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an interview with writer / director Whit Flint on his new play Science Fiction
by screenwriter Jagger Waters
Jagger: What is the universal truth or "emotional core" of SCIENCE FICTION?
Whit: It’s about loss and shame. It’s about wanting to replay the moments we took for granted. And try to do them better, differently. It’s about that person that stops your entire world and is the chapter you always revisit. For better or worse.
Jagger: Where does SCIENCE FICTION fit, genre-wise? Placed on a shelf with other classical and modern plays, which other previous narratives does the story fall between? What literary or visual inspiration did you draw from, to create this piece?
Whit: It’s a love story. But about it’s breakdown. It’s of course sci-fi genre but only because it’s set 390.4 million miles from earth. Everything else is rooted in connection and wanting to experience truth. I’ve been cobbling it together for about 6 yrs but really hit the gas about 4 months ago. It had gestated. And reached a place where it was screaming at me to give it actuality and to birth it. I think the tone falls somewhere in a surrealist drama. It’s very bleak at times because it asks the big questions and deals with the highest of stakes imaginable. Not unlike an Ibsen or a Beckett piece that is about true human flaws and require precision and exposed veins. I think the work of Sarah Kane and Simon Stephens really inspired me subconsciously with this play. They’re two of my favourites after chekhov. Both Sarah and Simon wrote / write about dark shades without any veneer or fear. They embrace our ugliness as a species. And I also think they’re both incredibly funny writers. So there’s moments of silliness and lightness jammed within an hour and forty minutes of intense drama. I think Yorgos Lanthimos writes the most compelling films currently. I’ve rewatched his entire canon numerous times. And he's so deliciously layered. His films are weird and odd and grotesque and unnerving but it’s still about characters and relationships. It’s naked and raw. It’s not huge concepts. And that’s what I like to write. Nerve-endings. And so I thought how can I keep true to a minimalist form of theatre? I wanted to create a texture that leaned into the juxtaposition of being on Jupiter’s moon but it still feeling like a Sam Shepard motel / living room. The painter Cy Twombly seems to repeatedly inspire me. The last three plays I’ve written have had his influence in my mind. He’s the master of the simple mess that holds within itself transcendent questions and answers. A scribble is not just a scribble w/ him. It’s intended. It’s beautiful. It embraces flow and a lack of an inner critic. And that’s where I try to live. Music also greatly inspired this too. And when creating the tapestry of the piece each song opened up the action. The songs were selected years ago as just a playlist before a single word was written. And so during the writing it then became a task to see which song landed, how to fit each puzzle piece. It’s been through many iterations. To sort out the rules of the world. To take a hatchet to anything that felt contrived or overwrought. To cement it in humanity. And not get enticed to make it “cool” and full of gadgets and tech.
Jagger: Why do you need to work on this play, right here, right now?
Whit: This piece is immediate because it is about the threads that bind us together as a species. It’s about the need not to just be seen but to be held. To be embraced. And when we lose ourselves and fall down a rabbit hole of ego or turn away from vulnerability we corrode and wilt. I started writing this after a painful breakup. When you share the most intimate moments and open your full chest cavity to someone else and the next day they’re gone? What the fuck? How are we supposed to deal with that? It’s excruciating. And the scars last. That was the starting point. And then during the pandemic I would hear people once in awhile say things like, "I like lockdown, I like being alone.” - which is utter bullshit. No one does. That's a cover for not wanting to be seen. For hiding. We can and must enjoy and advocate for the quiet of time with ourselves. But this earthly stint is not meant for solo voyagers. We have to connect. It’s in our DNA. And sure enough, those same people when they got to get their first hug again, or their first kiss again… it was euphoria. I remember it crystal clear. I felt like I had crawled out of an alien form. And transitioned. We need it. Our need to touch. To be touched. Emotionally and literally. That was the second half of the building blocks for Science Fiction. I thought what if two scientists were stationed far far far away. For years. And one loved it. And the other didn’t. That was it. That was the only conflict I needed to explore. Right now we still vibrate with the effects of being removed from one another. We have PTSD lingering. And so this is my small way to try to remedy what ails us. To remind us how important it is to be present. And available. To connect.
Jagger: When you work with actors, how do you begin? What is your process like, when working with a new script? What kinds of exercises do you do? Where do your conversations with actors lead?
Whit: I want the actors I work with to always marry and bind three entities: self, artist, character. And make it one. So I run them through meditations and breathing exercises that help them identify those three and meld together. You have to bring all of your uniqueness to the role. It can’t feel so separate from you. Because it’ll ring false. But that requires the actor to know themselves. So we work on being aware of what we usually run past day to day. Our actions. And reactions. Our own voice. I also encourage improvising the moments that aren’t in the play, but referenced. A first meet, a shared tragedy, a personal game / ritual, a holiday, etc. We flesh that out for both actors so that they have the same sign post to grab sensory references and memories from. The fun part about cracking into a new script and developing it rather than trotting out a corpse or being beholden to the rules of adaptation is that it’s ultimate discovery. You’re creating new forms every rehearsal. You’re risking, failing together. Having breakthroughs together. I'm not a bastard or precious about my words either. They’re just a blue print. Some writers are militant about punctuation and a particular “the” used. That’s insane to me! I can only see the piece from my two eyes. I need other vantage points to decipher a play’s truth. So there’s a real collaboration to decide what works and stays. In this process we took a machete to several speeches and moments that were laborious and overwritten. I had to be more in tune and sensitive to the motion of the piece. I'm a drummer and painter as well. And those sides of me influence a lot. For example I am keenly aware of rhythm in a piece. Both the dialogue and pauses. The repetition and music of of the piece. The crashes and the simmers. Is it a piece of furious punk rock beats here or a multi-movement symphony? Is it a waltz or a shuffle? Then as a painter I see the piece visually in composition. So although blocking is loose and changes, there’s organisation. And no brush stroke is frivolous or lazy. Each motivation has a fire blaring behind it. Most importantly as a director I firmly believe your job is to 1) endow opportunities to fail and succeed; 2) give ample alternatives and solutions; and 3) to encourage the actor to trust themselves. And I constantly reiterate that simple is enough. And that watching an actor stand in their own strong clarity is just as engaging as anything else. A director is not a person that needs to clutter up the story and the space with ornaments and decoration and be a plot hoarder. It’s about subtraction. Getting rid of all the things that obstruct. So that the soul of the play can emerge.
Jagger: How is SCIENCE FICTION pushing your limits, creatively? Have you learned anything new about yourself as a creator and director?
Whit: It’s pushed me because It’s required me to be very malleable and also to give full trust to two actors to fight their own battles. To not try to coddle them. And make it easy. But to encourage them to push forward and be a detective. Solve each mystery. Because then they own that success. That breakthrough. And it gives them a new musculature. I’ve watched both Austin and Tori go through their own personal crusades with this play. And when they got to the other side they were different artists. I’ve watched it in real-time. It’s been fucking spiritual. I’ve also relearned how much I just love actors. And I love being in a rehearsal room. It’s my cathedral. It’s where everything makes sense. Where my heartbeat regulates. This ancient art form is so goddamn vital to our human experience. And it’s in my bloodstream. I love it, deeply and obsessively!
Jagger: Who is this story for?
Whit: It's for those in isolation. Spiritually, mentally, physically. Those that are racked with feeling alone. What a terrible lie. You’re not. We drink that poison all the time. But weirdly the best way to gain sturdy connections is to figure what lives within you. To take care of yourself. Once you do that you bloom. And you become a magnet. It's a message to keep watering your own soil. And to tell your golden people how much they matter to you. To seek constant growth and to be endlessly curious about both the vast ether and also the person sitting next to you. It’s about opening your eyes and taking it all in.
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