I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by. –Douglas Adams
Many people love that quotation, and with good reason. I’m among the worst (or, perhaps, best) for putting off things I have to do until the last possible minute, working stupid hours to get stuff done, doing other things instead – even this blog post was started as a way to keep the fingers moving while I wasn’t doing work on my second ‘full-length’ script this fortnight, more on which later. (And only finished quite some time later.)
However, if I don’t have deadlines, things don’t get done. Case in point, Alice in Wonderland. I’ve had the idea for a promenade performance of the original text (or as close as possible) of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for well over a year. However, I did no work on it until it became apparent a week before an opportunity (sadly a failed one) to pitch the idea that I needed to have a finished script in hand, rather than the planned couple of scenes. This meant, in the week of producing my friend Ivo de Jager’s brilliant play Sweetmeat (and also acting as assistant stage manager) I had to come home and rattle off at least a couple of scenes a night.
Now, Alice is a short book, split up into short chapters, and I made a short swift script out of it, faithful to the point of directly using the book’s dialogue. Even so, a couple of missed days meant I had to stay up far too late to finish the last three or four scenes of it. And yet, having this deadline meant it got done. Well, to an extent. Being some weeks removed made me wonder whether it is indeed actually any good. I put the first draft here (Alice in Wonderland) as soon as the proposal failed, but am already thinking that the failure means I can do a second draft that is much less tailored to the venue (but still with a cheap-and-easy aesthetic) and much more me, having accepted that I’m not going to be Lewis Carroll no matter how hard I try. So feel free to wait for that draft.
The second script I had to write also came with a firm deadline (and coincidentally also aiming for a particular author’s style). My radio show, Culture Corner, was without a guest for the last show of term. This show coincided with LUSH Radio’s Comic Relief 69 hour radio broadcast – normally, the station is manned for only limited hours, but in this session all hours are covered by somebody live in the studio. I, obviously, smelled an opportunity to do something a little different. I gathered three actor friends and cooked up the idea of doing a Goon Show-style one-hour radio comedy. Based loosely on Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (or more accurately the Wikipedia summary thereof), it required an hour of completely new material. I delegated the middle half-hour to two of the actors, but it still required me to find half an hour’s worth of funny stuff, for a medium I had never written for before. Which promptly turned into just the first 15 minutes, delegating the finale to another of my actors, Olivia Deane (you can find one of her stories on my friend Nick Palmer’s blog).
Now, I always kid myself that comedy is easier for me. I know what makes me laugh, and I’m quite satisfied to write comedy that purely satisfies me. However, all the comedy I’ve written before has been in front of a live audience. Since this was radio, there was a massive chance that it could just die. Worse, since I had given away a good chunk of the program, there was a chance it was going to be entirely uneven, in tone, quality, and even simple entertainment value.
In the end, I shouldn’t have worried. Sure, the short time frame meant all sorts of mistakes crept in, and the tone was all over the place, but mostly it was a lot of fun. There’s a post here advocating the creation of radio drama by any writer, and while I’m not sure anyone actually listens to many (unless it’s something like the recent radio adaptation of Neverwhere) I certainly agree it’s a fulfilling process for an artist. I’ve been looking for excuses to buy a decent microphone and I just found another.
Sometimes deadlines are just panicky, though, as proved when I just had to edit an old piece of flash drama down to two pages in order to submit it to a competition. If I knew earlier, I would have written something new, but that will have to do.
So, in summary, deadlines. An arse, but necessary. I’ve put the playlist for the whole of the show at the bottom, but the bit I wrote is the first bit if that’s all you’re interested in.
Currently reading: a whole bunch of post-modernism for my course.
Currently listening to: Billy Bragg’s new album Tooth & Nail, consistently good.