The Writing Rehearsal

The other day, I spoke to a whole bunch of Grade 7/8. It was a big ask, keeping 13 and 14 year old’s amused for a full hour. Just before the talk, I had the random insight to show a video of David Mackintosh rehearsing for a picture book. Later, an English teacher commented that this was a good tactic. Like an ad break.

But showing that video was so much more valuable than an ad break. Watch the video, and keep watching until the end. The end is what we are talking about here.

What I especially admire about David, who illustrated Archie and the Bear, of course, is the performative quality of his art. There is a certain energy, which is hard to pin down. And then you watch this video, and you realise why his art has this life. It truly is alive, like it it happening right now. Like live theatre, there is room for human or environmental error, and it is that potential which keeps you sitting on the edge of your seat.

I realised too, while watching this video, that David’s rehearsal method is much like my own rehearsal method of writing. Stories eek out of me, over time. But as ideas float past me, and into me, I capture them by not just writing them down, but turning them into stories. Hence why I have several hundred manuscripts on my computer. Actually, I should have more than that, by rights, and I guess I do, because some of those rehearsals are scattered in various notebooks around the house, or float away on the backs of dockets or envelopes.

I am not overly attached to any of those stories. None of them are precious. They are my practice. My warm up. My throat clearing.

Some keep on rehearsing all the way up to the dress rehearsal, then fizzle out before the grand opening. Many make it on to the stage, opening night, and quite often flop. The audience walks out sorely disappointed; the audience being me.

And then, very occasionally, a story runs for a full season on Broadway. My version of Broadway, anyway, and some will tour, and maybe some will leave an impression somewhere.

While others plot and plan, and work over, I think this idea of rehearsing for a story helps me create a certain tone. A light tone. When stories get overworked, I can lose interest. That’s not to say the story isn’t improving. And maybe that gruelling work is necessary to lift the story to production level. But my best stories seem to be live on stage.

David’s video struck a chord with Grade 7/8, and made me not just a speaking-lady with a mic and a powerpoint. There was something transcendental about that video. Especially when kids see the room for imperfection.

When they branched out, after the talk, into various corners of the school gym, with paper and pencils, I saw a lot of scribbly buses and scribbly rivers and scribbly hills. And you know what? That is awesome. Because those scribbles are the first bit of the making. 

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