Adapted from ‘Pictures for Sad Children’ by John Campbell
Written & directed by Tyler Longmire
Design by Becky Solly & Rene Linares
Stage management by Kelley Cheetham
Dramaturgy by Lee Cookson
Performed by Brendan Andrews, Paul Sutherland, Jeremy Verkely, and Chantelle Han
Ignite! Festival of Emerging Artists, Sage Theatre
Pumphouse Theatre, Calgary
June 13 – 16, 2012
Victoria Fringe Festival
University Canada West, Victoria
August 27 – September 4, 2010
Photography by Sarah Koury, Vindaloo Photography and Jeff Stevens
Everything Is Awful is a comedy where magical things happen to cynical assholes. Gary is trying to be a good person: new office job (that he hates), working on a grad degree by correspondence (that topic of which he cannot remember), tries to help the needy when he can. But his boss Paul (who is a ghost) and coworker Rachael (who is hot but kind of terrible) keep landing Gary into extraordinary situations where doing the right thing bites him in the ass…
John Campbell was nice enough to give the OK for me to mess around with and stage his comic strips. He draws this comic, Pictures for Sad Children (which you should really check out) in a stripped-down, iconographic style that made me wonder if it could be used as a playscript. I had been exploring alternative ways to create playscripts in school (using poems, comics, short stories, paintings as scripts instead of a he-said she-said formal sort of deal) and I wanted to see how actors would interpret these specific sequential images and act them out.
What came out was a heavily-adapted and much more theatrical version of Campbell’s comics with some original material written by me thrown in there to string the disconnected comic strips together into a one-act play format. Four actors performed as an ensemble, playing multiple characters in rapid succession. As Campbell embraced the bare essentials of the comic form, I had to do the same with theatrical conventions. The actors wore the same all-white costume, and different characters were indicated by the actor putting a simple iconographic costume prop on top of their ‘base’ uniform. None of the theatrical action – rigging, offstage areas, costume changes, props tables – were hidden from the audience. It turned into a slapstick deconstructionist black comedy.
Comics certainly have potential to be used as play fodder, but one thing I learned is that there eventually has to be a written ‘script’ for actors to memorize, stage managers to put in their binders, designers to take home, and to be generally used as a consistent reference document. It’s more a matter of formatting and the intention of the comic artist – if I were to do it again, I think the play-comic would have to be composed specifically for the project. Comics can do a lot of things that simply are not possible in real life, the form is not limited by physics or time or scale. But as a script you could add facial expressions, dialogue pacing, and non-verbal cues for an actor to follow, or as a storyboard for visual sequences you want baked into the script. Stage directions are so… imprecise, sometimes.