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     English Wordplay ~ Listen and Enjoy

Workshops for Writing, Producing and Acting Radio Drama, Documentaries and Comedy

Who or What Does the Talking?

Be a Monkey or Parrot - or any other animal, vegetable, mineral or even a spirit.

Not surprisingly for this the most visual of media, many writers are inspired by images to write plays.

Michael Campbell was walking along a Cornish beach one day, when he saw a man in a smart suit standing up to his knees in the sea playing a violin.  Being a shy playwright, Michael did not ask the man what he was doing.  Instead he was inspired to go away and write a radio play entitled The Man Who Stood in the Sea.

Tina Pepler was inspired by a picture of a Capuchin monkey poking a feeding stick into a quadraplegic's mouth.

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SONG OF
THE FOREST

She discovered that in California under the "Simian Aides Project" monkeys were trained to bond with and to help quadraplegics with simple tasks.

She researched the mythology of the Bororos tribe from the area of the capuchin's habitat in the Amazonian rain forest and was inspired to write the award winning play Song of the Forest.

Notice how the language first creates a bird and then a monkey.  As a writer you can play with the images in the listener's imagination.

Song of the Forest by Tina Pepler

(MUSIC.)
ANNOUNCER: 'Song of the Forest', by Tina Pepler with Mamta Kaash as Jacu and Maureen O'Brien as Helena.
SCENE 1
JACU: In the beginning, there was only light.  There was no darkness.

No one could sleep.  They say that in the forest where I come from, man is changing the face of the earth. They say he wants to make it like the beginning again.  No forest.  No darkness.  No green darkness of the forest.  No more quiet of the soul.

MUSIC: JACU'S THEME. FOREST SOUNDS.

In the trees, listen, listen, the sounds of the night, the whispers of the forest, the whispers of the soul.  Jacu.  Forest bird.  Bird-daughter of the juruna who climbed the ladder in the forest, climbed up into the sky, where the daughters of Alapa washed him in magic water and made him young again.  Bird-daughter on earth, girl-daughter in the sky. Home sounds.  Home far away.

END MUSIC.

If I don't move, man won't notice me.  If I don't move, he'll notice something else instead.  Like the beginning.  No forest.  No darkness.  No green darkness of the forest.  Jacu.

HELENA 1 REPRESENTS AN INNER VOICE UNHEARD BY THE OTHER CHARACTERS.  JACU ONLY EVER HAS AN INNER VOICE EXCEPT WHERE SHE IS CHATTERING AND SCREECHING)
HELENA 1: When I stopped moving, night and day made no difference any more.
JACU: Always daytime.  No one can sleep.

MUSIC: HELENA'S THEME.
HELENA 1: Always daytime. Helena, they say, don't give up.  Always the harsh daylight, reality, this is how it is; this is how it will be for ever more.  Night and day make no difference now. Life and death make no difference.  No life without the night.  No one touches me now.

FADE. MUSIC OUT.
SCENE 2 LABORATORY ACOUSTIC. M ONKEY NOISES: THE RESEARCH CENTRE AND BREEDING COLONY FOR CAPUCHIN AIDES TO QUADRIPLEGICS.
JONATHAN: She's so little, isn't she? Her face is like a little child's face.  D'you think they miss their mothers?
BERNIE: They're monkeys, Jonathan.  Stop projecting.
JONATHAN: They're chosen because they're like us, though, aren't they?
BERNIE: She's making her public debut today.
JONATHAN: Joining you at the lectern?
JACU: They say that in the forest where I come from man is changing nature.  No more green darkness of the forest.  (Pause.)  Where IS my mother?
SCENE 3 SCHOOL ACOUSTIC.  FIRST DAY OF TERM.
MOTHER: Don't you want to say goodbye to me, Helena?
SISTER MARINA: Let her go and make friends, Mrs Francis.  It's better she doesn't realise you're leaving.
MOTHER: I hope I'm doing the right thing.
SISTER MARINA: It's better for everyone that way.
MOTHER: No, I mean she needs. . . She's an odd little girl.  I don't know what to do with her. I thought perhaps friends her own age. I thought. . . I don't know really.
SISTER MARINA: Don't worry, Mrs Francis.  We'll take care of her for you.
MOTHER: Yes.  Well.  I'd better go, then.
HELENA
(as a child)
Mummy?
SCENE 4 JUNGLE: A SOUTH AMERICAN INDIAN VILLAGE.  SHOUTS.  WE HEAR WOMEN AND CHILDREN CRYING, MEN SHOUTING.  INTERWEAVE UNDER HELENA SOUNDS OF SCHOOL PLAYGROUND.
JACU:. They took me from my mother when I was a child.  A man from the Indian Protection Service came and took us all away, to school, he said.  They made us work.
HELENA 1: Mother.  I remember your perfume.  I remember you sitting on my bed reading me a story before I went to sleep.  I remember finding my clothes ready in the morning.
JACU: There was a mill for crushing the cane, and to save the horses they used four children to turn the wheel.  One day the Indian Protection Service agent called in a carpenter to make an oven for the farmhouse.  When the carpenter had finished, the agent asked him hat he wanted for doing the job.  He said he wanted an Indian girl.  The agent took him to the mission school and told him to choose one.  No one saw or heard of her again.

START TO DRIFT BACKGROUND AWAY.  DEADISH ACOUSTIC.
HELENA 1: When they send you away to school you cry at night and something dies inside you.  Perhaps you never really go home again after that.  Love means pain.  Home is somewhere far away.  Darkness means a time at last to cry.
JACU: Later I heard my mother was very ill and I wanted to see her, before she died. I ran away to see her.  When I got back they thrashed me with a raw hide whip.  Perhaps the missionary couldn't hear me crying.
SCENE 5 LECTURE ROOM ACOUSTIC. BERNIE TELLING THE STUDENTS ABOUT THE SIMIAN AIDES SCHEME.
BERNIE: This little one is something of a pet at the centre.  She's called Jacu.  That's a word used by the Bororos tribe of Brazil, where she comes from, and it means, forest bird.  She is, as you can see, quite socialised. She doesn't mind being held by me, in fact she likes it.  She has been living with me at home for nearly three years.  I've just brought her back to the Centre, ready to train her.  I gave her her name. She knew it was her name right from the start.  Didn't you, Jacu?

Lobby Talk by Juliet Ace and Vic Aiken

In our other example playwright Juliet Ace was inspired by journalist Vic Aiken's account of Coco the famous parrot, who sat in his cage on the bar of the journalists' hotel during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Beirut.

Radio is certainly the best medium to have a parrot as the narrator.

Incidentally Walid the camp barman was jealous of Coco who grabbed the journalists' attention.  It is believed that under cover of the Israeli bombardment it was he who shot Coco.

Writers: think of angels, animals, plants, inanimate objects or whatever as narrators.

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LOBBY TALK

Actors: try playing Coco and Walid before you listen to the track.  Do you have any criticisms of your own performance or direction - or, later, of the production on the track?  Do you think the monologue is too long or that it could have been performed - or directed - in a different way?

Director: What advice would you give to the actor playing Coco to help her or him to enthral the listener?

(THE GENERAL BACKGROUND NOISE IN THE HOTEL FOYER IS MUFFLED.  WE ARE IN THE PARROT'S CAGE, WHICH IS COVERED BY A CLOTH.)
ANNOUNCER 'Lobby Talk', a play dedicated to Coco the parrot by Juliet Ace and Vic Aicken, with Steve Hodson as Coco and Andrew Sachs as Walid.
COCO: When anyone asks why I am covered with a cloth at this time of day, Walid tells them I am getting on, and need an afternoon nap.  The truth is, that whilst I could give him a good few years, my stamina, wit and untiring ability to communicate and delight, outstrip his meagre efforts.  However, when he thinks to punish me, he does me a favour.  Tea time at the Commodore is dead time.  The faded Brits teeter in on high heels, bleating for toasted tea cakes, but settling for sticky pastry drenched in honey.
But I am being remiss.  My name is Coco.  I might have preferred the dignity of Charles or Winston or Dwight...but in these difficult times, Coco is probably safer.  My owner, a journalist whose name does not spring immediately to mind, left me here some years ago.  Fouad, the Manager, could see that the ladies and gentlemen of the press, far from home and family, would appreciate someone who could speak to them in their own language and be sympathetic in their darker moments.  So here I am.
(SQUAWKS TWICE)  I rank pretty high in parrot terms.  I may not match particular parrots who appear in novels of magical realism...  But - and this is important - I exist.  I am internationally famous and I have learnt to speak more languages than any other parrot I have heard of.
You must understand however that I cannot separate one language from another...  I do not have that facility.  Therefore I hear all languages as one.  A language whose vocabulary extends into millions of words.  More complex than Esperanto and without accent.  What I hear, you will hear.
(THE CLOTH IS WHIPPED OFF THE CAGE.  THE HOTEL SOUNDS ARE AUGMENTED TO PROPER PITCH)
WALID: OK.  Wake up.  But behave yourself. O ne word out of place, I might shut you up for good.
COCO: (INTERNAL VOICE)  Boring little man.
(ALOUD.  SQUAWKS)  Gimme a scotch.
WALID: Shut up!.
COCO: Gimme a scotch.  A large one you fool.
WALID (HIGH PITCHED) Shut up!   Shut up! (
(COCO SQUAWKS AGAIN, THEN WHISTLES THE FIRST COUPLE OF BARS OF THE MARSEILLAISE HITTING A FINAL WRONG NOTE)
WALID: (OFF)  One day he'll open his mouth once too often.
COCO: (INTERNAL VOICE)  And so will he.

   More notes to actors:

The following should help with the above monologues:
Remember that your audience is one listener.  
That audience may be multiplied a million times; 
but radio is essentially an intimate and personal medium.
Radio acting as well as being a dialogue with other actors is also a dialogue with the listener.  
In a dialogue you are inviting the listener to eavesdrop; 
while a monologue is a direct dialogue with the listener.

The following precepts should help you to give colour and variety to a passage and prevent it 
from sounding read.  
Through the spoken word and other aural devices:

1. Paint pictures in the theatre of the listener's mind.

2. Share your (character's) thoughts and feelings with the listener.

3. Invite him or her to anticipate, to share a sense of danger or of desire.   
   Thus you will get the listener to identify with your character.

4. Pose queries and questions.  Invite them to anticipate replies and information.  

5. If appropriate you could inject a note of longing and urgency at the beginning of a scene, 
   to help the listener to listen with eager anticipation.

6. React to the imagined expression on the listener's face.

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We recommend:

We also recommend the following radio scripts: Polaris by Fay Weldon in Best Radio Plays of 1978, I Never Killed My German and Of the Levitation at St Michael's by Carey Harrison in A Suffolk Trilogy, The Village Fete by Peter Tinniswood in Best Radio Plays of 1987, Cigarettes and Chocolate by Anthony Minghella in Best Radio Plays of 1988, Death and the Tango by John Fletcher and Song of the Forest by Tina Pepler in Best Radio Plays of 1990 and In the Native State by Tom Stoppard in Best Radio Plays of 1991.  Sadly some of these scripts are out of print.  However you should be able to order them from your local library

We also recommend the recording of Lee Hall's wonderful first radio play, I Luv U Jimmy Spud.  Lee went on to write the screenplay of Billy Elliot.