Staged: a ‘seeing-eye dog’ scene

I’m trying something new this summer, taking this weekly play writing class at Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago.

Over the course of 10 weekly 3-hour sessions that start on June 4, 2016, students will explore the process of creating a 2-minute play in the Too Much Light style, writing and crafting pieces based on true life experiences. The class will introduce tenets of honesty, brevity, audience connection and random chance, and will examine specific play formulas and styles that recur on stage– including monologues, object theatre, and even the difficult shortie play. The workshop culminates in a student-written performance of Too Much Light at Victory Gardens on August 13th, presented and performed for the public. In partnership with Victory Gardens’ Artist Development Workshop, Intro to TML at VG offers an opportunity to study the fundamentals of Neo-Futurism in a physically accessible setting, with accommodations provided for any student with a disability. Artists with disabilities are strongly encouraged to apply, and will be given preference in acceptance into the workshop. (The class is open to everyone; however we will strive to maintain a majority of artists with disabilities in the class.)

My Seeing Eye dog sure is calm during flights!

My Seeing Eye dog sure stays calm during flights!.

Without being able to see the other participants, I’m not sure how many of us have disabilities. The first day of class, though, a voice rang out at about my height and requested I pull Whitney completely under the chair I was sitting in. “I don’t want to run over her!” Aha! That classmate uses a wheelchair.

We all got to work right away on our first day. Introductions, exercises to help us relax, exercises to loosen up, a game to inspire creative word choice, then free writing — we wrote continuously for five minutes, without worrying about spelling or grammar. Topic: Something I Feel Strongly About.

After five minutes of free writing we took a 15-minute break. Then we got right back at it. Teachers read a few Too Much Light monologues out loud for us. We discussed ways those writers utilized good word choice, unexpected props, and unique staging to make their one-person play more interesting. Our homework? Transform our free writing “Something I Feel Strongly About” exercise into a two-minute monologue based on a true-life experience. We’d each use a prop and unique staging to perform our monologue in class the next week.

My free writing exercise betrayed my disgust with people who fake or lie about a disability to pass their pet off as a service dog. My Seeing Eye dog Whitney served as my prop and I took suggestions from the teachers about staging. Writing the monologue was fairly easy. Memorizing it? Miserable. Performing it in front of my classmates? Painful! More on memorizing without being able to read print and performing without being able to see the audience in a future blog post. For today, I’ll leave you here with my monologue script:

Scene opens with a person sitting in a straight back chair, an empty chair right behind that person, me standing and holding the back of the empty chair, my Seeing Eye dog at my side.

Me: My Seeing Eye dog leads me down the jet way and onto the plane whenever I fly somewhere. When we get to our seat, I sit down first.

I sit down in the empty seat.

Me: Then I tell her to lie down.

I point to the ground and give Whitney the “down” command.

Me: I picture her like a pile of logs.

I lean down and start shoving Whitney underneath the seat in front of me. Thanks to that person’s weight in the chair, it stays still while I squeeze Whitney under. I say the next lines while continuing to get her situated.

Me: I shove shove shove her back under the seat in front of me. She sighs a sad surrender and lays her head between my shoes.

Whitney does that.

Me: One time while I was leaning down to get Wonder Dog all situated the teenager sitting next to me tapped my back and said she had, like, this really, like, funny story to tell me. I brushed my hand over Wonder Dog’s distressed leather harness one last time to make sure her flat back was completely under the seat.

I Brush my hand over Whitney’s harness.

Me: My fingers spidered over to curl her tail under, too…

I spider my fingers down to Whitney’s tail and remain down there checking her out during the next couple lines.

Me: …so it wouldn’t get run over by the shaky drink cart. Finally confident that Wonder Dog was safe and sound, I scratched her nose and sat up for the funny story.

I scratch Whitney’s nose, and once I’m confident she’s under, I sit up again to deliver the next lines.

Me: The teenager told me she was traveling alone. She told me she was an only child. She told me she had a dog. She told me her German Shepherd was like a brother to her. She told me they hated to leave her brother at home when they traveled.

She told me her dad came up with an answer. “My dad wears sunglasses,” she said. “He, like, acts like he’s, like blind.” The teenager was laughing so hard she could hardly tell the rest. You know, about how her dad, like, had somebody at the leather shop, like, make one of those, like, harness things for Rusty. “He pretends Rusty’s a Seeing Eye dog and, like, brings him on the plane,” she said. “Can you, like, believe that?”

I lean down again to make sure Whitney is still secure under the seat in front of me. I stay down there with her to deliver the last two-word line.

Me: I could.


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