In June and July 2014, I will be spending two months as a writer-in-residence at Teatru Salesjan in Malta, creating new work and holding workshop sessions under the name ‘Beyond Borders’. This project is supported by the Malta Arts Fund. Part of the process will be writing down my experiences weekly.
I had spent long hours on the terrace of Kantina in Valletta. On Thursday I managed to finish the full first draft of ‘The Silent City’, right before dinner. Afterwards I celebrated with a bottle of wine on the roof terrace. I was going through all pages one more time before sending it to three people so they can comment, edit and – hopefully – enjoy.
Finishing the play meant that two people died, five people left, one cried and fell asleep on the sofa and in the end the fat lady is carrying a newborn baby in her arms into a new day.
SIRI and OLIVER in his tiny apartment.
When I was young my dad took me to Inverness once. I can’t remember why. It’s this tiny, lovely place squeezed between the ocean and Loch Ness. At the harbour we watched the dolphins. I so wanted to be a dolphin. Swimming around just happily flipping with your fins, completely free
Why are you telling me this?
I’m no dolphin Oliver
No you’re not
Silence. Both of them don’t know what to say.
But you could be dolphin-like
This week I was also able to find a ‘lightness’ to the play I was searching for. It came in the form of Christmas-lights, witty banter and conversations about a birthday-party amidst the prospects of death (or so Paul believed). I found Daisy to be incredibly susceptive to the situation and the only one properly doubting the situation she was in. And apart from the love between the Historian and Siri, and her affair with Oliver, I found a rather nice affection between Daisy and the old fool Paul. I might upload their scene later for people to read.
Everybody has left the meeting but for DAISY. She’s still sitting at the table.
Sometimes I sneak out of the Silent City
To go and see the harbour fishies
And the feeling suddenly sneaks up on me
that people are not so different
a chaotic gathering
Where one moves the others follow
It’s not that hard
You surrender to something bigger than yourself
to the water and the waves
And maybe – just maybe –
you dream of exploring the ocean on your own
A moment of greatness
Right before one of them takes a turn to the left
And you follow
Paul shouts her name in the distance
Yes, I’m coming!
I fell in love with my characters despite their flaws. I hope the audience will too. Truth be told, there was so much to write about that sometimes I doubted the choice. But a lot of it found its way into the play: The history that is ever so present in Malta, the proud people, the beautiful streets and flowers, the warmth of summer and the nearness of the sea; bringing comfort, yet fear for some.
I hope ‘The Silent City’ will show beauty even though it’s a grim portrayal of what happens if we’re caught by our darkest emotions. But I needed to write about fear – and fear of others – as it is something not only felt within the borders of Malta. It’s present in Europe and far beyond. It might just be a human mechanism we can never fully abandon. But we can become aware of the reasons behind it.
I hope in between the words there’s space to ponder this tiny little island with all its people and find out all that the play contains. But so you know, there are characters that got past their fears. I’m just realising it might just be the women (The Fat Lady, Daisy and – to some extent – Siri). Does the historian overcome his fears? I’ll leave that to the audience to decide.
After the last workshop session on Monday I not only received four interesting, diverse scenes, but also joyful words thanking me for the workshops and explaining what it had meant to them. I also learned a lot from them and I enjoyed it immensely. Taking ideas and shaping them into stories is all the more rewarding when you see this beautiful outcome. I think they can be proud of what they wrote.
But having finished both the play and the workshops, it leaves me with waiting. For the first responses to my play and for Monday to come and my holiday to start. It leaves me with plenty of time to wonder what comes after this amazing experience. I will have my lovely home to look forward to, my family and my friends. Yet no jobs. Although I’m sure something will arise from the horizon. No black sails this time, but prospects.
And of course, there’s the premiere of my play in the first half of 2015. A good reason to return to Malta.
All I have left to say is that this residency gave me the much needed time, trust and opportunity to develop myself as a playwright. It allowed me to write about things that fascinate me and are relevant to this day. If you’re in Malta I do hope you find your way to the theatre next year. And if you’ve never been to Malta, I’ll tell you it’s worth a visit!