A Letter from the Playwright, Leben Norrie

20211123 Playwright letterAugust 2019: I sat down on my couch and hammered out the first draft of The Reading over three days. As I was trapped in some sort of inspired whirlwind, I really had to get my ideas down while they were fresh.

A few days earlier, I had been enjoying movie three of The Nightmare on Elm Street horror film franchise, aptly named Dream Warriors, with my friend Salvador. At this point, our friendship had only recently blossomed during our time working together on the local Helsinki production of the musical Falsettos. We both had a shared love for horror films. We were also both very vocal movie viewers so we would trade comments and remarks as the films played out. At one point the subtitles read “[The Pebble Clatters]” and Salvador offhandedly said “I’d love to write some erotic fiction one day, and I’d call it As the Pebble Clatters.”

This comment ignited a theatrical fire under my ass: I was going to create a world in which there was, in fact, an erotic novel called As The Pebble Clatters. Having just recently finished reading Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s Breakfast of Champions for the umpteenth time, I wanted to put a variety of weird and wonderful (yet apparently normal) people into a bottle. I wanted them isolated. Little did I know that, in reality, the world itself ended up being trapped at the metaphorical Hollydae’In for the next year.

So I put it all down on paper, being the excitable knob that I am, I couldn’t wait to unleash it upon my friends and family, I started avidly sharing my progress with anyone willing to receive a file. We had an official play reading in December of 2019. Everything I love about live theatre was seemingly crammed into the pages as were countless pop cultural, literary and personal references. The Stoned Bellhops, for example, are modeled after my two good friends of mine Ninny and Kitten (the latter of whom was actually a bellhop at one point). Their demeanor and use of certain additives in their daily lives is evident in the play. I also drew a lot of inspiration from Vonnegut’s style, his sarcasm, his satire and characters literally having no real idea what is going on, even when they are sure they do.

What came next was 2020, fresh back from a family visit to Australia, I was ready to put in some work and get this play produced. We all know what happened next.

In hindsight, the good to come out of it in regards to The Reading was time to marinate. Time to go over it and hone it down into a more viable shape. Zach from the Finn Brit Players had given me some very good tips on character development, as well as a prophetic audience perspective on how certain characters may be unintentionally perceived. I also started furiously trading the script backwards and forwards with Salvador and my childhood friend Leon, and the script started to evolve.

I really did try to put my heart into this piece; each of the characters have some sort of place in my life in the real world. I named the married couple Frederick and Margaret Rosewater, the first names are for myself and my wife, and their surname puts my play somewhere in the Vonnegut universe. The Rosewaters, in Vonnegut's world, are a very well-to-do Midwestern family that made their fortune as venture-capitalists. The Reading’s Frederick, is a distant cousin of Eliot Rosewater, the protagonist in Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr Rosewater. Frederick also shares my all-consuming obsession that I get over certain things at times; but his is turned up to 11.

You can catch references to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Sopranos, The Simpsons, the works of Robert A Heinlein, Absurdism, Slapstick and dry British humor; as well as certain things that may personally annoy me and general knowledge. “Wohoo Facts!”

I’m not embarrassed to say that I find this script hilarious. Now, seeing it played out by this myriad of talented actors, I’m certain it’s going to be absolute delight to audiences. I also love the fact that I must add a content warning: Drug Use, Strong Language, Alcohol Consumption and Sexual References. Told you it was everything I love to see in the theatre.

The Reading is a dish best served live.

Text: Leben Norrie
Photo: Jaakko Nikkilä

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