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Flip the Script Friday: Henry Beissel, Inuk

I decided to go back to the library, to the same shelf where I found Bone Cage, to see what other treasures it had in store for me. And a treasure I found, in the form of the fantastic fantasy Inuk by Henry Beissel

That’s So Jacob Presents: Flip the Script Friday

Episode #41: Henry Beissel, Inuk

Image Credit: Amazon.com

The Basics

Inuk premiered on 1 August 1973 at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. It has also been translated into French, for a six-year run in France by the Compagnie Morisse. According to the author’s preface, the script has also been translated into Bengali, Chinese, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Polish, and Spanish.

Characters

  • Single Characters
    • Inuk, a young hunter.
    • Father
    • Mother
    • Raven, who acts as a narrator.
    • Polar Bear
    • Arctic Fox
    • Sea Monster
    • Spirit of the Caribou
    • Spirit of the Moon (Male)
    • Spirit of the Wind (Male)
    • Spirit of the Dream (Female)
    • Sedna, Goddess of the Sea
    • Spirit of the Ice (Male)
    • Spirit of the Sun (Female)
  • Group Characters (Choruses)
    • Dog Team
    • Musk Oxen
    • Seals
    • Sharks
    • Inuit Villagers

*Note: In the original production, all characters aside from Sedna, the six Spirits, and the group of Inuit Villagers were performed by marionettes.

Setting/Plot

Mythical Inuit Village. It is winter in Inuk’s village, and he and his mother and father are starving. On a hunt, Inuk’s father is killed by a polar bear, giving Inuk the impetus to embark on a quest to find the Spirit of the Sun and bring her back to his village. His quest, tempered by the feuding spirits of the Wind and the Moon, the tricky goddess Sedna, an initially misunderstood Sea Monster, and helped by a silly group of seals, leads him to the Great Hall of the Iceberg, whereupon he meets the spirits of the Ice and the Sun, as well as that of his deceased father. Overall, Inuk learns a lesson about the cycles of the planet and of life.

Major Themes

Men are the Moon, Women are the Sun?

Not so much of a theme, I guess, but an observation, that characters typically seen as female, such as Moon and Wind, are male, and the Sun is female. This interesting subversion is thought-provoking, adding to the mystery of the elements as well as giving them different dimensions. It is also a reminder that this story comes from the indigenous people and, being non-Western, has its own unique backdrop in many ways, including gender roles.

What About the Children?

The back cover quotes Doug Bale of The Free Press, stating “[t]he tale is an admirable blend of fairy tale and poetry that appeals equally to adults and children.” I could easily see this being a children’s play, but one that adults would definitely pay attention to, with the occasional “slightly older” joke in the mix. However, in terms of the main character, Inuk, he is constantly referring to himself as a man, a hunter, while the other characters see him as a boy up until the end. This shows children that even though you may think you are all grown up, you still have some more growing up to do, as do we all. At the end, it is stated that Inuk and the Spirit of the Sun will be “married, but for a short time only,” which makes me feel like Inuk, although not totally grown up, has progressed to a place where he can get married, traditionally a grown-up activity.

Happily Ever After? Not So Fast

This is literally how the play ends, with Sedna, Goddess of the Sea, telling Inuk that he won’t be able to stay married to the Spirit of the Sun forever, and just like everything in life, she will have to return to the Great Hall of the Iceberg every year. Although she is also there at the end, along with Inuk, Sedna’s marriage to the Moon is also in limbo, as the moon and the sea go through changes and phases, just like Inuk and the Sun will. And furthermore, Inuk’s father stays dead, rather than coming back to life. What I like about this is that it shows children a clear message about the life cycle without being disappointing (Inuk’s father leaves him with a message that he is proud of his son, and that he should take care of his mother in his place), but also sparks children’s imagination with further discussion about Inuk, the Sun, Sedna, and the Moon, warranted by their metaphorical marriages, without any scientific information being offered.

My Thoughts

I am so glad I picked Inuk off the shelf. It was an unusual but fun ride, and I do think that it would definitely be a hit with both children and adults. I really like the creativity that it presents – in performance, design, and dramaturgy – and the suggestions that masks or puppets be used as the production sees fit, the more the merrier. Beissel notes that even though it was a mix of marionettes and human actors in the Stratford production, it can be either all puppets or all humans, masks or no masks, and it would still be fine. I like that philosophy; it makes it easier to work with, especially for a low-budget group like a school. I think it could be a pretty killer school play, in fact, rather than the normal, played-out children’s shows like Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood, and all the rest.

How I’d Flip It

Much like the cover of the book, I’m seeing some sort of tree design, maybe with moveable flats in front of a backdrop that looks like the sun in the sky, but is really the eye of an eagle, symbolizing both endangerment of the environment, and the eagle Jamie nurses back to health and releases into the wild. A lot of what I saw in various production photos included wood or faux-wood logs and stumps as furniture. I’m not sure I would make it super “campfire” but I would definitely accent everything in wood.

For costumes/appearance, I’m thinking a lot of earth tones in sepia and tan, and navy blue. Much of the colors are described by Banks in the text, but one thing I would definitely avoid would be camo; just too stereotypical. I picture Clarence and possibly Jamie in plaid; Chicky in typical “woodsy girl” attire with a t-shirt and jeans; and Krista in some kind of short-sleeve baseball tee with cutoffs. For Kevin, I picture a lot of solid navy blue, and for Robby, a slightly more formal outfit in forest green. Lissa is harder to pin down; in various production photos, she was in a dress and pigtails, but I see her in something a little less frilly, like denim overalls and a pink short, with glasses. The women’s hairstyles are really clear in my mind. I see Chicky with a bleached blond, sculptured buzz cut; Krista in long brown curls, with an updo for the wedding scene; and Lissa with a short bob, almost making a mullet at her ears.

For the wedding scene, obviously the men’s outfits and Krista’s wedding dress are what they are. However, I would see a change for the other two women. The playwright indicates that their dresses are fuchsia, but I would incorporate a different style for each. For Lissa, I would give her more of a little girl look, with a flouncy skirt and a little jacket, as if she is playing dress up, and for Chicky, I see her in an uncharacteristically feminine outfit that is an extreme contrast to her normal attire, with a sweetheart neckline and a structured bodice, but a length that is short enough for her to rock some black biker-y boots. Something to accentuate the fact that even though she is rough, she isn’t one of the guys and is feminine in more than a motherly way.

And finally, as I was reading, the song “Gives You Hell” by All-American Rejects was reverberating in my head, possibly for a video teaser or to appear somewhere in the production.

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Flip the Script Friday: Brent Hartinger, The Geography Club

And we are back with Flip The Script Fridays! Woo-hoo! Today’s script is one I recently read for class. It has its flaws, and actually I was not a huge fan of it, but after class yesterday, I had a totally new perspective on it. Here it is, The Geography Club by Brent Hartinger.

Basics

The Geography Club was written by Brent Hartinger in 2004. Hartinger adapted the play from the book of the same name, which he also wrote. The play premiered as a staged reading at the Seattle FringeACT Festival of New Plays in 2004, and then opened the first annual Northwest Playwright’s Alliance Festival of New Plays in 2008.

Characters

  • Russel Middlebrook, a gay high school student. The narrator and protagonist.
  • Kevin Land, a gay high school jock, love interest of Russel.
  • Min Lao, a lesbian (or bisexual) student, best friend of Russel and girlfriend of Terese.
  • Terese Buckman, a lesbian student and soccer player. Girlfriend of Min.
  • Ike, a “political lefty” student questioning his sexuality.
  • Gunnar, Russel’s friend. Heterosexual.
  • Trish Baskin, a high school student and potential love interest of Russel, oblivious to his sexuality.
  • Kimberly, a heterosexual high school student. Love interest of Gunnar.
  • Belinda Sherman, a high school student who is really interested in geography.
  • Brian Bund, a nerdy high school student.
  • Jarred and Nate, two antagonistic jocks.

Setting/Plot

A twenty-first century high school. Russel finds himself attracted to Kevin, a jock. He confesses this to his best friend, Min, who reveals that she has been in a lesbian relationship with Terese, a popular soccer player, and encourages him to go the distance with Kevin, which he does. Meanwhile, Gunnar tries to set Russel up with Trish so he can double-date with Kmiberly. The date goes horribly, with Trish completely blind to Russel’s lack of interest. As Russel and Kevin’s relationship grows stronger, they realize, along with Min, that there may be more students like them, or who want to talk about it. Along with friend Ike, they want to form a club, but they are afraid of what will happen should the school find out that its students are forming a gay-straight alliance. The gang gets together and dreams up a club that nobody would want to join – the Geography Club. Once they have made it official, they all meet up to discuss their feelings. Two obstacles present themselves: first, the matter of nerdy student Brian, who they feel bad for, but ultimately vote not to include him in the group because he does not identify as gay or bisexual, and second, a student called Belinda who signs up to join the club ostensibly to learn about geography, causing the group to evaluate allowing her in as a member for similar reasons, and hoping that she doesn’t cause problems once she finds out what the Geography Club is all about. Belinda ends up getting in, and fortunately for the group, she does not seem to mind. Though the group seems to prosper, Brian continues to get bullied, including an embarrassing incident where he is publicly humiliated and forced to wear a bra, and Russel’s reputation plummets. Then, word gets out about The Geography Club to the rest of the school, and the group members immediately throw around accusations, with Belinda being widely suspected as the culprit, because she has the fewest ties to the other group members, but also Russel. Due to the unrest between the group members and within their relationships, Russel and the others decide that they do not need the Geography Club anymore. In a twist, however, Belinda finds out and reveals that was Brian who submitted the paperwork for a “gay straight alliance,” taking the fall for the group. Although the two main relationships are finished, the gang ends up reassembling, this time as a proper, bona-fide gay-straight alliance.

My Thoughts

A long synopsis and a bit convoluted, I know, but with some interesting dynamics. I am sure that the book is fantastic, but it does not work as a play for a number of reasons. In the play, Russel narrates between almost every scene; it’s annoying, distracting, unnecessary, and actually made me feel less sympathetic to him. I preferred Kevin. Min and Terese are problematic characters as well; I like their pairing, but Min seems to refuse to own her sexuality, shuffling between “lesbian” and “bisexual,” whereas the woefully ignored Terese is all the stereotypes of a lesbian teenager, a butch soccer player with a manly name. Gunnar, Trish, and Kimberly are all kind of doltish, which is reflective of real-life ignorami, but it veers dangerously close to being silly in how blind they are. Overall, it’s didactic and there is a lot more talk than action, with some key moments happening offstage. The most egregious thing is that the character who endures the most pain – Brian – ends up benefiting very little from the huge favor he does for a group of people who kind of screwed him over, and that Russel, Kevin, Min, and Terese kind of get a pass, thereby negating their whole “we’re so misunderstood and persecuted” complaint. Even though it’s about equality, the Club members have their own axes to grind and can be stuck up and downright intolerant; not unlike real high school students, but in the play, they just seem to be so proud of themselves for doing nothing.

How to Make a Not-So-Great Play an Exciting One

 

In yesterday’s class, we broke up into groups, with the goal of creating a pitch and a trailer for one of the six plays we read. Initially, I joined the group that was to work on The Wrestling Season, another play about GLBT issues in high school which I preferred, but the group doing The Geography Club had only two members as opposed to the five members of The Wrestling Season‘s group, so I volunteered to switch over, which turned out to be the better choice. Initially, I thought we spent way too much time planning, but the execution ended up being concise and effective. Here’s what we came up with:

First, we turned off the lights in the room, all except one fluorescent above one of the chalkboards.

Then, my group members told the class the context of our pitch while I drew a map of the world from memory (of course, after I finished it in about 90 seconds, my scumbag classmates were all “where’s Indonesia? Where’s Hawaii?”) and wrote THE GEOGRAPHY CLUB in huge letters across the top.

Then, we played the karaoke version of David Guetta’s “Titanium” (click here and play the song while you read the rest of this post)

Then, one by one, the three of us each went up to the board while the song played, saying a line from the play and erasing one letter in the word “geography” until it read “gay.” These were three of them; I can’t remember the other three.

“I was deep behind enemy lines, in the very heart of the opposing camp.”

“There was no neutral territory on our high school campus.  The different groups and cliques were like countries, and the borders were solid. You couldn’t just cross them at will.”

“What’s done is done. I don’t think I could turn the lights back off even if I wanted to.”

Once I erased the last letter from the board, making the word “gay,” I looked at the audience, smiled, and then looked back to the board, erasing the rest of the words, putting down the eraser, and wiping my hands together to get rid of the chalk before leaving the scene, just with the world map.

We got a huge round of applause, and remarks like “I want to go see The Geography Club now,” and “I want to remake that trailer with you drawing the map, and then reread the play, knowing that it’s going to be frustrating and disappointing.” Someone even asked me how I drew the map, and I was like…uh…I know what the world looks like enough to draw it free hand?

Flip It?

After seeing how creative we could get with The Geography Club in this assignment, I would actually feel good about staging a production. It would be interesting to do it maybe on top of a giant world map (maybe in the round, or a raked stage under a proscenium?), with minimalistic features, intersperse it with geography facts (or GLBT geography facts), or have fun with color, maybe going Wizard of Oz with black and white sports uniforms for the jocks and then colorful outfits for Russel, Min, etc. once they enter the realm of the geography club. As far as songs, I might use “Foreign Letters,” by Chava Alberstein; “On the Floor,” by Jennifer Lopez, “Brave,” by Sara Bareilles, or “All Over The World,” by Herman’s Hermits.