My first impulse when writing the novel — aside from the notion that it was a book club reading the Epic of Gilgamesh — was how I wanted to explore the love of things that are very old by people who are very young.
One of the members of the Lacuna Cabal Montreal Young Women’s Book Club was a self-conscious songwriter named Priya. Since I thought at the time I was writing a play, I set out to write songs for Priya that could be performed. I wrote two. The first was meant to be a whimsical failure and the second a half-decent song that would be sung by the whole company (i.e. the book club) as they made their journey across the sea in search of a lost young boy who was himself searching for a wise old man.
Throughout the story, she contemplated dichotomies such as young/old, present/past, living/dead, and human/god.
It was meant to be a proud moment for Priya.
She was the only character who had awareness of the members of the audience. It took a scene or two for her to noticed them, but when she did, it wasn’t long before she came up with an explanation:
I had no idea I'd dreamed you up.
God, you must think I'm the most self-centered creature.
Then again how does an aspiring songwriter get by unless she imagines an audience hanging on to her every word?
Oh I'm sorry; you're probably thinking: "But we're really here!"
[That's so cute...]
I mean, sure, okay, yeah, sure, it's vain, okay, sure, but think of it this way: I'll always try to impress you. I'll always try to put my best face forward, be a hero in my own movie. It's almost like you've replaced God, don't you think? Or the gods.
Thus was born the idea that ended up in the song she wrote and performed at the end of the play, We’re in the Movies. She took the old argument that belief in a god turns us into ethical creatures and replaced the idea of god in that equation with the audience.
It's a funny switch from the standard. When we're sitting in an audience, isn't it the performer who seems to be larger than life? At least if all goes well? Isn't it the performer who equates with the gods?
In fact, it becomes, if all goes well, a back and forth. Each seeks the gift from the other, of something special, something timeless, something, maybe, godlike.
Funny too though that Priya imagines herself not on stage but in a movie:
At the end of the film
there's so much to discuss
As we try to figure out
just what happened to us
Did we win? Stay together? Did we cry? Did we pray?
Did we find we worked hard by the end of the day
Were we good? were we ill? In the movie, did we kill
A conviction, an appeal, was it fake, was it real...
Take one more step in the argument and the audience (a collection of people) gets replaced by community - a group of people that hold individuals in their midst. Perhaps it's our community that turns us into ethical creatures. God = Audience = Community.
The human community is an ageless thing. It has always been with us, whether in a tribe or a polis or (under certain circumstances) a young women's book club. Their polis can bridge the gap between present and past. Their founding goddess can also be a girl from Westmount.
And the movies themselves make us godlike as well, hammering a nail in the wall and hanging us up like Inanna in the realm of Erishkigal. A pinup for the ages,
a performance imprinted upon the ages. Buster Keaton is long gone, but his spirit still flickers though the projector onto the wall or through the zeros and ones to our digital laptop screens. It’s how someone can be both young and old at the same time: Gilgamesh glories in his youthful kingship. Priya acts out the adventures of the Lacuna Cabal and imagines her own movie. She can be old and young at the same time as she performs her song.
But I'm starting to get very complicated with what is really a very simple idea: the fact that we all imagine ourselves as heroes in our own narratives.
I tried to make this ‘imaginary audience’ conceit work in the novel, but I couldn’t do it. Priya therefore became more or less the silent character that she mostly seems to be to the other characters. She still wrote songs that are present in the novel, and the dichotomies are still there too. But it’s not the same. Poetry is not performance.
Chris Abraham and I workshopped the play with students at the National Theatre School of Canada in 2002 and then again in late winter of 2003, during the lead-up to the Iraq War (also, not coincidentally, time period in which the novel is set.) The part of Priya was played by Michelle Girouard.
Here’s Michelle playing the song The Oil Men performed as a distraction for Cabal members while Romy is up on the roof pretending to be the monster Humbaba battling boys:
And here’s Michelle playing We’re In the Movies:
(At one point in rehearsal, Michelle got a nosebleed and I ended up taking her over to the Royal Vic, where I could swear we saw Neil making his getaway with Runner in a wheelchair.)
And here's the youtube site for our contest, deadline May 31st. We're looking for performed covers of Priya's song.