04 June 2007

Oh Man. This is Such the Bad Idea.


A departure for Odin's Aviary, here. I'm not even going to try to relate this to theatre. Over on As If You Care, Mr. Younce has issued a meme challenge, and I scoop forth the gauntlet. There is a glorious site called TV Tropes that catalogues in a wikish fashion various types and devices from television shows. (I love this because their tropes extend far back into theatre history [Look! I just related it to theatre!], but I am way too apathetic to try and influence the site in that direction.) As a feature on their site, they have a "story generator" that gives one new given circumstances every time the page is refreshed. So the challenge is to take a random generation of circumstances and devices, preferably the first you get, and create a pilot based on those givens. Try to think of it as relating to my acting work through improvisation or storytelling. That way I'll feel a little less cheap . . .

TV TROPE PILOT
Tropage:
Setting:
Ruritania
Plot:
Prodigal Family
Mandatory Narrative Device:
Road Show
Hero:
Broken Hero
Villain:
Scary Dogmatic Aliens
Mandatory Character As Device:
Camp Gay
Mandatory Trope 1:
Delivery Stork
Mandatory Trope 2:
Unpronounceable Alias
(Optional) Stock Phrase:
Little Did I Know
(Optional) Genre:
Home And Garden

Episodic narrative loosely based on tropifagia (not to be confused with tropophobia)(but, whoa, am I ever a tropophobiac):
Okay: Stay with me here. This show will be called "Setting the Stage" (thanks be to you, Jason Morningstar), and will be the first legitimate combination of reality television [Home and Garden] and live theatre. The show would alternate between the two formats between episodes, twice a week, so each week there is a reality TV episode, and a fictional, directed episode. The teaser for each would appear on the other, encouraging people to watch both at least in time to find out what happens on the other next. For the purposes of my take on this meme, this will be a breakdown not of the first episode per se, but the launch of the first season, over several episodes.

The reality is the staff and crew of a smaller-scale, regional theatre, who have shopped in a show by an acting troupe they believe to be incredibly prestigious, though they haven't actually heard of them before. This theatre believes, too, that a documentary is being made about the troupe. Hence, all the cameras. The acting is (again: stay with me here) the troupe. In other words, the troupe will be comprised of television actors playing actors in a theatre troupe. The episodes follow the development process for the production, leading up to a convergence of the two groups--the theatre staff and the acting troupe--on production week, whereupon the characters will merge with the real people in the final work of putting up the show. Prior to that week, the interaction between the two groups will largely consist of the director of the troupe [Camp Gay] making increasingly outlandish requests of the set-building crew, costumer, box office, company manager and whatever other theatre staff who have to prepare for their arrival.

The first run of episodes will concern a production of The Cherry Orchard [Ruritania], which the theatre will begin preparations for in good faith. They'll be sent regular set and costume plans one might expect for that story, and buzz will be big about how the prestige of this troupe and show will help the theatre get more successful (this is the perpetual state of regional theatres anyway). We'll receive introduction to the people of the theatre, whomever they may be.

Meanwhile, the troupe begins rehearsals, during which the episodes have more to do with what happens outside of rehearsals than in them. Our main character is Peter, the illegitimate son of Sir Lawrence Olivier, who is just a terrible actor, but full of the love of theatre that keeps theatre alive. [Broken Hero] The first actor-episode begins with his narration: "Little did I know, when I joined the Mountebank Players, that it would lead to one of the most real experiences of my pretended life." [Little Did I Know] The action focuses on the personal lives of the actors who are playing the more minor roles (Peter plays the Postmaster). As they contend with their director, Phineas Rhett, whose "concept" for the show becomes more and more outlandish, they bounce against one another, falling in love, forging alliances and making life-long enemies. Each character is a development of certain theatrical stereotypes, real and empathetic, but capable of absurd actions.

Meanwhile (back at the Batcave), the natives grow restless. Phineas has continued to make ludicrous requests ("Tell me again why the hell we need a giant X in the middle of the stage?" one of the set painters might complain) and the theatre management is hopefully fairly nervous about how it will all come together. There have been hints about Phineas changing the ending, a prospect that no one is eager to comprehend with regards to such a classic play. We follow the interplay of personal relationships as they get tested by this tug-of-war between hope and fear. I can't write that part; it's up to reality. Meanwhile, a familiar voice has been calling the box office repeatably, asking to be transferred to various departments and asking them about the preparations for the show. No one can figure out who it is, however, and when he's asked, he keeps saying his first name is John and mashing together names from The Cherry Orchard for his last name. I.e., John Liubovandreievnaranevskaya. [Unpronounceable Alias]

As we approach production week, the troupe travels to the town the theatre is in [Road Show], and reality and fiction begin to merge as the actors in the troupe (characters) are introduced to the town at large and the actors playing them have improvisations with random townies. (Stay. With. Me. Here.) We've established their characters and relationships amongst themselves, and now get to see them interact on the fly with non-actors, both satisfying our understanding of each character and setting up expectation for their coming together with the theatre staff, who we know quite well by now as well. Peter has had all kinds of misfortune--physical injury, overheard comments on his acting, rejection by the woman playing Dunyasha, Irina, whom he has fallen in love with and who refuses to fall for actors--yet he keeps his plucky attitude. He's the one whom even those who despise him turn to for moral support in their various soap-operatic crises.

Finally (I know I'm thinking "finally," so I can only imagine what you people are thinking) it comes to production week. The emphasis of coverage is still the interpersonal as the fictional actors interact with the real employees of the theatre, and there's the added twist of a closed-door tech rehearsal policy, and the troupe bringing their own "special effects" supervisor. No one's seen the end of the show.

The season finale is the production itself, liberally interspersed with reaction shots of the audience and theatre staff. Essentially, the troupe begins with a very standard, period production of The Cherry Orchard, well constructed and acted. As they continue, however, the play becomes more and more deconstructed until the dialogue begins to sound like . . . well . . . television cliche. In addition, the new bourgeois class (Peter playing such a role) begin exhibiting strange behavior, like wearing towels on their heads and lurching about, zombie-like. [Scary Dogmatic Aliens] If they get to the end of the show (and this being a reality-TV hybrid, who's to say?), we see the ending has indeed been changed. It ends with a white helicopter descending through the ceiling, from which John Malkovich (clearly the mysterious caller from previous episodes) emerges, playing Gorbachev and offering to take everyone to Moscow for milk and cookies. [Delivery Stork] All the characters depart, leaving an empty stage and the sound of copter blades threshing cherry trees.

The fall-out from all this is that the theatre is let in on the "real" situation, though they never interact with the actors outside of their characters or anything like that. The theatre is granted a large sum of money (plus allowed to maintain their modifications such as tremendous fly space and a helicopter) and gets to list Malkovich as being a member of their board. Peter realizes through this experience that his love of theatre isn't best met by acting, but by working behind the scenes. Malkovich gets him a job at Steppenwolf (as a sort of "postmaster") and Irina follows him there to act and let herself fall in love with him. This leaves two openings in the Mountebank Players, the which are filled by two aspiring actors from the regional theatre's staff. And next season, they will play themselves or some hybrid thereof, and thr troupe will travel to a different theatre with a different show and a different celebrity will contribute the deus ex machina.

Fin'.

So there's my trope-inspired "pilot." I don't know how I feel about it, except to say that I love working in this format. It reminds me of my theatre sports days, given numerous disparate elements and having to construct something satisfying from them. (The overall satisfaction of this particular assignment is fairly dubious.) This product is, of course, way too elaborate and expensive for a premiere of any kind, much less a pilot or pitch, but I'm pleased with some of the interesting ideas I got to play around with. In so much of my creator/actor (or "creactor," as Friend Nat coins) work I play with the dimensions between reality and fantasy, and this presented me with some new nooks and crannies. It was a buttery english muffin of a meme.

Good night, and good luck . . .

4 comments:

dave said...

woohoo! Looking forward to it!

Jeff Wills said...

Oh, ye of so much faith! I don't know if I succeeded or failed fantastically, but it was fun working with such disparate elements. I think the result has shades of my "Cheese Play" to it.

Davey said...

4 and a wake up brother.

By the way, its a good plot, interesting and such, but I don't knwow how you're gonna turn that into an elevator pitch. Of course mine is no better.

Jeff Wills said...

"4 and a wake up"? Non capisco, mi amico.

Yeah, I know it's no kind of pitch, but I figured I'd have more fun if I didn't worry aboput that too much. When I send a proposal over to HBO, it will be one page with lots of pictures and nudity.