RE the current version of Ignorance

I found the idea you had for Ignorance–looking at where we went wrong in terms of bliss so that we that we might find our way again—rather ambitious, but nonetheless compelling. The version currently posted on the blog seems to have abandoned that idea altogether. Why? I was especially dismayed by the balloon with the Happy Face as some kind of symbol—of what I’m not sure. In any event, I once took a screenwriting course in which the instructor said that the only way people will pay good money to see a depressing movie is if there is some kind of actual or potential redemption at the end. In that role, the balloon with the Happy Face just doesn’t make it. Oddly enough, its floating into the grid at the end feels the opposite of hopeful, even cynical. It also feels like a cop-out that trivializes the subject matter. Satirizing the subject is one thing, but trivializing it is a mistake. People tend to take the possibility of happiness very seriously, even if they suspect that it’s illusory.

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28 Responses to RE the current version of Ignorance

  1. Ter. E says:

    Maybe a luminous floating Istvan? Hark, unto us is born a Pink Floyd albino alligator?? Lo, Nietzsche himself???

    I think it should be something different for each performance.

  2. Judd Trout says:

    This is all great stuff. I totally agree that one of the most beautiful things we could leave the audience with is a long view on where we’re headed… I think, as a culture, or maybe as a species, we tend to have a pretty nearsighted perception of the future, and we really should be thinking as far ahead as we do backwards into our history. If our show is set, say, 30,000 years ago, why not imagine what we’ll be like 30,000 years from now? I like to think we’ll be in a state of perpetual bliss, to be sure. Or, as Nietzsche might have it, we might not place such a high value on happiness as the end of ends; after all, “Mankind does not strive for happiness; only the Englishman does that.” (One of Nietsche’s weirdest axioms, if you ask me. Although — here’s something interesting, maybe: the word he uses, Glück, is variously translated as ‘pleasure’ or ‘happiness;’ I think he’s taking a stab at the banality of English Utilitarianism, so I think the better translation is the latter. But Glück, as I understand it, means both ‘happiness’ and ‘luck.’ The two concepts are the same thing in English too — ‘happiness’ has the same root as ‘happenstance’ and ‘perhaps,’ i.e., it’s not something you control, it’s something that happens to you, as in, good fortune. I think Nietzsche would call that decadence — throwing up your hands and waiting for the cosmos to grant you good things, instead of going out and throttling the good things into submission using your aesthetic will. He’s a confusing guy, that Nietzsche… but my main point is that the view to the future is a great way to end this play. And as we’re writing the next draft (with the narration included) it’s turning out to be very tricky to end it with a solution to the problems it poses — that doesn’t sound triumphantly fake. If I knew how to achieve universal and eternal bliss, or reach the Omega point, then I’d already have floated off into the ether, and I wouldn’t be trying to make puppet shows, I bet. And there might be something really great about leaving the audience to ponder the unimagined glory of the distant future.
    The Happy Face is so deeply entwined with the script as it stands, it is hard for me to figure out another approach — the whole show sets it up. Something that bursts out of the balloon could be really great.. or could the glowing balloon itself do the trick? My instinct — and Lord knows I could be horribly wrong — is that we can make that enormous luminous/numinous thing stand for everything that we’re talking about. I recall seeing, at some festival somewhere, the moon rising over the trees — utterly beautiful, and then we realized that it was a glowing balloon that somebody had tethered just a hundred feet away. If not a star, then a heavenly object, at least. And if we can pull off having the thing float into the audience, it’ll be a kind of dancing.

  3. Meliadice says:

    As I was reading Mercedes’ comments about Nietzsche, I was for some reason reminded of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the French philosopher and Jesuit priest, who trained as a paleontologist and geologist and took part in the discovery of both Piltdown Man and Peking Man. His primary book, The Phenomenon of Man, sets forth a sweeping account of the unfolding of the cosmos in a great upward movement to ever greater complexity and inwardness, from matter to life to mind. All the self-organization and selection of nature, maturing slowly through the eons, are brought to fruition as we humans make the power of God come alive throughout the universe. The upward movement reaches its climax with Christ, who becomes the visible center of evolution as well as its goal. At this “Omega Point,” the entire cosmos becomes One and humans become “children of God” in every sense of the word.

    Given the present state of the world, it is hard to imagine such an outcome, but I am inclined to embrace the possibility anyway. If I had to visualize the Omega Point, it would be a star going supernova, not a smiley face. Or, if the smiley face has attained the status of a given, perhaps it might explode in a shower of light that unveils the star hidden within it. Apropos Mercedes’ last sentence, the star could then “dance” into the grid. It makes a certain kind of sense when you remember that “when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.”

  4. Mercedes says:

    I find myself unable to let go of a feeling of uneasiness when it comes to the happy face balloon. I’ve tried to figure out why this is the case, and I’ve given it a lot of thought so that I can better understand myself. Unexpectedly, I’ve stumbled upon a thought that might be useful to those creating this play –at least I hope so.

    For a long while I thought that it was in fact the happy face balloon itself that was making me feel uneasy: First I thought it was the impermanent nature of the balloon, poised at any moment for deflation or explosion, but realized this wasn’t it. The balloon, as motif in the play, points to the impermanence of happiness as that elusive thing or concept we all strive to attain yet we can only, if we are lucky, grasp for a brief moment. In an era where words are being abandoned for sideways happy faces, this post-modern symbol for the impermanence of happiness works well as a short-hand symbol for our image-hungry society where thoughts are no longer being written, expressed or taken to their logical or illogical conclusions. So I actually like the chosen symbol if that, the impermanence and elusive quality of happiness, is what the play is hoping to dramatize. Then I thought it was the strangeness of a woman giving birth to a happy face balloon that made me uneasy, since there is no thing that could stand in –at least for me- for a breathing being. (A puppet can and does get around this, as its power lies in the puppeteer’s ability to breath life into it and thus overcome its inanimate nature. The happy face ballon does not possess this quality and it might be because it’s too far away from the form of a live being, making it difficult for us to ‘breathe’ life into it either through our imagination or by manipulating it to suspend our disbelief.) Procreating and ultimately giving birth, be it the birth of an animal, plant or human animal, is the key to our existence, the miracle of miracles that allows every species to still be in the running for evolutionary change. It is the link, the baton species have in the race towards being and, ultimately, the key to changing, evolving, and yes, the future: the future of being, our beings and of the species. In this sense, an inanimate, unchanging thing such as the happy face balloon leaves me unsatisfied, and I think it creates stagnation. It creates stagnation in my mind, in the play, and in the species of caveman to modern man. In short, it does not create a sense of hope in me and I think it does a disservice to the exploration and depiction of prehistoric man and its path to us -modern humans- or what it has become (or what we have, through the passing of time, made him become). And so here is where my mind took hold of an idea introduced to me in my adolescence, in the time when I was ceasing being a child and becoming a woman: the Übermensch.

    Yes, it was Nietzsche who said that the same jump ape made to become man is the jump that man needs to make in order to become the Übermensch. “I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?
    All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the overman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment…”

    And so I think I finally figured out what has been making me uneasy about the happy face balloon. There is a great opportunity in this play, to not only explore, think about and depict man from our prehistoric ancestors to our modern day companions, but to go further and point to where we are going, to what we are all creating –the man of the future. If the woman gives birth to a balloon, I think the play will miss a great opportunity. For what is the birth of each man but a step towards the birth of the future man and thus of all men? The play has done a good fob so far of taking us back and forth from prehistoric man to modern man, but to what end? Is it to comment on the fact that we all (prehistoric man, modern man, and all those in between) have and are in the quest to attain happiness even though it is transient and elusive? What is happiness? Happiness, as I think Nietzsche claims, is the ability man has to go under, to inhabit chaos in search of overcoming him or herself, our will to power in order to ultimately create the Übermensch. Contrasted with living for procreation, pleasure, or happiness, the will to power is the summary of all man’s struggle against his surrounding environment as well as his reason for living in it.
    “Man is a rope,” Nietzsche writes, “tied between beast and overman–a rope over an abyss…
What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end: what can be loved in man is that he is an overture and a going under…”
    “I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. I say unto you: you still have chaos in yourselves. 
 Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer give birth to a star. Alas, the time of the most despicable man is coming, he that is no longer able to despise himself. Behold, I show you the last man. ‘What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?’ thus asks the last man, and blinks. 
 The earth has become small, and on it hops the last man, who makes everything small. His race is as ineradicable as the flea; the last man lives longest. 
 ‘We have invented happiness, ‘say the last men, and they blink. They have left the regions where it was hard to live, for one needs warmth. One still loves one’s neighbor and rubs against him, for one needs warmth…
 One still works, for work is a form of entertainment. But one is careful lest the entertainment be too harrowing. One no longer becomes poor or rich: both require too much exertion. Who still wants to rule? Who obey? Both require too much exertion. 
 No shepherd and one herd! Everybody wants the same, everybody is the same: whoever feels different goes voluntarily into a madhouse. 
 ‘Formerly, all the world was mad,’ say the most refined, and they blink…
 One has one’s little pleasure for the day and one’s little pleasure for the night: but one has a regard for health. 
 ‘We have invented happiness,’ say the last men, and they blink.” (From Nietzsche’s Thus spoke Zarathustra, -Walter Kaufmann translation)
    The last man, Nietzsche tells us, believes he has invented happiness. So let us not invent or try to hold on to happiness as the last man does, let us instead give birth to a dancing star, the Übermensch, the man of the future.
    Maybe Eve or a modern woman can give birth not to a balloon, but to the last man, who will die some day after the many days of the last men are lived and give birth to the Übermensch. Or better yet, we jump all that and the woman gives birth to our dancing star. I think our imagination can be of great help here in trying to imagine what this dancing star or man of the future might look like. It’s a good opportunity to comment on what we are doing to our species and about where we are at in the race to becoming what we will become. Is it that Eve gives birth to superman? Or to a half-man, half-automaton? Or a robot? Or an alien-looking being with no use for strength and thus thin short arms, with huge eyes to see all the images created by and for him? Or is it a huge brain with no limbs or body to tie him to the material plain, merely existing in a virtual or imagined reality? What will this being look like? What is it that we have all been giving birth to since apes gave birth to us? I hope, it’s true, that one day we will all give birth to our dancing star.

  5. petertrout says:

    This is so good…the point in a collaborated process where some juice really starts flowing…without this kind of energy these points would never surface…and all of it valid and useful to the process. The Trouts have been able in the past to create in this manner because there is a great deal of love and respect that is brought to bear…we can pull off the gloves and enter the arena of bear knuckles creation and hug each other after the struggle…keep up the courage all…have no doubt that everything being offered has an impact.

    One other thing…remember that we are building a puppet show…puppets can handle topic and situation like no human actor ever could…sometimes they really love the gutter.

  6. Meliadice says:

    I find it fascinating that scholars—who should know better—treat what is sheer speculation (based on scant evidence) about our ancestors as if it were the gospel truth. That speculation then takes hold in the mind of the general public, and we end up with an image like the one on the Trout Web site. The guy LOOKS dumb and brutal, so he must BE dumb and brutal. That, my friends, is reasoning at its most primitive level. Having stood in awe and wonder before the paintings in the Cave of Altamira (before it was closed to the public), I’m perfectly willing to entertain the notion that instead of going from beast to angel, we’ve gone from angel to beast. Now there’s an idea for a show that would be daring and provocative, not to mention a blow to our 21st century egos.

    • Judd Trout says:

      I think the question of whether we’re on our way up the ladder or down it is a really interesting one. I don’t know if it’s coming across in the current version (looks like it’s not), but the show is meant to raise that question, in particular with regard to our happiness. I think it’s an old question — as old as the Old Testament, at least — with great poetic power, and I hope the final version will do a good job of asking: are we on our way out of paradise, or on our way to it, or both, or neither? And: why?
      About the photograph on the website: it’s a photo of a sculpture of a Neanderthal, made for a diorama at the Field Museum in Chicago, in the 1930’s. I myself never read brutality into that face, for whatever that’s worth. I think it’s a beautiful image; I came across it one day and I must say it inspired the show in many ways. One of the things I like about it is that it’s old: the way we picture our ancestors (or, in this case, our ancestors’ relatives) has changed a great deal over the centuries, and will continue to change — so the picture highlights the malleability of our interpretations, to me, at least.

  7. Judd Trout says:

    Here’s my take on it: any show about cave-people has got to take both the low road and the high road. It’s a show about the earliest moments of humanity, the first steps on the road from beast to angel, and we’ve got to have that contrast in order to have a story — that’s the intention, anyway. We’re certainly not aiming for “sheer ugliness for shock value,” and if we’re coming off that way then that’s not good. So thanks for the critique.

  8. Neandertaler says:

    I think there’s a lesson in all this for us, online ranters. I agree with Mediadice that even an “open creation” project requires decidedly undemocratic final decisions from the writer and, ultimately, the director. I’ve seen quite a few collective theatre creations that didn’t work because no one unifying mind eventually “had final cut.” Even stories handed down for thousands of years through oral tradition still get shaped definitively in the particular performance of a particular storyteller. That doesn’t mean that bouncing ideas around in a group can’t be productive; I’ve read many things on this site that would inspire me if I were the writer and/or director. But I find things most interesting when they are personal responses, no matter how wild or weird, and less so when they veer towards the “if I were you, I would…”

    As for daring and provocative theater, Shakespeare didn’t really shy away from references to “humping” and “bum-fucking” (not so sure about the latter) or dispatching people with weapons blunt or sharp. King Lear himself ends up in a dark, depressing cave with his eyes gouged out, then gets hanged alongside the only people that really loved him — not exactly an uplifting experience (except perhaps in the literal sense, if I’m allowed a bad joke). As always, it’s not so much what is done on stage as how it’s done that makes the difference between gratuitous violence (or sex) and heart-expanding, soul-enlarging theatre…

  9. Meliadice says:

    I wish that I still had something useful to contribute to the conversation, but I’m afraid I don’t. “Humping,” “bum-fucking,” beating people to death with clubs and giving birth to smiley faces is just not where I’m at, either in my life or my writing. Once upon a time, I might have considered all that daring and provocative theater, but now it drives me out of the theater at the first intermission, unless it’s possible to get out sooner. The last performance I abandoned was an “updated” version of “King Lear” at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, DC. The coup de grâce for me was a guy (wearing a wife-beater t-shirt and sporting a Mohawk) simulating oral sex on one of Lear’s daughters to the sound of heavy metal. I have no objection to onstage nudity and simulated sex, provided that it is organic to the plot—e.g., “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” What I do object to is to is the presentation of sheer ugliness for its shock value. In that spirit, I concluded my response to a critic who gave the play a laudatory review with the following: “Call me old-fashioned, but when I go to the theater, I want to be transported to another realm, not mugged in my seat.”

    It is in your power to transport your audiences beyond the narrow confines of their lives, inspire them, give them hope. It is equally in your power to lock them in a dark, depressing cave with only their fears and a plastic smiley face for company. Since I live some 2,500 miles from you, I will never know which path you’ve chosen, but I hope that when all is said and done you’ll decide to take the high road—which, by the way, always has the spectacular views that expand the heart and enlarge the soul.

  10. Judd Trout says:

    Thanks for that. I guess the idea of this site, though, is to see if there isn’t some value in opening up the discussion beyond one or another person’s gut instincts. It might be true that the guts will (or should) always override what’s easily expressible in text, but I think it’s an interplay between those two aspects of the endeavour that make for good art… and I think lots of people’s guts, put together, can produce something one person’s guts couldn’t have done alone. I don’t think of this process as an advance polling — I think of it as an experiment in group creation. I’d say the show is currently in the place it’s in because of the conversation that’s happened here, and so, according to me: so far, so good, onwards!

  11. Meliadice says:

    I guess my answer to your final question (“Anybody buy it?”), Judd, is that you shouldn’t care. Since “happiness” is concept with no fixed content, value or boundaries, we’re all going to have different ideas of what constitutes that particular state of grace. Practically speaking, that means you will never succeed in pleasing everyone, so why worry about pleasing anyone but yourself? I realize that I’m tearing at the foundations of your desire to have this be something of a group effort (“open creation”), but even you say that you’ll make the final decisions. I myself have written six novellas, two plays and a dozen or so short stories, so I feel qualified to tell you that that’s the way it should be. As the ultimate author of “Ignorance,” you have every right to choose the idea of happiness that resonates with you. Whether the reception of the work is ecstatic, lukewarm or outraged is something you can’t control—not even by advance polling—so I’d just go for whatever your heart and gut tell you is right.

  12. Judd Trout says:

    So do I.

    This is what I’ve been pondering: I personally never thought of the final image as cynical — interesting that it seems to be reading that way to everybody else. I do think the evolution of the idea of happiness, as a reward for striving, is a double-edged sword, and so any final statement has to have some complexity to it, for sure, and hopefully leave some questions in folks’ minds. But to me the great big luminous happy face balloon does communicate both a yes and an oh-no… obviously it’s been used by counter-culture in various ways to criticize, but its original intent is also there, too, I think. I mean to post properly on this subject, but for today let me clarify:

    Eve is giving birth! She gets into position, and as she grunts and shrieks, the stage dims to darkness. A light glimmers softly, and then a faintly glowing, wrinkly shape emerges; it grows bigger, and glows brighter. Music begins to play, unlike the music we’ve heard for the rest of the play — it’s not primitive, it’s symphonic, operatic even: the Future! The glowing shape gets bigger and bigger and bigger, until we realize that it’s an enormous balloon, with what we suddenly see unfolding on its surface (from what we first saw as crooked scribbles) is a beatific smile — it’s seven feet wide now, and luminous, and then it is released into the world, bouncing into the audience, and then floating above their heads like some marvellous moon; the audience’s faces are illuminated in the glow, and for the first time in the play they see each other, everybody watching as the moon rises above them. It’s ridiculous, and it’s beautiful, and for a moment, they feel happy.
    Anybody buy it?

  13. Meliadice says:

    Now that the conversation has descended to the level of “vomit,” I will quit the field, leaving it to those with the stomach for mindless sound bytes.

    • Ter. E says:

      Sorry I brought it up.

      I really do appreciate what you have written, and I hope you will continue to contribute.

  14. Ter. E says:

    If the play is going to make people vomit, best to make them vomit all the way, and with passion.

  15. Neandertaler says:

    There’s already a reference to a prehistoric Happy Face in the script: “She draws a stick figure of herself, and then one of him (they have happy-faces). He doesn’t really get it. She makes it so the two stick-figures are humping. He still doesn’t get it. She draws the crown on the figure of him, and he gets it. They fall into lovemaking.” The trick would be to make it recognizable enough for us to see how it could have evolved — perhaps through spontaneous hippie art from the sixties — into the dollar store and tourist T-shirt icon of today. Those Jordanian neolithic statues are amazing, but I don’t recognize a smiley in them.

    I threw the idea out there because I have difficulty believing that people (prehistoric or modern) would to engage in a ritual that is essentially nihilistic and cynical. If everything is meaningless, why bother? But that is just speaking from the point of view of “character motivation” and “story logic.” In terms of dramatic impact, though, Eve giving birth to a modern smiley-faced balloon is a far, far stronger image and a shocking climax to wrap it all up — our comments prove as much. We get a sense that Eve’s imagination has really opened a Pandora’s box, and I don’t think we get the same feeling with a prehistoric balloon-face or an imitation baby. Perhaps, as Judd Trout says, the way the balloon baby appears, and is received, will make all the difference. I wouldn’t put it past the Trouts to convince us that the birth of this worthless Happy Face is the greatest thing that ever happened to mankind, even if it also spells our doom. Something to mill over for a while, I guess…

    Here’s a possible reference for Eve’s rock art in the story; it’s from Alice Roberts’ series “The Incredible Human Journey,” which may provide inspiration overall as well. It’s interesting to see that the style of British documentary film making hasn’t changed all that much really, in spite of a more compassionate and decidedly sexier commentator than those pompous disembodied voices of yore. But anyway, 4 minutes into this episode a man appears that I absolutely adore. He spends his time trying to figure out how cave people stenciled their hands on the rock. I love everything about him: his accent, the charcoal on his face, the beret of the quintessential French artiste, the sound of his spitting… Definitely worth checking out:

  16. Meliadice says:

    I think that Neandertaler is onto something. I was very much taken with the idea of the “birth of the original, prehistoric Happy Face, something that incarnates pure happiness as the cave puppeteers/shamans might have imagined it, an archetypal, transcendent being, perhaps crudely represented but nevertheless glorious and numinous.” At first, I couldn’t begin to imagine what it might look like, but then I remembered an exhibit of Neolithic statues found in Jordan that I had seen at the Sackler Gallery in DC. The images that you can look at online ( really don’t do them justice. All during the visit to the gallery, I kept going back to them, looking into their eyes—which to me conveyed an innocent happiness and wonder that pulled me in completely.

  17. Neandertaler says:

    I’ve been thinking about all this for a while… I agree that there is something dissatisfying about the end as it stands. Apart from it being cynical, it seems hypocritical in some way. If imagination and artistic inspiration are the reason for our downfall as a species and the destruction of our planet, then what’s the point of the Trouts taking our money so they can continue to show us cleverly crafted expressions of their dreams and visions? And why would the puppeteers in the show continue to perform a ritual that proves to themselves and their audiences that there really is no future? For the same reason I find it difficult to accept that Eve’s visions turn out to be merely a trick performed by a monster that wants to eat her. Eve discovers happiness as a result of a vision sent to her by something that wants to destroy her; in spite of that, she manages to survive and bring happiness into the world, except that it turns to be an illusion. I’m afraid it’s a bit of a mind-fuck that I have trouble wrapping my head around.

    On the other hand, I do love how the birth of the smiley balloon at the end ties the two strands of the story together in a chicken-and-egg sort of way, if you’ll excuse the expression, and I agree with all the points Judd Trout makes in defense of a complex symbol that is part character, part concept. But for me too, the birth of a child is one of the most profound experiences you can have (even as a relatively passive bystander). I think the shock of the balloon’s birth comes exactly from the fact that it is a mass-produced, cheap, overused and hypocritical icon in our society and that there isn’t really a way it can be presented to us as “luminescent and gorgeous” in anything like the form that we know it in–it’s too much like watching the birth of Mickey Mouse. Perhaps we need to witness the birth of the original, prehistoric Happy Face, something that incarnates pure happiness as the cave puppeteers/shamans might have imagined it, an archetypal, transcendent being, perhaps crudely represented but nevertheless glorious and numinous, that will lead people on a millennial quest of hope and that ultimately, in our time, will become downgraded and perverted into a cheap, mass-produced, meaningless icon. If the documentary narrator is condescending and cynical at this point, that wouldn’t bother me because I would have witnessed the moment when all our positive human aspirations were born when the world was young, and that alone can give me hope in the same way that I find it hopeful that there is still a tribe in our modern world “untouched” enough to throw spears at a passing helicopter…

    To be honest, those littlecrazymonkey “baby puppets” give me the creeps! I think they’re worse than smiley balloons: fake babies that don’t need diapers — dump them in a desk drawer when you’re tired of them, or simply toss them out! I would positively scream if at the end of the show Eve gave birth to one of these latex monstrosities! Then again, it would be a very strong image: a puppet giving birth to a “real looking” human… Maybe, o horror of horrors, the smiley balloon should be its placenta! Yikes!

  18. Meliadice says:

    Yes, yes! A puppet baby! (Check out The balloon drifts in just as Eve places the baby in a rough crib. She ties the balloon to the crib. The balloon lifts the crib and carries it toward the rising sun (i.e., the future). I can hear the “hopeful” music now.

  19. Judd Trout says:

    Fair points. Awesome. I was hoping this process would get a little scrappy at some point. And I think that whatever comes out of this exchange will be better than what went in, so this is great. Although I think it’s important to the process that I give it my best shot to defend the ideas as best I can — but all in the spirit of honing the final product, if you see what I mean. So here goes:
    First, I think a symbol is strengthened by revealing different faces, not weakened. It would be bad, in my view, if a symbol meant the same thing every time we saw it — I think we can compare the development of a symbol’s significance to plot development, or at least that’s the experiment at work. In a play centred around a concept instead of a character (and all plays, in some sense, might be considered that way), then that concept should change in the way a plot changes — you wonder what’s going to happen next to the concept — instead of wondering what will happen to a character. Because it’s a puppet show, and it’s personified, the Happy Face Balloon is somewhere in between a character and a concept, which is kind of nice, I think.
    The feather in Forrest Gump would be one example of a motif running through a story, but it’s a pretty fundamental tool in story-telling through the ages, I think. (I confess to being a little vague on the technicalities of the literary terms here… not sure what the difference is between a symbol and a motif and a metaphor and so on, but hopefully I’m making sense.) Maybe a question to ask would be: what’s a better motif? Maybe it’s not the idea of having a motif that bothers us, maybe it’s the motif in particular. It’s true that it’s super obvious, but that, to me, is what makes it comprehensible and, well, funny.
    Second, I can see how the final image could be interpreted as cynical. Now, imagine if it was accompanied by hopeful narration, and music, and the thing glowed from within so that it was actually luminescent and gorgeous, and we all went through a series of emotions as it happened, first an uncomfortable laughter, but then, as it grows and glows we start to think it’s actually really beautiful, and then we reinterpret what we’ve seen in a new light…
    as opposed to… what? A puppet baby? Does that do it better? How else would we express the miracle that we’re trying to express? If we do follow a balloon through the play, wouldn’t it be odd to not follow through on the idea, once we’ve set it up so strongly? (A note — the current design thinking for the puppets is that they’re crudely made, as if by cave-people — simplified to basic elements, two eyes, a mouth, a round head… i.e., like the happy face. Except not smiling. The cave drawings would be like that too — super stripped down attempts to communicate the basics of the human face.)

  20. cimmeron says:

    I have to agree with Meliadice that the ending currently leaves me feeling confused and frankly a bit offended. I suppose that’s better than leaving me apathetic, but that last image that we are giving the audience before leaving the theatre is of utmost importance, it’s what people are going to carry away with them and remember. Right now it just seems to be an attempt at a clever way of neatly wrapping everything up with some kind of sarcastic button that’s supposed to make me think. But think of what? Think of how ironic and pointless it all is? It’s kind of a let down to the epic saga of the cave story. I guess my point is.. the birth of a child is an incredibly moving and important part of life. In fact for me, it was undeniably the happiest moment in my life. I would rather weep with joy because the last moment of the play reminds me that it is possible to be wrapped up in a feeling of complete bliss and happiness in this life, than to be upset and confused by an image that plays counterpoint to a deep truth that we all share.
    Not to mention that the whole smiley face balloon thing itself kind of reminds me of forest gump and the feather thing, only not as effective. And that makes me kind of want to vomit a bit in my own mouth. I’m not sure we really need the smiley face on the balloon at all to pull off the idea we are after… if the balloon is just a symbol of a thing that will make us happy, then it can just be a balloon.

    On a more positive note, perhaps the reaction is so strong because I do care deeply for our cave Adam and Eve by the end of the story. You have succeeded in arguing the thesis that it is our hope for the future that can give us happiness today… that is why the birth is so important. We deserve happiness, we can have happiness and we don’t need to get it from a yellow balloon with a smiley face. If that is the message than I think ending the show with Eve giving birth to the massive happy face balloon is a giant fail.

    PS. Otherwise I loved the draft and where you are going with it! It’s awesome and I can’t wait to see what’s next..

  21. Meliadice says:

    Whether or not we are saved by a belief in the future, and whether or not suffering has meaning, are pretty heady questions for a brief comment, so I’ll confine myself to the balloon with the Happy Face. I think the real problem with that symbol is that you’ve asked it to bear too great a burden of meaning in too many different contexts. If as you say the balloon represents the temporary, the mass-produced, the inflated and the empty, what is one to make of Eve giving birth to one? I saw Adam’s sacrifice of his body as an act of love for his mate and unborn child, so the child’s turning out to be a balloon trivialized that sacrifice to the point of making me cringe. Why not try connecting the dots—i.e., the places where you’ve used the balloon—to see if the meaning changes radically from place to place? A symbol should register quickly and on an unconscious level. The last thing you want to have happen is for it to become the object of audience speculation that might go something like this: “Okay, here’s the balloon again. It doesn’t seem to mean the same thing as it did the last time I saw it, so what does it mean here?” That would be a real “show stopper,” but unfortunately not the good kind.

  22. Judd Trout says:

    Thank you! Good points. You could be right. This is what we’re thinking, though: the narrated voice-over (which we’ll post soon) will attempt to explain how the birth of the imagination (which takes place in the scene with Eve’s visions in the cave) is also the birth of dissatisfaction, since the ability to conceive of a different world is also the ability to wish for it (instead of the world you’re in). There’s some actual case for this scientifically, even (not that we’re all that deeply concerned with science): the pre-frontal lobe, as I understand it, evolved to give us the capacity to predict the future, which animals have in only a limited degree. At the same time, it’s my contention that our brains project the idea of possible happiness into the future, even while denying it to us in the present — it gets us off our arses, because we think we have to do something (invent the wheel, seek out new territory, etc.) in order to be happy. In other words, dissatisfaction is an evolutionary advantage — in fact, the thing that has made us so successful as a species, even if as individuals the system can break down really horribly. What saves us is the belief in the future — we can be happy, like Adam, even as we’re dying — because we can imagine that our suffering has some future meaning (in its purest form, the hope that future generations will flourish).
    Is any of that convincing?
    It’s true that the happy-face balloon is kind of tongue-in-cheek, and, as a symbol, is in danger of being outright stupid. But there’s something to it as well — it’s an image of happiness that’s always getting away from us, that’s temporary, that’s mass-produced, that ends up shrivelled, that’s bright and joyous but also inflated and empty, that could well be a hideous thing to waste your life pursuing. In other words, it’s a suggestion that maybe we’re on the wrong track in our constant anxiety about whether we’re happy or not. Maybe it’s better to seek meaning than contentment, or that contentment comes from meaning. Or something like that. Viktor Frankl-ish, I guess.
    Lastly, it’s funny the way that puppets can endear themselves to an audience — hard to see it on the page, but it’s true on stage. They can carry the most intense melodrama, because for some reason (they’re smaller than us or something) we feel sympathy for them that we don’t feel for other humans. And something about puppets also means that you’re always treading a fine line between the ridiculous and the tragic — they’re blocks of wood after all. Somehow pushing the action to the tragic extreme is redeemable with puppets in a unique way.

    But all that being said, thanks again for the critique, and you could be very very very right.