ONE-ACT PLAYWRITING

One-act plays was the topic for this week’s creative writing class. We read works by different playwrights and completed a task where we created an alternate ending to a play called ‘Read About It’ by Jean Blasier. I learnt that one-act plays have one act, have one or two scenes, are typically thirty minutes long, focuses on one main problem or action and generally have less than four characters. 

Prior to this class, I had little understanding or appreciation for the amount of work and creativity that was involved in producing a play. Sure I had been to plays (yawn!) and musicals (snore!) but I’m not really into them (yes, I am an uncultured spud). After attempting it for myself, I realise and respect the skills a playwright must have to create an engaging and creative story. Interesting dialogue is not easy to write!  

Here was my attempt (a tiny fraction of a one-act play).


Setting: Dinner table

Characters: Henry (3yo), Kathy (mum)

Scene: Family dinner

Henry – What’s for dinner Mummy?

Kathy (smiles) – Mini sausages, Mummy’s famous potatoes and veggies.

Henry (frowns) – These aren’t potatoes, they’re chips!

Kathy – Aren’t chips made of potatoes?

Henry – No! You’re so forgetful Mummy.

Kathy – Are they maybe potato chips?

Henry (pauses and nods) – Yes, they are potato chips. These are yummy!

(Henry eats everything except his greens)

Kathy (points at a broccoli) – You want to eat some of your veggies?

Henry (shakes head) – No way man! I’m not eating that.

Kathy – You have to eat your greens.

Henry – Mummy, I can help in emergencies.

Kathy – Okay… eat your greens please.

Henry – Like fire emergencies. To put out fire.

Kathy – Awesome Henry, please eat your broccoli.

Henry – Mummy, I love you.

Kathy – I love you too Henry. Hey, lets eat a broccoli?

Henry (grabs leg) – My leg hurts Mummy!

Kathy (lets out a big gigantic sigh) – Maybe eating a broccoli will fix your leg. Broccoli is a super vegetable.

Henry – I need to go poo!

(Henry goes to the toilet)

Henry – Mummy, I need to take my time.

Kathy – Hurry up Henry! Are you done yet?

Henry – No, I’m taking my time. You can’t rush me Mummy.

(Twenty minutes later, Henry and Kathy return to the dinner table)

Kathy – Ok, your veggies are now cold but you still have to eat them.

Henry – I want apple juice!

Kathy – We don’t have any. Here’s your water.

Henry – But I need juice or I’ll vomit.

Kathy – Henry, I am getting fed up with your procrastinating. Eat your veggies or you can go to bed right this minute!

Henry (reluctantly picks up a broccoli) – How much?

Kathy – All of it.

Henry (whimpers) – I only want the top. And I don’t like carrots or beans.

Kathy – Eat it!

Henry (takes a bite and pretends to dry retch) – It’s yucky. I don’t like it.

Kathy (glares) – One.

Henry (whimpers and puts broccoli to mouth) – You’re not my best friend. You’re rude to me.

Kathy – Two.

Henry (puts into his mouth)

Kathy – Swallow it…

Henry (swallows one bite of broccoli) – Finish! I’m a good boy Mummy.

Kathy (sighs) – Only another three broccoli tops, three carrots and two beans to go.


Links to the previous homework tasks: Week One – A Slice of Life, Week Two – My Faulty Character Descriptions, Week Three – Short Short Stories.

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HOW TO SURVIVE TODDLERHOOD

I love my children. LOTS. But sometimes, I wish I could find a really good hidey hole and not come out for a while. Children, especially toddlers are great at testing your limits. They like to push your buttons, incessantly, until your eye starts twitching, your mouth flattens into a hard grimace, and you explode like a nuclear bomb. Every parent or carer will have their own horror stories and tips for how to survive toddlerhood and/or parenthood. I’m no expert, but I have observed some interesting character traits.

They are fickle pickles.
Henry: “Mummy, close the window!”
Me: (closes the window)
Henry: “NO! NO! I said open the window!”
Me: (deep sigh, opens the window)
Henry: “I want it closed!!”
Me: “Make up your mind!” (closes the window)
Henry: (cue meltdown)

They have the memory of an elephant so don’t make promises unless you are going to deliver.
Henry: (pointing at a car ride-on) “Mummy, can I go on that?”
Me: “Sure, maybe on our way home.”
An hour passes.
Me: (arms overloaded with groceries, veering away from promised ride-on)
Henry: (pulling towards ride-on) “Mummy! Mummy, there is the car!”
Me: “Ugh, do you really want to go? How about we go home and do something fun?”
Henry: “NO! NO! You said so!”

They are the world’s best procrastinators.
Henry: (sitting on the toilet at five a.m.) “I have to take my time. I feel a poo in my bottom.”
Me: (every few minutes) “Are you done?”
Henry: “Not yet, I’m just waiting.”
Me: (frozen like a corpse on the cold hard floors after waiting for thirty minutes).

They become extremely thirsty at bedtime.
Henry: “Mummy, I need water!”
Me: “Here, now go to bed.”
Repeat cycle at least thirty times. EVERY NIGHT.

They like to push boundaries and limits, of the sanity kind.
Henry: “Beep, beep, beep!”
Mandy: “Henry, stop saying that. It’s annoying!”
Henry: “BEEP, BEEP, BEEP!”
Mandy: “Stop it!”
Henry: “BEEEEEEP!!!! BEEEEPP!!!! BEEEEPP!!”
Me: “Just ignore him, Mandy. He will get bored and stop himself.”
Henry: (continues for another ten solid minutes)
Mandy: (breaks down crying)
Me: (whispering) “Soon. It will stop soon.”

What have I learnt so far? Toddlers are unpredictable and volatile. They are prone to indecisiveness and stubbornness. Passing strangers will comment on how angelic they look until they see the switch flipped, and the tantrum-throwing, fist-bashing, leg-thrashing devil in disguise rears its screaming self.

Based on my n=2 parenting experiment, I can offer the below suggestions:

  1. Tea is an old acquaintance but coffee is your best friend. Just don’t expect to drink it hot or warm.
  2. Perfect your eye roll. You’ll need it at all stages of parenthood, so better practice now.
  3. Pretend not to hear the screeching and crying. It will morph into whingeing, bartering and begging later on. If you work on your craft, instead of pretending, you’ll eventually just not hear it.
  4. Ignore that inner voice telling you that people witnessing your child’s meltdown are judging you. Of course, they are. Jeez, that inner voice could be more helpful by telling you something you didn’t already know!
  5. Bribe with TV or snacks if you must but make sure it’s on your terms and used sparingly. Like nasal decongestants overuse can lead to loss in effect and the dreaded rebound. You do not want to invite that misery.
  6. Become a counting expert. It’s not hard. You only need to count to three.
  7. Expect tantrums. They WILL have one, at home and in public. It is NOT a reflection on you or your parenting.
  8. Don’t compare your child to other children. They are all different and special in their own way. You might even get a runner, like mine.
  9. Do what works for you and your child. Remember to laugh. Remind yourself it’s short-lived. Accept that the struggle is real and that you are not alone.
  10. Whatever you do, never ever give in to a toddler tantrum. Once you do, they WILL own your ass. Trust me, my bottom can attest to this.

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FIND YOUR STRENGTH

I walk down this well-trodden path, resigned to my fate. The sky is filled with dark clouds, threatening a downpour that will sweep me off my feet and drown me in its flood. There is no light; no rays of sunshine; no warmth. Despite efforts to protect myself, piling layers upon layers, I feel the cold penetrating into the depths of my soul. Winter is here. Well and truly.

What do you do when your mind begs to succumb to the deep pits of despair? How do you crawl out from the sinister tunnel of self-doubt? You’re in pain; mental fatigue; physical stress. You’re on the brink of shut down mode.

Oh, but The Show must go on! The children need to be fed, clothed and loved. The house should be cleaned. The bills must be paid. You have to turn up to work. People rely on you to function. Society expects your contribution. Life stops for no-one.

“Mummy, why are we going round and round?” asks Henry, my two-and-a-half-year-old son.

We’ve been driving around the neighbourhood for the last half an hour. At any moment I expect a police car to pull me over and write-up a ticket for public nuisance. I’ve taken the same roundabout ten times now and I see people peer out from curtains. I must look like I’m casing joints or seriously lost with directions.

“You need a nap,” I reply. The truth of the matter is that I need a nap but at this stage, I’ll take the consolation prize of a break. I am beyond exhausted, physically and mentally. Parenting is damn hard. It is relentless. You are on call twenty-four-seven, every day for at least eighteen years.

“Mummy, I need a chino!”

“Mummy, I did a fluff fluff!”

“Mummy, where’s Daddy?”

“Mummy, I want Donalds!”

I drive for another half an hour before there is silence. I park the car and rest my forehead on the steering wheel. It took everything I had to concentrate on driving without incident. I feel overwhelmed with the burden of responsibility. It creeps and climbs like vines, slowly choking and leaving me gasping for breath.

As I silently fall apart in the car, I realise that I need to seek help. I need to reach out to my village and remember that there are people willing to support and care for me, if only I ask. I need to pause to allow myself the time to recover so that I can gather the strength to continue.

Right now I’m merely existing, living day-to-day, going through the motions. I’m a grainy black and white. Instead, I want to be vibrant and colourful. I want loud and bright. I want to live life to its fullest.

Why? I owe it to my children and husband to be the best version of me. I owe it to myself.

For the time being, I’m reminded that after every storm, there is a rainbow.

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NEGOTIATION BREAKDOWN

Tantrums. A word that sends shivers down many a parent’s spine. An action that when unleashed in public, causes embarrassment and dismay.

Do you ignore it? Do you try to placate? Do you bribe? Or do you edge away and pretend the toddler lying facedown on the ground isn’t yours?

It’s common knowledge that toddlers lack social and emotional maturity, are at the beginning stages of language development and seek independence over their environment. As a consequence, toddlers are prone to tantrums when they become frustrated or upset. While it is a normal part of child development, it’s still painful to deal with.

“Remember Henry, if you want to walk,” I tell my tantrum-prone toddler, “you must hold Mummy’s hand.”

“Ok Mummy,” Henry replies, looking innocently at me.

I know better. I squat down to his eye level and reiterate my point. “You have to hold my hand. No running.”

“Yes Mummy,” he replies, adamant. “I will!”

“Promise?” I tease. Seriously, as if I can trust the word of a two-and-a-half-year-old.

“Promise.”

We start our hundred-metre walk to pick up his sister from school. We get two metres from the car before Henry tugs at my hand.

“Mummy! A bug!” Henry exclaims, pointing at a dead beetle.

“Oh yes, a bug.” I gently pull him along but he resists.

“Mummy, bug bite me?”

“No, it’s dead darling.” My second attempt at leaving fails.

“His Mummy and Daddy will be sad.”

I sigh. “Yes, so sad but they’ll always remember it.”

“Is it a boy or girl?”

Ah shoot. I don’t have time for this.

“I don’t know darling.” I pull him forwards.

“Hey look over there!” I point to nothing in particular.

“What?” Henry asks, his interest piqued.

“I see something interesting over there,” I lie. “Lets go have a look.”

Henry starts walking in the right direction. There are two randy teenagers exchanging saliva on the sidewalk. Henry decides to stop right in front of them and blurts out, “Bleurgh!”

The teenagers stop their tonsil hockey. I suppress my laughter.

We walk another five metres before Henry refuses to hold my hand.

“Mummy, I’m ok. I was here,” he argues, pointing to the footpath.

“No Henry,” I admonish. “Hold my hand.”

We are so so close to our destination, I could cry.

“No!”

In a flash, his hand slips out and he’s running towards the road. I sprint after him like Wile E. Coyote after the Road Runner.

I drop my phone in the process. I’m appalled to admit that for a split second I had considered the merits of stopping to pick up my phone.

I grab Henry by the jacket before he gets hurt. He throws an epic tantrum as I drag him back to retrieve my phone.

I struggle with small fists and legs thrashing around. I’m sweating from my exertion. My phone screen is cracked.

It’s a fine balance between giving your child the opportunity to feel independent and keeping them safe. Some days I feel like throwing in the parenting towel. It’s a hard role. The toughest gig I’ve ever had.

Next time you see a harried parent with a toddler chucking a tantrum, give them a sympathetic smile and try not to judge.

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