessly outward, starting to sniffle and cry again.
PRISONER 2: Oh, will you shut up already?
PRISONER 1: How…what—
PRISONER 2: Have some respect for yourself! Pull yourself up by your bootstraps! Be a man!
PRISONER 1: But…but, I…
PRISONER 2: But what, sissy boy?! Do I intimidate you? (beats his chest)
PRISONER 1: Well…well, you….
PRISONER 2: Oh, can it. You people are just hemorrhoids on the ass of…of…well, of existence!
PRISONER 1 curls into a ball, covering his face.
SUPERHERO: When duty calls, I’ll be there. (he climbs on top of his bench, gesticulating wildly) Where there is injustice, I’ll be there. I have made it my life’s work to serve the will of a greater purpose!
PRISONER 2 whips toward SUPERHERO.
PRISONER 2: Do you know where we are?SUPERHERO: You, sir, are on a giant biological spaceship, flying through outer space at thousands of miles an hour, circling a giant ball of flaming gas.
PRISONER 2: (blows a giant fart noise raspberry) Ugh, a scientist.
PRISONER 2 shuffles back down to the curled-up PRISONER 1, sitting down next to him.
PRISONER 2: I hate scientists and all their thinking and experimenting. Where’s the fuckin’ balls on ‘em?
PRISONER 1 starts sobbing again, just as loudly as before. PRISONER 2 recoils in disgust.
PRISONER 2: Oh, cut it out you little cockmuppet! Can’t we speak like civilized men? (he looks up toward SUPERHERO) Can you believe this guy?
SUPERHERO: Values are important, they are what we live by, they are what we need in this free, open society.
PRISONER 2: Free and open? (he storms up to the spot where he was thrown onstage, shouting offstage at those who through him in) You people treat me like shit! Just wait ‘til I get my hands on you, just wait ‘til my lawyer gets his hands on your grubby necks!
PRISONER 2 whips back toward SUPERHERO.
PRISONER 2: You call this free? You call this open? They throw men like us in this pit, with that sobbing wet useless rag of a human being down there just sapping the testosterone right out of us! (he speaks with disgust) He probably doesn’t even own a gun! He’s probably a feminist, or worse…an actor! (mumbling to himself) Doesn’t even know who I am…
SUPERHERO: My purpose is to serve the people, sacrifice what I may to ensure the peace and well-being of my fellow domesticated primates. If there is a duty, I will serve it, no matter the cause.
PRISONER 2: Are you a fucking communist?
PRISONER 1 wipes his face on his sleeve and sits up, breathing heavily and calming himself down.
PRISONER 2: (walking down to PRISONER 1) Maybe I’m better off down here with you. (he plops down next to PRISONER 1 and gestures up to SUPERHERO) Can you believe that guy?
PRISONER 1: What…what’s a communist?
PRISONER 2: (utterly sure of himself) A weak, sorry excuse for a human being.
PRISONER 1: You aren’t a communist?
PRISONER 2: No, never, disgusting!
PRISONER 1: What are you, then?
PRISONER 2: I am a man of principles, a man of deep faith! I believe in my god-given right to ascend, my right to succeed. It’s god’s will…do you not know who I am?
PRISONER 1: You…you believe in God?
PRISONER 2: What else is there to believe in? You’re telling me you don’t?
PRISONER 1: I don’t believe in ghosts.
PRISONER 2: You think God…is a ghost?
PRISONER 1: Can you see God?
PRISONER 2: No.
PRISONER 1: Can you speak to him?
PRISONER 2: Every night!
PRISONER 1: Does he respond?
PRISONER 2 doesn’t reply, he considers the other man’s words. He is uncomfortable answering.
PRISONER 1: Can you feel him around you?
PRISONER 2: Of course! He runs through me, around me, always!
PRISONER 1: So, would you say he’s haunting you?
PRISONER 2: (stands up suspiciously) I see what you’re trying to do here, heathen.
PRISONER 1: Well, sometimes I feel like I’m haunted by the ghost of something I don’t believe in.
PRISONER 2: (enraged) You’re going to hell!
PRISONER 1: (looks around him, again starting to sob) Oh, what’s the difference?!
PRISONER 1 collapses onto his back, staring at the ceiling, utterly hopeless.
SUPERHERO: (to no one in particular) Intolerance is the paramour of hatred, as ignorance is to fear! I have sacrificed everything to combat these contemptuous byproducts of—
PRISONER 2 : Hey, Hey you! Will you shut up for a second?
SUPERHERO looks at him suspiciously.
PRISONER 2: What do you do?
SUPERHERO: What do I do?
PRISONER 2: What do you do?
SUPERHERO: I work to fight injustice and if it means interfering in an ensconced, outdated system, to help just one woman, man or child…I’m willing to—
PRISONER 2: Yeah, yeah, okay. Blah, blah, Mister I suck Justice’s big fat dick. What are you actually doing?
SUPERHERO: Well, I…I used to be…well, before they put me in here, I was…Ah, urm…Well, last year I…Well, I…I urm, I’m a, uh I became a, uh, a vegan…
PRISONER 2: Oh, wow you gave up steaks, you’re a regular superhero!
SUPERHERO: And I, uh, I voted for Hillary! Twice!
PRISONER 2: Better watch out Injustice, our cell-mate here’s gonna deny himself a hamburger, FEAR HIM!
SUPERHERO: And I was in the National Guard!
PRISONER 2: (bitterly sarcastic) Salute to our brave veterans! How’s that pension treating you?! You know, you’re just one sorry motherfu—
PRISONER 1 stands up angrily, he can’t take it anymore. SUPERHERO is sitting down, his head in his hands.
PRISONER 1: Shut up, just shut up! You attack us because you’re hateful, and sad, and lonely!
PRISONER 2: I’m sad?! You’ve shed so many tears, I’m shocked you haven’t become a raisin!
PRISONER 1: You’re so lonely, you can’t be happy, you just piss and whine and moan and blame everyone around you. What do you really even know? Who are you? What are you?
PRISONER 2: You’re a heathen and you’re going to hell!
PRISONER 1: I’m no heathen, I’m just strong! You prey on us because you’re weak.
PRISONER 2: Sadness is weak! Don’t you know who I am?!
PRISONER 1: Sensitivity is strength! You are proud, disgustingly proud.
PRISONER 2 pauses, his face contorting into a sneer.
PRISONER 2: You forgot angry!
PRISONER 2 lunges at PRISONER 1, they tussle, wrapping their hands around each other’s necks and squeezing. They fall to their knees, gradually losing consciousness and expiring. They have choked one another to death.
SUPERHERO picks his head up from his hands, observing the situation. He stands up and puffs his chest out.
SUPERHERO: My purpose, no, my duty is to fight intolerance to every end, and if it means interfering in an ensconced, outdated system, to help just one woman, man or child…I’m willing to accept the consequences.
SUPERHERO struts across the stage, walking past the lifeless bodies of the PRISONERS, sitting down in the space on the lower tier where PRISONER 1 was when we began. His proud look fades to sadness as he sniffles and begins to sob.
SUPERHERO: Why are we here?