Friday, April 29, 2011

Outline this, Moliere!



When I went up to Paris to study, I immediately joined an acting class. As a teen, I was reading lots of theater. Sartre, Anouilh, Ionesco… I had a thing for Moliere too. We studied him extensively in high school. They showed us this great movie about him. Writing, acting, boozing, loving and never ending parties. That was his life. And I thought… Goddamn!

Though, I soon realized theater was not for me. I was so shy, the first time our teacher put me on stage in front of a large group of students and asked me to embody the letter “O”, I rather turned into the letter “Aaaaaah!” Once, I remember, I had to play a romantic scene with a girl who was a professional actress. She was to tell me that she loved me and kiss me. It took me weeks to recover. And when I did, I quit the acting class.

I’m a book person. An apartment with a view, a laptop, plenty of snacks, lots of coffee and a cat called Claude, that’s all I ever need.

But my work with theater is not over. I still have to write outlines for my novels. And that, ladies and gentlemen, dear public, is my very own little theater.

Let me explain… everyone, silence! Position position! And… CURTAIN!

An outline is like a miniature version of a novel. A neat little stage where I can lay down my story and start acting it up. I’m like Chaplin, or Woody Allen, or Moliere for that matter, I always use the same cast: a boy, a girl, an army of unruly teens and exasperated adults. I distribute the parts. I tell them what to expect: there, a pod from space! There, a deadly alien virus! There, you parents trying to kill you! I tell them how to scream. What to think. How to dress. I choose the sets, the days, the nights, the speed of time and the color of the moon. I’m the stage manager, the set designer, the director and the producer of this show for exactly 15 pages.

When it over, the curtain falls down. The outline is ready. I send it away to my agent, to my editor hoping they will think it’s better than butter.

And if they do think it’s better than butter, I fill my apartment with snacks and coffee and cats called Claude and start writing.

Only writing is never as neat and controllable as outlining. The actors who used to be so gentle suddenly refuse my stage directions. They laugh at me each time I show them my great blueprints for my novel. They just snatch the pages, tear them, trash them and off they go improvising. My little theater falls apart. The stage collapses. The roof caves in. I realize that my theater was built right in the middle of a dangerous and unpredictable jungle. My cast abandons me. I have to follow them if I don’t want to stay alone in the ruin of my well thought plans. Together, we go into the wild and I just try to keep up with them, clumsily taking notes whenever they say or do something totally unexpected.

I wonder: Did Moliere have to put up with this?

RIDEAU!

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