Sunday, November 7, 2010


Too much has been happening since my last post in August. When I haven't been in rehearsals and performances for Wake, an exceptional new play by Bryn Manion, I've been trying to keep up with the deluge of survival work (at the moment, it pays so badly that it's actually barely-survival work) and keeping up with the absolute minimum of my PWP work (Catherine, Ralph and I have been teaching our workshop for Trinity/LaMaMa and doing photo research for our video project that we must finish soon). The Interlude may have appeared fallow but I've actually created dozens of blog posts every day over the past few months... it's just that they only exist in my mind and come to me at times that I can't write them down: like when I wake up at 4am and am struggling to get back to sleep. Regardless, I hope I'll be able to be more diligent about getting something down here in the coming days, weeks and months.

For a few weeks now, I've had an idea for a multi-tasking post. First, it would announce my return to acting for the first time in 17 years (see above)... which also just happens to be the first opportunity my lovely wife, Catherine, and I have ever had to perform together (in over 25 years as friends and almost 21 years as a couple). Second, it would get the word out about the upcoming production of Immortal: the Gilgamesh Variations by The Forge in January, of which I'm very pleased to be a part. But foremost, it would provide a little snapshot into the process of writing by focusing on how I have contributed to Immortal by adapting Tablet 11 of the Gilgamesh epic.

A quick overview: Gabriel Shanks and Kay Mitchell asked eleven playwrights to each adapt one of the tablets into a 10-minute play, the idea being that this would reflect the surviving fragments of the story that have been discovered so far which were pretty much all written by different authors at different times. Tablet 11, in addition to being the end of the story (and so requiring me to "wrap it all up" for the audience) is also quite dense: there's a full account of the Sumerian version of The Flood, Gilgamesh is given a 7-day test by Utnapishtim (the equivalent of Noah) and another task to perform once he fails that test, and finally he travels back to his home in Uruk (retracing an outgoing journey that required the three prior tablets to accomplish).

In 10 minutes. Right...

So I thought I would post my various drafts of the script, along with a few short notes on the changes I made. Some of the rewrites were in response to the length of the piece (my first full draft clocked in at over 15 minutes), some were in response to work that other writers had done that I could reference in my tablet, and some were based on dramaturgical suggestions from Gabriel and Kay as the project leaders. There were a few minor drafts in between each of these but I've decided to focus on the more significant rewrites (in the interest of time and... well, interest: I don't know if it's entertaining for the layman but I think it's somewhat intriguing for those of us who write).
  • My first draft was fairly faithful: I tried to cram it all in. Like I said, this one was WAY too long. Let the rewrites begin.
  • The next version was the result of several drafts that whittled away more of the details from the original and focused on the bigger picture items: the Flood, the realization by Gilgamesh that immortality is not possible and the journey home. It's significantly shorter. I had the idea to begin it with Gilgamesh having reverted almost to the state of an animal and then rebuilding himself into a human being over the course of the tablet. I've also removed the supernatural beings almost entirely: this is in part due to the fact that there were just too damned many Sumerian gods and we all decided that the audience would never be able to keep track of who they were and what they did, but also because we all felt that one aspect of Gilgamesh's journey is that he discovers that his destiny relies more on his personal actions than on divine intervention. I also added a hymn to Uruk that I thought captured the last lines of the tablet pretty well and an epilogue: at the time, I didn't know who was going to speak it but I've tried it a couple of different ways since this draft.
  • By August, several of the elements had begun to be set in the script: the beginning has changed very little but the ending is still not working. I tried splitting up the Epilogue to all of the actors and the flood story is dramatically shorter. However, by the next month, the bathing ritual has been moved to later in the play (over a series of rewrites to follow, it would be removed entirely and then ultimately returned to a few different places to see if it could be salvaged). I made an attempt to bring Enkidu back into the story (he had died several tablet earlier and the rule was—essentially—that "dead is dead" and he couldn't be brought back into the story) by having Gilgamesh see his statue come to life in a vision: that didn't fly.
  • A new year, a new draft. The changes are smaller except that I tried to merge Enkidu with the snake in the vision and make the scene a duet with the people of Uruk in which they admonish Gilgamesh to return home (an interesting idea, but it was not to be). The bathing ritual has been integrated into the homecoming at Uruk, which I really like and hope it will stay here. Ishtar has the epilogue now in an attempt to bookend the production (Juanita Rockwell's Tablet 1 begins with Ishtar addressing the audience); I didn't love it and neither did anyone else.
  • The current draft. The vision is gone entirely; now it is very much the way it is in the source material: a snake steals the last hope of immortality from Gilgamesh—period. The journey home has been dramatically truncated and the epilogue has been returned to Gilgamesh. I am, for the most part, pleased with where it is now.
There will be more changes but I think they'll be more tweaks than rewrites.

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