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The author’s perspective: A history for the curious—how “Quakes” came to be.



Dr Vernon Neppe's play Quakes has its own uniqueness. It is written in Dr Neppe's own literary genre of Sciction. This could make it into a collector's item as the first such play.

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“Quakes” follows on my original play, “Tomorrow the Earthquake” (TTE), itself a derivative play of two chapters of my book “Cry the Beloved Mind: A Voyage of Hope”. It was encouraged by one of the major directors in Seattle theatre.

Initially, a very uncertain, inexperienced and ignorant me began the journey. TTE was the initial consequence, a teaching tool play directed towards medical, psychological, student and patient audiences.

Once I had feedback from experts, I continued to work on TTE well after the Version 8 or so that was sent out to many readers, and finally arrived at Version 14. My modifications ended early in 2001, at which stage my theatre development truly began.

I decided to rewrite the play, using the original script as a start. I wanted to write a theatrical production, still educational, but audience friendly. I thought it would be a minor endeavor and simple rewrite.

TTE focuses on the education facet, a good direction for a specialized audience. The new play, its daughter, “Quakes”, focuses on the literary value, at times compromising the educational potential for this different goal. I have had the lofty ideal of wanting to produce a classic in a new literary genre, sciction, a play that could be played not only at this time, but that would have applicability for future generations.

The play had many stepping stones. I concentrated initially on characterization and flow of the piece. Then came the dialogue; then eliminating redundancy and focusing specifically on the themes. Then came using only the three essential characters. Addressing the audience in soliloquies, came next.

I thought I was there. But that was the beginning. The play still was quite unproduce-able. The new play had to grow. I concentrated on the rhythm, cadence, flow, connections, meaning and tempo, but I remained critical. An official play reading of Version 5P of Quakes in May 2002 in South Africa, before a responsive and positive audience produced further suggestions. Fifty more re-writes helped me feel a little better. I moved rapidly through Versions 6, 7 and 8.

Late in the game, I focused on actual director instructions, playing the tight-rope of allowing freedom for the director, eliminating redundancy and content repetitions, and yet ensuring the proper cadence. Then came the refining and refocusing on all these themes again. All the time, I was editing, making sure that respect, caring and kindness to one's fellow man pervaded the background.

There were aspects of TTE I felt badly about sacrificing, but I needed to for the purity of the theme, for the meaning and the communication. The cichiness and some changes of setting were deleted. The human sides of the extra but inessential characters (such as scenes involving phone communications with unseen, undeveloped characters disappeared). The actual medication directions written directly for potential patients and families, as well as any element of complex didactics, were sacrificed. With heavy heart, I eliminated the initial contrasting farce, redundant humor and the fun but lengthy terms like “biopsychofamiliosociocultural” (which incidentally returned to the latest version, as part of the humor!). I had one intent: purity of the production.

During this time, I had been lucky enough to be mentored by a wonderful, experienced, knowledgeable and practical Theatre Director in Maine, Erika Pfander, a friend of my wife's. She has been very forthright and allowed me to grow in my writing. I don’t believe I could have achieved this without her. Erika is highly critical of much of contemporary theater believing that only tiny proportions of modern day plays deserve to be produced. But she is at a stage where she strongly feels this one is part of that tiny proportion, hence my continued persistence.

And so, I hope I’ve learnt the beginnings of the craft of the playwright. What has developed is a new and special play. I estimate, overall, there have been thousands of changes, more than 250 re-writes, about eighty official transcripts (and almost every time, I thought that was it! ), and nine major clusters of versions over the past two years. The current version is 10. 10 (and add to that 14 Versions of TTE).

On the one hand, I would love to have seen glitzy backgrounds and musical emphases in this play. I cannot compare it with the frenetic activity of a marvelous one man unit like the play Fully Committed, a truly great contemporary play. When I see plays with these elements, I ask myself, “What am I doing? How can this play even be worth anything?”

And then I realize what my perspective is—one that is deliberately and necessarily entirely different. The play does not have an exotic set, indeed very little props. I have three actors in my cast. This saves not only money and time, but allows for an entirely different kind of play. “Quakes” reflects serious matters. The play does better in its somewhat stark settings. It is not supposed to be glitzy or frenetic, but it has its own cadence. The strength and the challenge of “Quakes” for actors, is its reliance on words, even though there’s some “show and tell".

Moreover, I need not feel as overwhelmed by more conventional theatre. “Quakes” has its own unique value. I’m pioneering an entirely new way of communicating on stage, namely “sciction”. Sure others may have written sciction before, but never so defined or delineated. I’m trying to communicate compelling, inspiring and difficult medical information using a literary technique of dialog between actors, and soliloquies to the audience. Through theatre, I offer realistic and medically accurate hope and inspiration to the suffering millions. I write for the broader theatre-going audience, knowing there will be those who love the play and those that hate the new attempt. Whatever else, the first sciction play is history making.

A staged play reading in Honolulu, Hawaii in May 2004 helped clarify a great deal. Rewrites occurred during the preparation for the play reading, and moreover, after the staged play reading, and the hour’s feedback from the audience thereafter, I made several other useful changes. Possibly the most important lesson I learnt may be that the three actors really have the opportunity to act their roles and that the proper interpretation of these roles is critical for a successful production. I was able to witness the versatility of the production and the potential for wonderful audience responsiveness. And I was able to make major revisions, and move to version 10. The play needed to move better, I wanted to maintain audience attention and increase participation, and yet all the while educate.

I returned to two not three acts, shortening the play duration. I compensated for the greater focus required in slightly longer Acts by added humor , abbreviating soliloquies and audience participation. I wrote special directors notes including such obvious ones as slides not interfering with the actors in projection. I suggested expanded audio clips. I actively acted out more scenes. For example, Lucy and Wendy start the play at home. I increased Wendy’s seduction component further: first with husband, then with Doctor, and finally with the unwitting Gun-range male. I allowed the husbands to play a role, though small—and, because of their limited characterization, they are not seen on stage. Wendy acted out her hysteria labels and Lucy acted out her hospitalization, and I specifically focused on Lucy’s active characterization. And I made the Doctor more human.

I actively ensured several scenes to wake-up the audience and I spread them through the play. Examples are the initial farce scene, the Lucy seizure, the seduction and borderline scene, the Schumann resonance difference. the rifle-range scene, the two scenes at the end, Wendy at the beginning at home, and the normality scene. I made more animated the initial and final scenes between Wendy and Lucy.

I suggested the possibility of musical accompaniments. I realized, too, the need for slides with caricatures and diagrams, and expanded audio. These allow greater entertainment and greater originality for the genre of sciction. I suggested the slides be maintained for at least thirty seconds per time to ensure even slow readers can read them while watching the actors.

I rejected a proposed addition: A third, male nuisance patient character repetitively phoning the doctor. His hallucinations and paranoia prevent visits and his solution is left unsolved with the last call, almost at the end before the Doctor's final speech. I rejected it because it complicates the purity of three well-developed characters, is inessential to the plot and unnecessarily lengthens the play.

In essence, I moved away from the “purist” model to the model of “active audience participation, of greater movement and of more show and tell”. Yet , all the while, I ensured that the sciction intention remained, giving the play its uniqueness, and I would hope its classic character as the first play in this genré.

I believe “Quakes” is now ready for professional production. I believe that sciction will succeed dramatically, as mental and neurological problems are universal, and the lay public cries out for knowledge in the area. This rather unique literary form portrays not only education through fascination, but, realizing the perspectives of the average theater-goer, my object is entertainment by fascinating example. The presence of the book, “Cry the Beloved Mind” as the initial source of “Quakes” can, ultimately, be a major draw as well.

Often, psychological plays are written by esteemed playwrights, who are with respect, short on knowledge or insights into the real pathologies of the human brain. My challenge has been to facilitate understanding. There is a great need for this: my patients, their families and my lay friends, all have a pervasive fascination with the human mind, and are begging for direction. Will sciction—science through fiction, in this instance, composite real-life patients—be a hit with general audiences? I know it will. Given the correct setting, production and direction, the play, “Quakes” should be a success not only today, but, because of its new genre, in the future as well.

Almost every Americans has been exposed to mental illness, in themselves, family members or friends. For some, there’s denial; for others, there may be interest, fascination, a quest for knowledge or at least, greater understanding. This is our target audience: The interested, educated theatre-goer who can embrace human issues of care and success over failure. I hope you enjoy the first play in this new literary genré of sciction.








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