The Dash Dash Dash series of short plays was prefigured by the making, over the years, of a number of playlets inhouse at Wimbledon College of Arts. These, I felt, were largely successful and it occurred to me that the whole production process, featuring new material, could be exported to a commercial venue.
I decided to write a series of six short plays designed for public consumption and secured a commission from Battersea Arts Centre wherein the plays would be presented in a studio theatre once a month over a period of six months between November 2009 and May 2010. In the seventh month the plays would be combined into a feature-length omnibus edition. Once again, all the plays were designed by Design for Performance students at the Theatre School in Wimbledon College of Arts, under the supervision of programme leader Michael Pavelka.
‘Dash Dash Dash’ as a title, despite the fact that each play was written in three days and rehearsed in two and a half, was not intended solely to signify performance work made in a hurry. It also refers to life lived in a hurry, or the hurry that life imposes or the busy-ness that characterises a world replete with labour saving devices or the sense of running from something unsatisfying to something that surely must be more satisfying. In Morse code ‘ – – – ‘ stands for the letter ‘O’ and is perhaps most well known for its inclusion in the emergency signal ‘. . . – – – . . .‘ : SOS.
The programme for the Dash Omnibus show contained the following statement:
The plays are not narratively linked They are not episodes in a serial.
While the plays may be satisfactorily viewed as singles they will also combine in a manner that will reveal hitherto unforeseen affinities.
Each play is written after its predecessor has been performed.
Each play is written in a few days.
Rehearsals are brief.
The claim above that the plays ‘will also combine in a manner that will reveal hitherto unforeseen affinities’, describes my intention to run the six stand-alone playlets together in one connected feature-length Omnibus performance, combining to produce a seamless (if not necessarily coherent) single play.
As I’ve suggested in the previous link and also here, it seems odd to attempt to portray fragmentation, disarray and disorder using an ordered grammar or coherent structures. Conventional strategies of representation can, of course, depict disorder very well. The depiction, however, will be resistible to some extent due to the ‘healing power’ of coherence, even when incoherence is the focus of attention. It is arguable that when matters of social and personal incoherence are expressed by means of broken or fragmented devices then the outcomes will be less resistible.
Over the years the experience of writing and directing 16 short plays at Wimbledon enabled me to take risks that I might not have undertaken in a fully public context. I discovered that I could write at great speed and that sometimes the material thus produced was usable. The brevity of the playlets compelled a considerable compression of certain forms of development, in particular the unfolding of character. I will not pretend that this was a handicap – my interest in writing the fully rounded character has always been minimal. The ‘Show Not Tell’ approach was also of limited use. In 1976 I wrote a play called ‘Dogs’ in which characters, entering for the first time, would promptly describe themselves and their objectives. It clears the way for action. I never looked back. The characters were not ciphers so much as embodiments of extreme psychological states, untrammelled by circumstantial detail.
This etiolated aesthetic prevails throughout Dash Dash Dash, as shown in the sixth Dash playlet, ‘Gush’:
GINA I was talking with Roy. Or someone very like him.
DEAN What’s he up to?
GINA He said he had been experiencing the need to murder.
DEAN Did he mention anyone that he had in mind?
GINA No. He said that it was rarely personal.
GINA He said that his anger was of a generalised nature and, in consequence, he felt no need to particularise.
DEAN Except, of course, at the last minute.
GINA At that point, I grant you, it does become rather personal.
DEAN Is Roy still even-handed?
GINA He says that it is of no consequence whether he murders a woman or a man.
DEAN Which is refreshing.
GINA It is. So often we hear of men concentrating on women.
DEAN He is a misanthropist – no more, no less.
GINA Less fucked up.
DEAN Oh yes.
In addition to the use of deafening music, described here, the Dash series also featured the first uses of the crashbox. The crashbox consists of a tea-chest containing a quantity of broken plates. Two rope handles are fixed to the upper edges of the box so that it can be readily lifted. A stand microphone is arranged so that it projects down into the body of the box. When the box is raised eighteen inches then thrown to the floor, a loud and shocking bang will be heard through the sound system. The bangs were generally used as a means of cutting sharply and irresistibly across the onstage action in order to derail, destabilise but also enhance moments in which it was deemed appropriate to signal the imminence of chaos. Sometimes the bangs would simply interrupt without warning, at others they would punctuate dance sequences or passages of threat and physical struggle. We wanted to use theatrical maroons – electrically activated pyrotechnic devices – but it was feared that the windows in the performance space at Battersea Arts Centre would not withstand the blast.
Continuing an engagement with effects that could be said to be physiologically irresistible, many of the Dash plays featured simulated bloodshed. The impact of the bleeding walls in the inhouse WCA play ‘Red Devils’, described here, had been considerable and had, the designers and I felt, overcome the audience’s scepticism about theatre’s limitations with regard to the depiction of death and injury. Like swearing, it depends how you do it. In this post from 2010, the extent of Dash’s blood use is made clear.
In many of the playlets character names are changed in mid scene. Similarly, characters will be played by one actor in one scene then migrate to another actor in the next scene. Alongside plot lines that do not resolve or are impenetrable (‘In the Bosom of Roy’ is the main offender here) and the intermittent appearance of identical twins who do not resemble each other, there are also obtrusive geographical and temporal impossibilities. Little, then, can be relied upon. The characters, however, soldier on. Unless they are murdered.
Postscript: I wrote the playlet ‘In the Bosom of Roy’ in 2008 as an inhouse production at WCA, then used that title again in the ‘Dash Dash Dash’ series in 2010, taking some of the themes from the original but introducing a new ‘storyline’.
Post postscript: find links to all the ‘Dash Dash Dash’ plays below.