I wrote this up for the Brooklyn Publishers newsletter awhile back, but I thought it might be good to post it here. Swatch, if I may self-evaluate, is one of my best plays. You can find it at brookpub.com and read a sample free!
One Color at a Time
People often ask me what inspires me to write a play; it can be range from reading a news story to waiting behind bizarre customers at a coffee shop. Here’s the story behind my most recent pages of dialogue: in my “real job,” as an editor for a couple paint industry magazines, I talk to people about color. How it affects people, how to sell people on it, what’s in, what’s out and a good dose of “follow your heart and don’t pick color for other people.” Don’t live with a color you don’t like year after year because your aunt and uncle might not approve, or because you plan to, one day, sell your house to people who will repaint anyway.
I interview color experts from companies such as Benjamin Moore, Pratt & Lambert, and PPG Paints, along with a lot of independent designers and color experts, many of whom have the odious job of travelling the world’s high fashion markets and determining color trends for as much as three years in the future.
Speaking of following your heart, playwriting can be discouraging. It’s a lot of hours alone and often you don’t see the fruits of your work. Or you look forward to someone’s feedback and all they have to offer is ‘there’s a typo on page 16.” So sometimes you want to hang it up next to those old boxing gloves. “I don’t know if I ever want to write another play again,” I said to someone right before the time I had a particularly inspirational conversation with someone about color. Some nuggets she offered jogged an idea and set me to work. (By the way, you can’t type well with boxing gloves.)
Colors inspire us and make us think and feel a certain way. Red can arouse passion, blue can inspire leadership, black can impart a streamlined elegance. Bold, pastel or medium shades evoke even more subtle feelings. So instead of color swatches, I thought, what about characters with those characteristics? I’ve written a lot of plays, so I turned “never writing another one again,” into “let’s try something different!”
Sometimes I find one-word titles arrogant, like you’re cramming too much meaning into a single word. Proof, Chess, Rent…but on the other hand, it’s easy to remember and it can really resonate. Come to think, Antigone has held up pretty well. So why not join in? Let’s try…Swatch. The young characters in this play are difficult people – kids that nobody can stand to be around or the kids that foster parents regift to the state –in the world of Swatch they are punished and rehabilitated by being forced to live only the characteristics of a single color. Once they learn do to that, they’re allowed again to re-enter the whole color spectrum.
Once I in the middle of writing I picked up the phone and a recording said, “This is a verification system for your Google listing.” So I gave that line to a new character right then and there. Then the challenge was, will it make sense down the line? Google Maps makes a difference in the plot, especially to the characters on their way to Spain.
Back in the 1500s a popular song in Europe was “A Thousand Regrets.” These days we’ve morphed that phrase into no regrets – no fear, no regrets, I don’t care what you think, all that kind of sentiment is making the rounds these days. Sometimes it’s a tasty morsel, like if Aunt Pattymelt really doesn’t like the color you chose for the curtains, who cares what she thinks? I once heard a man tell his elderly mother, “Why did you paint your house this color? We’ll never be able to sell it after you die.” I think he had his thousand regrets about that later. (She’s still with us, and she loves her blue!)
I find my regrets are mainly two – being treated badly and not speaking up, or things I said and did myself and still wish I hadn’t, even if no one found out. In the end, that’s what a lot of this play is about. With all its silliness, corruption, conflict, and odd humor, what hits the gut is the reaction Odin and Valeria have when they finally internalize how much they hurt other people, and how they wish they could go back and fix it. One will have to opportunity to fix it, while the other will realize it’s too late.
It’s this realization – that sometimes the good of others comes before one’s self, and that many times life isn’t fair but you have to make do – that releases the Swatch kids from living as only one color and lets them reenter society as fully human.
Who hasn’t brought paint home and found it wasn’t mixed right? But you can joke about it – it’s one time you can get away with “off color humor.”