Friday, June 3, 2011

Ambush Theater

In my last post, I mentioned that Cleveland Public Theatre produced a couple of small pieces of mine. Led by Mike Geither, my playwriting mentor, I worked with other playwrights to create a performance piece called "Know Your Future." It was performed at the big yearly Arts and Sciences festival. They close off a few blocks of downtown Cleveland. People walk around and look at exhibits, artistic and scientific. Bands play. Cakes funnel. It's pretty awesome.

"Know Your Future" was advertised as a group of fortune telling booths. People lined up to have their fortunes told for free. What they didn't know was that these were actors performing scripts. So try to imagine a person's response when they experienced this fortunetelling. I was told that if someone in line was being particularly obnoxious, they'd send them to an actor doing one of my three pieces:

A folding table is on the ground. There is a cushion on either side. The Fortune Teller sits on one in the lotus position or cross-legged, with palms on knees and eyes closed. Without opening eyes, FT speaks.

Welcome, are you prepared to converse with the spirit world? Please focus your mind on what you want to know about your future. The spirits don't necessarily want to answer us, so your question must be precise. The spirits can be deceitful and vindictive. You must force out all other thoughts, or they may be used against you. See your question as a golden egg in the center of your head. Let it expand until there is no room for other thoughts and worries.

FT opens eyes.

Let me tell you a little about myself, so that you understand what is about to happen. I have always heard voices. I thought I was just crazy, because the voices never answered my questions. My roommate in the institution, though, they listened to her, and she listened to them. Helen. She could tell me things about my past, things I only told the therapist, and she could tell me about the future, like what we would be eating that week, what activities we would be doing. She knew other things she shouldn't have known. Things we patients couldn't know. She knew how to get around the building. She showed me. We didn't leave though. We were too scared. She tried to help me be psychic, to speak with the spirits, but it never worked. I could hear them but they didn't listen to me. She heard them and they told her things. She showed me how to bind a spirit so that it must serve you, so it must answer your questions, but they wouldn't listen to me! Then-- then something terrible happened.

FT gets up, gesturing and mimicking the events she's describing.

Helen had been communing with the spirits day and night. She wouldn't eat. She wouldn't sleep. I warned her it was too much. I warned her not to listen to them. But I woke up one morning, and she'd hanged herself with her bed sheet in the closet. With the pills they gave me, I slept too deep, and I didn't hear. (Beat) But I needed her. I needed her and at that moment I knew I needed to escape. So I cut down her body, and stared into her dull eyes and chanted the chants and scraped the symbols on the floor and pulled her soul into me. I don't think she wants to be here, but I need her, and now Helen is bound to me forever and she answers when I speak and I travel helping people like yourself.

FT sits back down.

So tell me. Tell me what it is you want to know, and I'll ask Helen. But I must warn you, do not ask Helen directly. If you speak to her directly she might try to possess you, and you wouldn't like that at all. So tell me.

FT listens, then beings to rock forward and back, humming a horrible, tortured tune.

Helen tell me
Helen tell me
Helen won't you come and tell me
Helen tell me
Tell me tell me
Tell me what I want to know

Tell me Helen
Tell me Helen
You had better
Tell me Helen
Helen if you
Do not tell me
I will never
let you go

FT gets up, dancing frantically, continuing the chant. It eventually devolves into sounds only resembling "Tell me" and FT slobbers, crawls, and weeps.

Helen won't answer. Helen! Helen, talk to me!

FT breaks down completely, curls into a fetal position, not looking at the customer.

Helen hates me. I'm sorry. I'm so so sorry. I only wanted to keep you with me. I was afraid.

FT looks at the customer and hands the customer a card.

Take this. It will ward off Helen's spirit. I think she's trying to possess you, to escape. Go. Go!

FT gets up and begins dancing again, spinning and flailing more wildly than ever.

Helen Helen Helen Helen...

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