Process as palimpsest

I have been deep in the process of devising (that is, creating something from nothing, theatrically speaking) a play for young audiences around love, loss, and loyalty… as presented on the form of a queer Dodo-bird sailor. It’s… complicated.

Part of what makes it complicated is that I tend towards complication. I tend towards words, synonyms, reduplications, and parallelisms. I am racing a million miles a minute, and unfortunately loyal to all the ideas. Another part of what makes it complicated is the nature of the devising process: it’s a process of creating, erasing, recreating, erasing, building again, and tearing down again. A process that we know from the literary arts as palimpsest.

In textual studies , a palimpsest (/ˈpælɪmpsɛst/) is a manuscript page, either from a scroll or a book , from which the text has been scraped or washed off so that the page can be reused for another document. 1

What I mean to say is that, from the original idea (a clown who has a beak instead of a red nose) to the most recent iteration (a dodo-sailor, alone in the middle of the ocean), there are layers and layers of decisions made, or unmade, in response to both the present text and the shadowed text that remains beneath. Add to this the natural process and pressure of creating/developing new work in an educational setting (desires to please the mentor/educator, pressure to conform to the aesthetic desires and interests of the peer-group, the limited time and scope available for the work…) and the result is something that is both of and other to myself.

In other words, it is unclear, to me at least, how much of what I have created, was created because I was interested in it, and how much of what I have created was created because the educational setting I was in encouraged me to go in that direction, and how much of what I have created was created in response to facts” or restrictions” I intended and how much from facts” and restrictions” that were pressed upon me. 2

I am not ungrateful for the space I was in, that enabled me to develop, first and foremost, this lovely character. I am not ungrateful for the process.

I simply mean to explain what I mean when I say process is palimpsest. The work of deciphering palimpsests is the work of evaluating the differences between the layers of growth and accretion, an archaeology of choices and decisions, and an assignation of those choices and decisions to the various relevant actors.

As I prepare to take the next steps on this project, my first step is to break down the current version, and investigate: what here is mine? What here is not mine, but worth keeping? What here is mine but needs to be let go? What here is not mine, and can be let go of with gratitude?

Theater is a process, with many collaborators leaving many fingerprints. The trick is to know how to identify whose fingerprints are whose.

Next week, I’ll be updating with what I’ve found, and where I’ll be going from there.

Many birdie blessings, ABG

p.s. enjoy this video of my final presentation from the same education program.

  1. Palimpsest - Wikipedia. Much like everything else, the idea of palimpsest is a carry-over from the historical economic cost of preparing surfaces or materials for writing. Growing up, my father kept on prominent display a wooden plank palimpsest that showed several layers of homework for a young student, written in gall ink, that was sanded away: paper was not to be wasted” on children’s lessons.↩︎

  2. I am indebted to Ramón Esquivel and Ryan Oliveira for their dramaturgical insights and questions over the last two weeks, that have brought me to the beginning of this understanding—that even if I may have already agreed to a restriction or fact as given to me or suggested to me by my peers or mentors, it does not mean that it is MY restriction or fact, nor that it is necessary to continue to adhere to it.↩︎

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