Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Writing the solo show, pt. 4: Finding your metaphor

I have this thing when I write.  I also use it when I direct a show, as well.  I try to find the metaphor.  This is something I picked up from reading that wonderful directing book by William Ball, I admit it.

So I'm developing my metaphor for my solo show and all I can do is think about this story.  Ideally, a metaphor should be one sentence (ie American Buffalo is boys playing king of the hill), so bear with me, as this story is a little long:

I’m eleven years old and home alone.  We live in two-story house in Reno, Nevada.  I have recently seen the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark at the movie theater, probably for the tenth time.  

Inspired and wanting to be Indiana Jones, I run around the house with a short rope, pretending it’s a whip and I use it to ward off the Nazis. 

The house we live in has a great big foyer and the staircase on the first floor juts out a bit as the stairs run up alongside a landing with a railing on the second floor.  I decide its time to use the whip to swing across a great chasm of death, as Indy does in the movie.  I tie the rope to the upstairs railing.  My thought is to swing from the steps on the stairwell, my body flying out above the foyer, across the chasm, landing safely on top of the railing on the first level where the staircase juts out.  

I hear the trumpets of the Raiders theme in my head and I swing.  I soar through the air, hands holding tight to the rope, landing easily on the railing, carefully balancing.  I swing back again and smirk to myself, thinking, “I am Indiana Jones!”. 

So I do it again. 

Only this time, the rope doesn’t hold.

My body is suddenly adrift, my mind unsure of what is actually happening, and I fall backwards, crashing with a thud on the front hallway tile.  The wind is knocked out of me so hard I can’t breathe.  I’m lucky I my head isn’t cracked open, but as I wheeze and gasp for air, I think I’m going to die and my mom is going to walk in the front door of our house, see her dead son and wonder what the hell happened. 

Finally, I catch my breath.  I’m able to stand up.  Everything seems fine, nothing broken.  

I look at the rope on the floor which seems like a dead snake.

I realize for the first time, “I am not Indiana Jones”.

The idea is that we all have dreams, childhood dreams perhaps, but then reality brings us back down to earth.  Literally, in my case.

We can’t always do the things we want to do.  We can’t always be the things we want to be.  That’s just life.  It’s a hard lesson to learn.

Don’t get me wrong.  I believe in dreaming big dreams.  I believe in following your goals.  As Randy Pausch said in his last lecture, “brick walls are there to see how badly you want something”.  I do believe that.  But Randy, who wanted to be an astronaut, never got to be an astronaut.  He got close—he rode the “vomit comet” and felt what it was like to be in zero gravity, which was what he really wanted, but he never got to be an astronaut.

What I’m talking about is the difference between perception and reality.  I can't magically become six feet tall.  I can't run a 4 minute mile.  I can’t reverse the clock, pretend like I'm 25 years old.    

I can’t change the weather, only dress for it.

My solo show is about the fantasy of the "Real Man" and the reality of what it means to be a man.  Our perception and reality don't always coincide. 

Here are the major questions behind my metaphor:

What does it mean to be a real man?  When and how do we conceptualize this idea of real men and how does it affect us for the rest of our lives?

Indiana Jones exemplifies manliness.  As a boy I looked up to him because he was intelligent, brave, strong, a good fighter, good with the women, comfortable in a jungle or in the classroom, and fought for what he believed in.  He was one of the good guys.  

And let’s face facts, he looked cool, with that hat and leather jacket.  And the whip.  (and yes, I do have a whip even now…) 

There are many other images and faces of “real men”.  Think about Superman and Clark Kent.  Think about the Dark Knight.  Think about actors like Clint Eastwood, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, Jack Nicholson, George Clooney, Clive Owen.  We carry around these ideas of what “manhood” looks like…that’s what I want to explore. 
More often than not, what we think is manly really turns out to be something else.  We find out we are something else.  

Maybe more than what we thought. 

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