Friday, December 7, 2012

The Are Moments When Time Stops

By Aimee Suzara
Playwright, 3rd Annual One Minute Play Festival
There are moments when time stops.
Those split-seconds seem to last eternity –  marking time like little notches of memory along a measuring tape.  In looking back to those moments, all others seem to dissipate – or even, stretch to meet the others, as though they are planets orbiting towards those suns.
Those moments –an insult said in sixth grade that changed everything, the first time you opened a love letter and the smell of notebook paper, the scathing words of an elder on her deathbed, the moment you met eyes with a soul-mate, a particular perfect sunset – may verge on cliché, but then again, clichés are repeated for a reason. Those moments when everything falls away into silence, time stands still– the stuff romantic dramas thrives upon – are real, and everyone has had at least a handful.  In those few seconds, you realize, as the Buddha said, “there’s only one moment for you to live, and that is the present moment.” And often, those moments are turning points, be they big or small – the moment we realized we were becoming women, the moment we understood that to be brown-skinned was less-than, the moment we realized we were going to be in love (for x amount of years); or those tough-love moments where reality slaps you across the face.

So how to pluck those moments and make them NOT cliché, not rom-com-corny, when in truth, they feel larger than life?
As a poet, my first identity as a writer, I’m accustomed to writing the briefest of moments.  Being a poet is akin to being a photographer.  With language, we capture those time-stop moments and how they seem to form the world into sense – to become the world and everything in it.
As a newer playwright, those moments punctuate my work.  In my first self-produced play,Pagbabalik (Return), there would be, I’d say four key moments that say it all, and it all began with a real moment in 2006 in the Philippines when my sister and I both woke up with unexplained bruises on our necks. It was as though we’d been marked by this country with which we were trying to make a new relationship, after growing up in the United States all our lives. Who were we to drop in, with our American-chubby cheeks and first-world clothes, to call this group of “third-world” islands, rich with languages and histories we had no understanding of, home?
The marks were like strangle-holds – where you could almost see a thumb-mark here, a palm-mark there, but they bore no pain nor itchiness.  Most likely they were from some mysterious island-dwelling bacteria, but we never found out. My entire play came out of this moment of strange discovery.  And yet there was another moment, simultaneously being created in what seemed, at the time, to be a separate play – when my main character (basically, me) sees her grandparents for the first time in the Manila airport at seventeen, their silhouettes holding them as myth for just a second before they come into the light; illuminating what had been missing for her as an estranged child of immigrants.  This I wrote as a poem, then as a monologue.  I put these time-stop moments into one-acts, then realized they were all a part of the same play, a journey of homecoming that involved not only meeting living grandparents, but the ghosts of the dead, one of whom tries to kill the main character. (And will he succeed? Commission me to resurrect that play and you’ll find out!)
When invited by Amy Mueller and Dominic D’Andrea to write my first one-minute-plays for this year’s festival, I was thrilled at the idea.  Here was the chance to write a poem in the form of a play.  To take that snapshot with words and, even more exciting, render it theatrically.  I had a difficult time at first, roaming my cluttered treasure chest of corny and poignant memories, then less-meaningful ones (perhaps it would then avoid being corny if it was so mundane, that the audience scratches their heads saying, “huh? – was that deep?” – then, lights down!)
Then I went to a café to write.  And there emerged one of my stories.  The café in Berkeley was not only crowded with hordes of students in sweatpants and flip-flops sweating over biochemistry tomes and lukewarm piles of French fries, I found there were no outlets, my batteries were all dying, and I had nothing left except my trusty journal and a pen.  (Top that off with ordering some eggrolls that were obliterated to a burnt crisp, but that would be another story.) And so I wrote, amidst the chatter, without the technology that had become my additional brains.  And thus was born one of three one-minute plays I churned out that week.
The funny thing is that the fear of the moments being corny fell away along with my need for technology.  It reminded me of a haiku form – even if one line or image IS corny, if you really breathe into a moment, the profundity, or humor, simply punctures through the cheese.  Take this one by Basho: “Lightning flash/what I thought were faces/are plumes of pampas grass.” How can we argue with that?  The momentariness of the short form poem, or the short form play, forces us to trim the fat.  And so corn, cheese, and fat – for whatever reason all of my metaphors are about food – are of no concern.  The challenge is to just write and let the moment come to you. And as Yoda might say, “Emerge, a one minute play will.”  (And yes, now, I’ve properly pigeonholed myself by using every Asian reference that does not belong to my culture.)
I can’t say I’m an expert at the form by a long stretch, but I can say that for me a one-minute-play is like a poem, a time-stop where we get a glimpse into the rest of ourselves or our lives or life in general. As D’Andrea describes, these moments are “pulses” that help name or render “where we are now.”  Writing one-minute-plays has given me a new way to render those “now” moments.  I’m looking forward to experiencing those pulses of now on stage.
The 3rd Annual San Francisco One-Minute Play Festival in partnership with Playwrights Foundation will take place on Sat Dec 15th at 8PM and Sun Dec 16th at 3PM and 8PM at Thick House. The Sun 3PM performance will livesteam on‘s New Play TV here.  

This Blog was originally posted on the official One-Minute Play Festival Blog, found here.

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