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How to create an Ugly Princess in 24 hours (or less)

I will be writing a new play, The Ugly Princess, almost from scratch, in 24 hours for APN’s Writeathon on 23 November. I say “almost”, because I have two scenes. This post…is about making you want to see the whole thing.

The story is linked – in my head, somehow – to this painting, now at the National Gallery in London, a painting which, the story goes, gave Sir John Tenniel the idea for how the Duchess should look in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

by Sir John Tenniel, from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, 1865. Courtesy of eBooks@Adelaide
by Sir John Tenniel, from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, 1865. Courtesy of eBooks@Adelaide

When I was asked to provide one scene, no more than ten minutes long, with two characters, for my workshop at Playworks Ink, and I realized I didn’t have anything fitting the bill, that’s when the “squidgies” set in, and I had to write a scene from this play still sitting entirely in my head. And here, exactly, is what happened:

There were twenty of us playwrights in the workshop room the first day. Robert randomly picked one person. Her scene was read out loud by two actors in the middle of the room. Robert asked the playwright what she’d intended, and she explained. Then he said: “Your assignment…is to remove all the dialogue of this character, and give ALL the dialogue in the scene to the other character. Make it a monologue.”

And I could feel everyone else in the room thinking the same thing as me: Holy. Crap.

One playwright brought part of her stage adaptation of Things Fall Apart. He told her to set in the year 3000 and make it Sci-Fi. My fellow tweeter James was told to take his very idyllic scene of a brother and sister between the two World Wars, and transform it into the first level of a violent, gory video game.

I remembered the one brilliant moment in the Muppets Tonight series, when Cindy Crawford (yeah) was on. There were some besotted pigs asking what made her a supermodel, and then laserbeams came out of her eyes and vapourized one pig. The remaining pig ran after her shouting “Cindy! Do me! DO ME!”

I was that pig. Sitting there, in trepidation and glee, thinking “Me! Me next! What do I get to do?!”

So. The two actors got my script, and after glancing at it, they asked if I wanted British accents. Hell yeah. So they read it. Everyone laughed. Robert laughed. When the scene was done, he said, “This is very interesting.” I remained calm. He did not ask me to rewrite what I had, no. My assignment was to write a NEW scene, bring in the prince, and have him meet the two ladies at once, but when he spoke to one, the other answered, so he’d be flipping back and forth between them…for five pages. He said “It’s a bit complicated, but judging by your writing I think you can do it.”

We took a break, and I was vibrating in the hallway. I went off to write, and I had those five pages in 30 minutes.

My intention is to let the rest simmer, and then pound it out in support of the marvelous group that let me go to Playworks and got this to happen. And then enter it into the KidsFringe draw for next year. Want to see it?