Thursday, November 15, 2018

November Writing Challenge 2018 - 15 - The Art of Autosuggestion

The Fifteenth Challenge: The Art of Autosuggestion

NOTE: If somehow I didn’t catch it and you’re taking part in this challenge and one of the actors who has yet to participate in An Oak Tree- STOP READING.

Just write something with about a ton of flowers on stage. A metric freaking ton… of flowers.
The rest of you:

Please watch this Tim Crouch TedTalk

AND if you’re super into it also here is a link to our dramaturg’s background for audiences.

Tim Crouch is the playwright of An Oak Tree- the play currently running here at my theater company in Chicago.

The play is teaching me a lot about the nature of theater, about performed gender roles, about the dual realities between performer and character.

I’m including a sample of the text at the bottom so that you get a feel for how Tim sets it up.

The major premise is this.
Two Actors. One has rehearsed the play. The second has never even read it.  Performed by a different person each night, the second actor will discover the play and their role at the same time as you do.

Now, you could really do this wrong.
You could play a sadistic “get the guest” and take terrible advantage of the power imbalance, but this play doesn’t. The new actor is the hero- innocent, literally pulled from the audience, sympathetic. 

CHALLENGE: The Art of Autosuggestion
Probably best accomplished by: Two actors. One has not rehearsed the play.

You suggest something to a performer or to the audience, and because there is nothing else… the suggestion becomes true. 

Tools: You can hand them parts of the script. You can tell them what to say. You can speak into their ear via a secret microphone.

Advantages: It traps everyone in the moment. They play cannot move forward because it literally can’t. So we all become extremely aware of the present moment. Trapped, perhaps, and not in control.

It’s good for preciousness
It’s good for dealing with pain, because it sits

Don’t make it a yuck yuck we don’t know what we’re doing show.



The actor playing the FATHER is sitting in the audience.

The HYPNOTIST walks on stage.

HYPNOTIST Ladies and gentlemen. Good evening/afternoon. My
name is X  Welcome to the  (name of the theater)
Would you come up and stand here, please?

The HYPNOTIST invites the second actor out of their seat in the
audience and onto the stage.

Ladies and gentlemen. This is X ( the name of the second
actor ). X will be performing in the play this evening. X
has neither seen nor read it.
X and I met up about an hour ago. I have given him/her a
number of suggestions. I’ve suggested that they enjoy
But the story is as new to X as it is to you.

scene 1

The HYPNOTIST hands the FATHER a page of script. “Could we just read this together you and me?” The second actor reads the part of the FATHER from the script.



HYPNOTIST Thanks for this.

FATHER It’s a pleasure!




HYPNOTIST How are you feeling?



FATHER A little.

HYPNOTIST It’ll be fine. You’ll be fine.

FATHER I’m sure.

HYPNOTIST Any questions before we start?

FATHER Not really.


FATHER How long is the show?

HYPNOTIST It’s just over an hour.


HYPNOTIST Anything else?

FATHER How free am I?

HYPNOTIST Every word we speak is scripted but otherwise –


HYPNOTIST Anything else?

FATHER Not really.

HYPNOTIST Just say if you feel awkward or confused and we’ll


The HYPNOTIST takes the FATHER’s script from him/her.

Can I ask you just to look at me.
Ask me what I’m being. Say, “What are you being?”

FATHER What are you being?

HYPNOTIST I’m being a hypnotist.
I’m twenty-eight years old. I’ve got brown hair, blue
eyes, and many freckles.
I’m wearing these clothes.
Now ask who you are, say “And me?”

FATHER And me?

HYPNOTIST You’re a father. Your name’s Andy. You’re 46
years old, you’re six foot two. Your lips are cracked.
Your fingernails are dirty. You’re wearing a crumpled North Face jacket. Your pants are muddy, your shoes are muddy. You have tremors.
You’re unshaven. Your hair is greying. You have a bloodshot eye.
That’s great! You’re doing really well!
Also, you’ll volunteer for my hypnotism act. You’ll volunteer because I accidentally killed your oldest daughter with my car and you think I may have some answers to some questions you’ve been asking. I won’t recognize you when you volunteer. I won’t recognize you because, in the three months since the accident, you’ve changed. We’ve both changed.


That’s about as hard as it gets, I promise.


(still purging)

So, are you going out right away?

I don’t have to.

Do you want to?

I can’t afford to.  Literally, cannot afford to take the time off work.  I’m working doubly hard now to just to get ready for the standard holiday visit a month from now.

But he’s your father.  And he’s dying.

He’s been dying.

He’s dying soon.  Now.

The hospice nurses haven’t pulled the alarm cord with the one to two week final countdown yet.

You really want to wait that long?

No.  But it’s a month.

A lot can go wrong in a month.

Yes.  But it’s a miracle he’s lasted this long.
It’s like my Grandma; she held on till her 100th birthday.  The milestone really seemed to mean something to her, even though her brain was basically gone at that point.  Didn’t really know who anybody was – how old she was, that the man she loved had been gone for over thirty years, that nearly all of her immediate family, parents, her older brother and sister, all gone.  Two younger sisters left, but no spring chickens there, either.  One gone not long after she did.  But she got to 100, looked around, wondered to herself, I imagine, why am I still here, and in a month and a day she was gone.
Stopped eating, stopped waking up every day, would rest for days at a time, finally breathed her last.
Dad’s hanging on for Christmas.  After that, all bets are off.

But –

I’ve had this conversation with myself and yes, I’m very likely in a little bit of denial but here’s the thing – I finally – quite accidentally – scared my younger brother, who lives much closer to where Dad is, to visit; and mom wants to see him one last time as well, it’s been a while.  It’s good they’ll have each other for the journey up and back.  And when it happens.  And it’s good they’ve got the dog and the cat there to provide unconditional love and comfort when the news finally does come.

What do you have?

Let’s not.

Do you have anyone, any living four legged thing?

You know the answer to that.

It’s not healthy.

You’ll get no argument from me.

You should go to church.

If I had a church, you’re right, that would help.

Find one.

That’s like a whole other job.

No one else can do it for you.

Also, it seems a bit opportunistic.  “Quick, I need comfort, get over here, new church family.”

Oh, and reeling you in when you’re emotionally vulnerable isn’t the church being opportunistic?  I think you’d both be using each other, so you cancel out each other’s worst intentions.  Win-win.

I need to work on Sundays.


Yeah, he’s aware.

A friend of mine sees a grief counselor.

And I’m sure they’ve got the money and time for that.  Bully for them.

You need to make the time.

You know what I need to make the time for?  Sorting through all the stuff my stepmother sent me in the mail six months ago when she and my dad moved into the new retirement community.  There is a trove of stuff from his time in the Korean War – letters, medals, his duffel bag, his uniform hat, manuals for his specific duties, meticulously preserved, organized and labeled slides, and a stack of tiny 45rpm disc records, recorded voice letters sent back home.  I got a turntable and a slide viewer that convert the images and sound into jpegs and mp3s I can transfer to my computer.  His old desk is my writing desk.  His grandmother’s rocking chair sits in my living room.  His childhood chest of drawers holds the clothes in my bedroom.  I’ve got a life’s worth of accumulated photos and correspondence of my own.  There’s a record there.  A time stamp.  He’s known me all my life and I’ve only known him for less than half of his.  There isn’t enough time to catalog any of it before he’s gone.
I’ve visited, religiously, no pun intended, every single Christmas season, stayed for a full week, for years now.  Week before Christmas with dad, Christmas through New Year’s with mom and my brother.  The annual pilgrimage back east.  We’ve spent time together before the memory loss set in, and after.  We’ve spent time together the before the stroke, and after.  And I just recently got in the habit of writing a little note to both my goddaughter and to my dad every single day.  Just a little colored slip of paper, just details of my day to day.
And now I’ve shifted, to focusing on relaying the message – the subtext of every day’s check in – that I’m all right, despite everything I’m working through right now, I’m all right, I’m going to be fine.  He saw me through to now, he doesn’t need to worry.  He did good.  He can let go if he needs to.  We’ll miss him.  We’ll remember him.  But if it’s time for him to go, he should go.  He shouldn’t struggle or be in distress thinking he’s letting anybody down or abandoning anybody.  He’s earned a graceful exit.  He’s still got his sight and his hearing and enough of his memory to know who everyone is, more or less.  To know that he’s surrounded by a staff that’s caring for him, and a family that loves him.
He’ll hang in there for another month, if he can, because that’s what he does.
And if he doesn’t, he doesn’t.
I’m talking to him, through the notes, every day.
Little newsy tidbits that are just the right length for my stepmother to read to him.
That’s gonna have to be enough.
And for some reason, at least for me, I’m feeling like that’s the best I can do and it’s a help so.
And yeah, it still sucks.
But we were always headed here.  In a way, it’s kind of amazing, and a gift, that it took all this time to get us here.

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