I took OAC Writer’s Craft in my last year of high school. For anyone not familiar with the Ontario secondary school system prior to 2004, there used to be grades 9 through 12, and then there was an optional fifth year of courses called Ontario Academic Credits that functioned as university prerequisites. You could take as many as you wanted (although never more than four in a semester), and universities took the average of your top six OAC marks to determine your academic ranking versus other applicants.
Anyway, that’s all a little beside the point: I took OAC Writer’s Craft in my last year of high school, and I loved it. A lot of students took the course looking to boost their grade point average, but most of them ran into difficulty producing a coherent and entertaining plot under a tight deadline. I had been writing short stories and a couple of aborted novels for a number of years at that point, so I was pretty good at thinking up something quick and getting it all down in one long rush of pen and paper. Looking back through my notebooks now, most of my work hasn’t aged very well, but there are a couple of things I did then that I still rather enjoy.
The following one-scene play (I guess it could be called a skit…) is something I remember being quite proud of at the time, and so I dug it out of a box the last time I visited my parents, and I’ve given it a quick coat of polish to make it blog worthy. It’s a farce between two pretentious artists orbiting around a very fragile, very valuable sculpture. My teacher loved it: In addition to writing, he also taught music, drama, and directed the school musical every year, so big egos from not-so-big talents were familiar territory for him. This play took his fancy to such an extent that we acted it out for the class the next day. Maybe it was the fact that this saved everyone five or ten minutes of actual school work, but it seemed to be well received. Anyway, here’s the play:
The Artists’ Farce
By Geoffrey Micks
[Two men stand centre stage around an abstract statue perched on a gaudy red and pink pedestal. A drop cloth lies next to the statue, and, as the lights come up, the actors leave their freeze and enter into a heated discussion]
Tom: Black! I told you to paint the pedestal black!
Jim: How morbid.
Tom: The sculpture is what’s important.
Tom: You’ve ruined the whole effect. You’ve made a mockery of my work!
Jim: Well what kind of big time artist doesn’t paint his own pedestal?
Tom: Oh, we’re going to do that again, are we?
Jim: I think so.
Tom: Fine! Did you want the job?
Tom: Did you need the job?
Jim: Well, yes.
Tom: Did you take my money?
Jim: Yes, but–
Tom: Did you need my money?
Jim: You know I needed the–
Tom: Did you do what I asked?
Jim: Well, no, but–
Tom: Ah ha! [Makes a silencing gesture] How long did it take the paint to dry on this monstrosity?
Jim: Four hours.
Tom: Four hours? Why not a year? I need this pedestal black as night in an hour!
Jim: Maybe you should have checked in on me three hours earlier.
Tom: Don’t start that again!
Jim: No, no, no, Mr. Artiste! Mr. Big Shot, Fancy Pants, Nose in the Air, High Falootin’, Forty-Piece Exhibit at the Gallery, God of the Art Scene–
Tom: Stop! I hate when you get like this!
Jim: If you really cared about your work, you’d check on it more often. While you’re at it, what about me? Did you ever check to see if I still had a pulse? If I hadn’t suffered some horrible work-related accident? I mean, would it kill you to come by once in a while… Maybe with a cup of coffee and a bearclaw…
Tom: Stop mooching food! In fact, just shut up in general, okay? I’m going to get my hair dryer out of my loft. You just start painting this thing black.
Jim: [Assumes haughty French accent] Out of my loft. Oh yes, Monsieur. Oui, oui. Vitte, vitte. Maintenant, c’il vous plez!
Tom: Less French, more paint. [Exits]
Jim: And would it kill you to bring a sandwich with you on the way back? Some of us starving artists actually don’t eat, you know! [Circles the statue] This is such a piece of junk. Any moron with a hunk of marble, a pair of needle-nosed pliers and a thick forehead could have made this. [Circles again] That’s what eats him up inside. He knows that I know that he knows I know he knows I know. You know? [Circles again] He’s a fraud! He knows this is garbage too. He just plays to the crowd. Swap those Brie eating, wine drinking, monocle wearing phonies for some drunken teenagers and he’d be writing rock ballads. [Circles again] It’s not even well made trash. Look here. [Taps the statue, and a piece falls off. Gasps in horror] Glue! I need glue! Oh, God, he’s going to kill me! [Darts about stage frantically] I broke his poorly made garbage! He’s going to paint the damned thing with my guts. He—
Tom: [Enters, in a level tone] What have you done?
Jim: [Puts himself between statue and Tom] Nothing!
Tom: Nothing? You haven’t even started the base?
Jim: The base?
Tom: I want the base black. Ring a bell?
Jim: Oh yes! I mean no! I mean… I mean I think I left some fast-drying black paint down in my van. Why don’t I just go and… and get it. [Tries to push his way past Tom]
Tom: In the van? Great, I’ll get it! [Exits]
Jim: [Long pause until Tom has left] No! There’s only the one exit! How am I going to get out of here? You know… You know it’s really hardly noticeable at all… [Taps statue again, another piece falls of] Oh, come on! What did he make this thing out of? Bread crumbs? Egg shells? What could possibly be so fragile that just touching it– [Another piece falls off] I didn’t even touch it that time! This is terrible! This is like the worst thing I’ve ever done!
Tom: [Enters] The van’s locked. I need the keys.
Jim: Here you go, buddy. [Tosses keys, standing between statue and Tom]
Tom: Thanks! [Exits]
Jim: Okay, think. Come on, real thoughts here… Gotta have a plan. A real plan, not like that whole ‘I’ll become an artist’ thing. I mean, maybe if I had some talent or something… [Looks towards the door, reluctant to say the next words] Like Tom… [Makes a face at having said that] Ah ha! Hide the statue! [Throws the drop cloth over statue] No, no, that’s not going to work, is it? Maybe I could… No… No… No…
Tom: [Enters] No what?
Jim: No… No… No chance the paint is in the van! Ha ha ha… It just occurred to me I used it all on my last job!
Tom: You had another job?
Jim: Oh yeah! I painted one of those black rooms with the little white dot.
Tom: Oh, give me a break!
Jim: Hey, I didn’t sign my name to it or anything! I know that’s the stupidest piece of art ever made.
Tom: Oh, so that honour doesn’t go to my own work?
Tom: Psst! Your line is, “I hate your work. It’s hackneyed, and you’re a fake.’
Jim: Actually… Your stuff is… Kind of growing on me…
Jim: Well, yeah. I guess you could say, the smaller it gets, the more it matters to me.
Jim: [Eyebrows raise, an epiphany occurs] Why, yes! Your work is so impressive, I think what really bothers me is the scale. It’s overwhelming in these proportions. Someone should just knock off maybe… I don’t know… Twenty—Thirty percent of it. Then it’d be perfect!
Tom: [Happy] Really?
Jim: Oh, yeah! Less is more.
Tom: Less is more… Makes sense.
Jim: I’m glad you think so.
Tom: You know, maybe you’re not an idiot.
Jim: [Firm] Oh no, I’m an idiot.
Tom: Okay, well, I won’t argue the point. Still, when this exhibition gets sold off, I’m going to be on Easy Street for a while… Why don’t you work for me full time… Sort of an assistant?
Jim: [Hope] Really?
Tom: Yeah, I’ve been thinking I should head in a new direction, and maybe you’ve got something there with that less is more stuff.
Jim: Boy, am I glad you think that, because–
Tom: Not that I don’t like what I’ve done so far.
Jim: Oh no, of course not, but–
Tom: I actually think that piece behind you is my best work.
Jim: Um, yes, well–
Tom: If we can just get the pedestal black.
Jim: [Nervous laughter] Right… See, the thing is–
Tom: Do you know someone offered me a quarter of a million for that one?
Jim: [Trying to hide his horror] A quarter million?
Tom: Yes! She said, “Don’t change a thing, but it should be on a black pedestal.”
Jim: Don’t change a…
Tom: [Satisfiied] Don’t change a thing.
Jim: [Raises one finger] Um, problem.
Tom: Oh, I know we can’t get the pedestal black in time. Don’t worry. She’s really just dropping by to take a look at it before it goes to the gallery. She hasn’t actually bought it yet.
Jim: Oh… Oh, no?
Tom: No. She was rather worried it might be damaged. She wants to see it before and after the gallery showing. She wants to make sure she’s getting what she paid for, so no money will actually change hands until after the exhibition closes.
Jim: [Looks ill] Um… That’s not good because… Because [Another wave of relief washes over him] Because you’re better than prostituting away your art like that!
Jim: You don’t—No, you shouldn’t sell off your best work just because some old biddy with a set of brass opera glasses offers you a bob or two for it.
Tom: I don’t understand.
Jim: This… This could be the flagship of your –I mean our!—Less is More Display.
Tom: A quarter of a million dollars is–
Jim: A drop in the pond! Sure, Picasso could’ve made a few bucks doing portraits, but when he started screwing up the pictures, that’s when he was in the big time!
Tom: You really think so?
Jim: Okay, which of us took pure art, and which of us took a business minor?
Tom: You only took that business minor because your father made you.
Jim: But then I started up my own business!
Tom: That sold designer hot dogs over the Internet and went belly up last month! Look, less is more, wonderful idea, even if it is a cliché, but the statue stays the way it is, and I get a trip to the Yucatan. [Pushes Jim out of the way and takes off the drop cloth] What is this?
Jim: I can explain! I—It—I just—
Tom: It’s perfect!
Tom: I struggled with it for days, but it was missing an indefinable something. This is it! This is what it was missing!
Jim: [Looks at the statue again. Wrinkles his nose in distaste] Really?
Tom: Oh, yes! The Countess thought so too. She said don’t change anything, but you can always tell when she thinks something is off. You know how she always carries around that little dog?
Jim: Fru Fru?
Tom: Yeah, well she was petting it against the grain. She only does that when something’s a little unsettling… I think this is really good!
Jim: So… So I’m not a dead man?
Tom: No, just an idiot.
Jim: Okay! I like it! Great!
Tom: You’re a genius. You know that?
Jim: The idiot genius?
Tom: Oh yes.
Jim: Has a nice ring to it.
Jim: Maybe I should sign all of my work IG, or IGGY!
Tom: IGGY, very sheik.
Jim: Yeah… IGGY… You know Tom, I’ve got a feeling you and me are gonna be aaaaaalright. [Leans on statue. It falls off the pedestal and smashes on the floor. Both men freeze into looks of horror. The lights cut out and the curtains close]