Umbrellas

13 Jun

Tadeusz Kantor and circus clowns are the poets of the umbrella. Kantor, who also wrote the wonderful sentence “Today’s theatre is impregnated with conformity,” has much to say about umbrellas. I can’t find my favorite quote right now, which is along the lines that umbrellas shelter an amazing range of human affairs (poverty, loneliness, indifference, poetry). But there’s this:

“The Idea of Journey”
“In my painting THE IDEA OF A JOURNEY has close thematic links to my whole output.
It is an idea of art. As a MENTAL JOURNEY, of the development of ideas, of discovering new areas of exploration.
From 1963 traveling accessories made their appearance in my pictures:
PARCELS (EMBALLAGES)
BAGS
SUITCASES
RUCKSACKS
FIGURES OF ETERNAL WANDERERS.”
Halczak, Anna. Tadeusz Kantor. Cricoteka. Cricot 2 . Kraków: Cricoteka 2002.

The umbrella is a ghost in this list, I think. . . a fragile, impermanent skeleton that wears its flesh in the rain, that’s only there for temporary shelter between wanderings, or along the way.

Anyway, tonight was the first meeting of my playwriting workshop at the Playwrights Foundation and umbrellas featured. I asked everyone to bring in an umbrella they’d found, begged or borrowed. We wrote scenes based on a “police report” initial encounter with the object, then used those descriptions to build characters based on the properties of each particular umbrella. From there, to a scene five minutes before and five minutes after the encounter with the umbrella.

Later: an argument over an umbrella (prompt for a scene) in which it becomes clear that the argument’s about more than the umbrella.

People wrote lovely and surprising things. I love this exercise because it’s a simple and vivid way to teach subtext, conflict, and scene shape.

Tomorrow we will work with string and found dialogue. I’m planning the whole workshop around objects as writing prompts. And I plan a secret event with the umbrellas (to do with making a space in which to write) but won’t post it til after tomorrow in case some of my students read this!

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One Response to “Umbrellas”

  1. jeni robertson July 24, 2008 at 9:42 am #

    I am an artist, in September Iam holding an Art Exhibition, the subject is umbrellas. Iam looking for ideas to write a story to accompy my paintings, any ideas would be appreciated.
    sincerly Jeni Robertson

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