The thing that most influences me as a writer is that I come to writing from a performing background. Writing has allowed me to make original performance. And so when I’m writing, for better or worse, I am writing with a very clear view of a performer (often myself) performing it on stage. This clear image of a performer in a space is the engine that drives the way I write. For example it guides where the silences should go, how long a character should speak for before changing tact (or action as you might call it) and when it’s time to end it.
While writing The Circle of Life I had in mind a couple of things – perhaps you could call them guiding thoughts. I wanted to write for a male performer. I don’t really know why but, as with a lot of things I do, my instinct guided me and I followed it. On a more reflective note, I think perhaps what drove this decision was that I am drawn to theatre and artworks that show men in a caring and gentle light, and I wanted to give an opportunity for younger male performers to explore this. I have grown up around men one might regard as ‘softies’, the Alain de Boton types of this world. Also, I have been writing for a character I perform called Ms Clown for the past year and I wanted to write something distinctly different. Writing for the other end of the gender spectrum seemed like one way to go about this.
Another thing I knew as I wrote the piece was to whom the character, Liam, was talking. I knew I wanted him to talk to a young child, someone with a very different level of understanding to himself. And if there is one piece of guidance I feel I can give to someone wishing to do this piece is that whatever way you may choose to play it - be guided by a clear sense of the other character in the scene, to whom Liam is speaking. It’s my feeling, though you may disagree with me, that once you have that in order, the rest will fall into place.
Having done an Individual Performance piece for HSC myself, a few moons ago, I know how much you want to find something that you like but that can also demonstrate depth and range in your ability. So, knowing this, I wanted to make the piece as open as possible to allow the performer a space to really explore it’s potential performativity in the way they uniquely desire. The game with the sock puppet and singing Bob the Builder are two ways I tried to provide opportunities for the performer to show their stuff!
As a performer I always like having something to do onstage and likewise as an audience I love watching actors undertake tasks - be it be boiling an egg, doing cross-stitch or lacing up a boot. I wanted to give the performer something to do, some sort of task, but it had to make sense to the narrative, progress the action and strengthen the piece rather than be an arbitrary add-on for show. I was lucky in a way, as I had already indicated that there would be a pile of clothes onstage, so the action of hemming the trousers was the obvious choice. The slight subversion of gender roles; a boy doing a traditionally woman’s task also appealed, but this was secondary to the simple pleasure of watching something be done onstage.
I’m afraid to say for anyone searching for secrets to ‘backstory’ or anything like that, I can’t offer you anything. And again, for me this is, I think, because of the little bit of actor training I did was based in starting with the body and working from there – instinctually rather than doing too much work about what went around the scene. Obviously if this piece was part of longer work, then what happened around it is important, but stand-alone, only what’s spoken of or alluded to, and what’s in your imagination, is what matters. That’s my thoughts on it anyway.
But look, please don’t take what I say as gospel. In the end it’s some quite personal thoughts about my process and the things that influence me; this may or may not be any use to you. I’m happy if they are, but if not, go with your instinct and be bold in your choices. Best of luck with however you approach the piece. Trust yourself and I’m sure you’ll be just fine.
Alice Cooper was one of the 18 writers at the 2011 Fresh Ink National Studio and was also one of the writers selected for the 2011 Fresh Ink mentorship program. Her monologue, The Circle of Life, is currently being performed by Alistair McIntosh as part of The Voices Project 2012: The One Sure Thingat atyp in Sydney. The monologue is also now available alongside 20 other monologues in The Voices Project, published by Currency Press.
 an English philosopher and writer whose most famous book is Essays on Love he wrote when he was twenty two.