A 10-Minute One Act Play
The Sorcerers' Apprentice
By G. L. Horton
copyright © 2008
Scholarly TIM and his fashionable young wife CYN are entertaining 24 year old ASHLEY at their condo. ASHLEY is a go-fer at WBLH TV, the local affiliate where CYN is an assistant.
TIM: Some people play First Person Shooter. But this is better. The targets are real.
ASHLEY: I don’t understand. You said you collect play scripts.....
CYN: Before we demonstrate, you have to promise absolutely not to talk about it.
ASHLEY: Is it illegal?
CYN: Course not! It's like-- performance art! Or Fantasy Baseball. But there are people who might use it against us if they knew: so do you Cross your Heart? (Ashley nods and crosses her heart.) We're Fantasy Producers.
TIM: Years ago I realized that 99% of what playwrights turn out is garbage. The pathetic wimp who writes crap wants to be a genius, but really-- he knows he’s a fraud. Like the TV jerks you work with!
CYN: Tim and I pull their chains, is all. Good clean fun. This is a week's batch of letters. Look at the resumes! (holds up some )
TIM: Pathetic is too mild a term.
CYN: They're deluded. They think that theatre is a real business, like Disney.
TIM: That they're on the brink of a brilliant career.
ASHLEY: Well, of course they can't all be....
CYN: None of them! Zero.
TIM: When was the last time a playwright had a brilliant career?
CYN: I’ll give you a hint. You and I weren't born yet.
ASHLEY: My sister was in the chorus of "Fiddler on the Roof" in high school. That's the only show I know, but it seems to be pretty-
TIM: Any idea what the average playwright makes?
CYN: Zero! Zilch.
TIM: The average writer's union so called "professional" doesn’t even clear postage.
CYN: But he wants so bad to believe he'll have a hit.
TIM: Desperate for scraps of attention.
ASHLEY: Just attention?
TIM: "Attention must be paid!" As the Bard of American Losers so eloquently puts it.
CYN: Attention's easy. We promise them the moon-- There's no law against it.
ASHLEY: But what do you do, exactly?
TIM: Time for the demonstration! Ready, Cyn?
CYN: Here’s one: Guy named Thompson. Ken Thompson. Sent a script a year ago September.
ASHLEY: Is it any good?
CYN: Who knows? We don’t read them. (they both explode with laughter)
TIM: The cover letters can be amusing, though. Occasionally we get a masterpiece. Almost makes us want to read the script.
CYN: Our Ken here isn't one of those. He’s a Thirty-something wanker with an MFA and a handful of hits on Google.
TIM: Thinks he’ll "emerge" because he won some two bit play contest. In Chicopee!
ASHLEY: Where is Chicopee?
TIM: Damned if I know. Now, listen to this. (CYN dials number).
ASHLEY: What are you doing?
CYN: The demonstration.
TIM: They can't resist. Attention is like catnip. (phone is answered)
CYN: Kenneth Thompson? This is Roanoke Repertory Theatre calling. Mr. Thomas Bailes would like to talk to you. Please hold a moment? (smiling, CYN pushes a button and hands the phone to TIM, who muffles the mouthpiece with his hand, giggling, while an official-sounding recorded Theatre Schedule plays. It lists dates for whatever plays are fashionable this season)
ASHLEY: Who is Thomas Bales?
TIM: Shh. Me! In Ken’s imagination.
CYN: He’s listening to the recording of Tom Bales' "season"!
ASHLEY: (baffled) But do you have a ---?
(TIM and CYN can barely contain their mirth. The Roanoke Repertory recording plays quietly, while the couple recover sufficiently for Tim to cut it off and talk)
TIM: Ken? Tom Bailes here. How're you doing? ............ Oh, I'm fine, too. Better-- I’m in a kind of a glow, here. My board was really really positive. Your play impressed the hell out of them.... Yeah, we do. Really!.... Unfortunately we aren’t able to: not next season. But I want to hang on to the script, and first chance--. See, right now we just don’t have anybody in our casting pool who could do it justice. ....... Yeah, for "Allison". I mean, what would an actress who could play Allison be doing in Roanoke? But listen: we do have somebody great who’d like to work with us.... Not just a good actor-- a killer draw. We’d have to beat off his fans with sticks. It occurred to me that maybe you might have something, a vehicle, that.... Older guy, big in made-for-TV flicks in the early nineties. No. I can't: cause his f-ing agent doesn’t know he wants to do an f-ing play! Out in the sticks, yet! You’d know this guy. A household word! Thing is, have you got a play for him? A guy who could do The Scottish Play, or Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey? ....... Great! Pack it up and get it to me. Marked "Attention T Bailes". You’ve got our PO Box, right? ...... Terrific! I can't wait. If he likes your script, we’re golden, Ken. Gotta go now-- there’s a VIP heading into my office. (hangs up)
CYN: See? Ken’s hooked.
TIM: Sending Overnight Express!
ASHLEY: You think he might become famous?
TIM: Not if we can help it! (they laugh)
CYN: Really, the guy sits there, wanking onto his computer, and he imagines there's this entourage of artistes, eager to lap up his smeg. Like that ever happens! If he wants fame, he has to do something people care about.
TIM: Mass murder/suicide. Become Pope.
CYN: Even then nobody wants your plays. Virginia Tech and John Paul are so over!
TIM: Now, Cyn; If I had collected one of John Paul's scripts along with a nice groveling note of gratitude, I could sell it for a couple thou. The worse the play, the more it'd be worth.
CYN: People love to see a big man acting like a fool.
TIM: What could be more foolish than a play? I speak from stupefying experience!
CYN: Tim worked as a literary manager. He read the slush pile.
TIM: You can't imagine. The mind-numbing nerve-shattering boredom. How can a writer string together every cliché known to man and still not hit on a plot? Or-- even just by accident-- a character? As for ideas-! From this mountain of tedium I would dutifully extract the one tenth of one percent that showed even a glimmer, and dump them into what our Artistic Director called "Development."
ASHLEY: What’s "Development"?
TIM: What indeed? (sings the G&S tune from Pinafore) "Never mind the why and wherefore..."
CYN: (overlaps) When a theatre works on a script with
the writer, they call it--
TIM: Development!? Give me a break! There are two sorts of playwright circulating in the System: the "My Words Are From Mt. Sinai" assholes and the "Please Somebody Tell Me What to Write" wimps-- and neither of them can be "developed" any more than a prune pit can grow into a pine tree. The System’s utterly screwed.
ASHLEY: There’s a System?
CYN: There’s always a System. Development's where somebody pours in money; but nobody really gives a shit. Not that any of this matters. Tim's con is an art form on its own-
TIM: It matters to me!
TIM: I mean it used to. When I was caught up in it.
CYN: Which thanks to me you're over.
ASHLEY: I’d like to hear about it.
CYN: About what?
ASHLEY: Tim's job in the theatre. I mean, why would anybody--?
CYN: Some job! Perpetual intern!
TIM: Not intern. Not quite.
CYN: Did you ever really get paid?
TIM: Sort of.
CYN: How much?
TIM: Damn little. But still, better than any f-ing playwright!
CYN: Tim was working his tail off for peanuts. Wasn't even covered by Social Security-- can you believe it? That a normal man with a Master’s degree would fall so low--
TIM: But that wasn’t why I felt the guilt.
ASHLEY: Was it-- sex and drugs?
ASHLEY: Well you do hear rumors. The casting couch and all?
TIM: I didn't do casting. Or coke. All I did was read, 2,000 scripts a year. Always behind, getting behind-er. Every script a millstone around my neck.
CYN: Desperate for reasons to chuck one out.
TIM: Wrong format, wrong type size. Too many characters, wrong ages; needs a kid, or a dog, or a fly space. Anything! So I can with a clear conscience pop it back into the SASE with the "sorry, doesn’t suit us" letter.
ASHLEY: 2,000 scripts and not one worth while? That seems improbable.
TIM: I took statistics. I know it's improbable-- that’s why my conscience was never clear. I'd wake in the night, dreaming that one of the ones I sent back won the Pulitzer.
CYN: So what? Stinkers win prizes. That doesn't mean the writer knows anything.
TIM: I trained as a dramaturge. I've read all the greats. But does anybody listen to me? Hell no! They'll make stupid changes suggested by some jerk in the audience, or re-write the second act to please their Aunt Tillie--- but when an expert like me tells them what’s wrong and how to fix it? Then, they’ve gotta be true to themselves. Gotta tell it like it is.
ASHLEY: Well, don't they? Every person has a story, they say--- just from living.
CYN: Scribblers don't live-- they float around in some artsy fartsy fantasy. You see them down at our station: the "creatives"? Who download stuff off the wire for the newsreaders? They think they’re Shakespeare! And theatre types are worse.
TIM: What we do to them is tough-love, really. I wish somebody had wised me up in my twenties! I’d be rich and happy by now.
CYN: I mean, you heard us jerk that Ken-doll around. He's living in La La Land! Smart writers turn out ad copy, or best sellers. The Capital T "Talent"--, what are they? Tolstoy? You and me: we're chopped liver?
ASHLEY: I’ve always thought that a gift for telling stories is--
TIM: A gift for bullshit. For lying.
CYN: When it comes to lying? Tim’s got them all beat! Don’t you, Slugger?
TIM: Thanks to you, Cynthia! My Muse, my inspiration.
CYN: Together we’ve built a work of art. Cultivate it like a garden.
ASHLEY: A poison garden. Like a sorcerer’s.
TIM: Like Marianne Moore’s poetry garden: imaginary, but with real toads in it.
CYN: Frogs, Tim!
CYN: Every one of whom expects to be kissed and turned into royalty.
ASHLEY: And get royalties! (all laugh)
TIM: By Jove, she's got it! Ashley's got it!
(they claps the rhythm of "The Rain In Spain",
Tim tangos with ASHLEY)
ta Ta ta ta -ta Ta ta ta -Ta Ta ta!
CYN: I think she's got it!
(sits ASHLEY down, piles big envelopes with scripts in her lap)
We could have such fun, Ashley. Play with us.
TIM: You're the curator, the critic, the Absolute Judge. They report, you decide. Lay your hands on those suckers. Feel your power.
ASHLEY: But-- in all these manuscripts, there isn't a scrap that's good? Nothing you've learned, nothing that moves you?
TIM: I told you. I don't read them.
ASHLEY: But why..?
CYN: We read the first page, get the first impression. If it looks like the author might become a celebrity-- somebody we could sell on eBay-- or somebody so bad we could blackmail-- we log it in and keep it. If it not, we toss it: it's worthless.
TIM: Absolutely unread.
TIM: If you read them, the bastards win. Their whole idea is to get their story inside your head.
CYN: To be a part of you. That’s what they want, the bastards.
ASHLEY: But this is crazy!
CYN: Lighten up, girl! It’s a game.
TIM: The men and women merely players.
CYN: Try it. Just once. Hold that little fake world in your hands. Imagine the wannabe God who made it, who’s waiting for your worshipful attention... Open an envelope.
(ASHLEY opens a 10 x 13 manila envelope and takes out a manuscript.)
TIM: Look at the first page. (ASHLEY looks at the page he hands her; Tim passes sentence on it.) Nope. Toss it. (CYN glances at the script, nods agreement, take it and tosses it in the wastebasket. They repeat this process with mounting excitement)
TIM: Now you decide. (Ashley rapidly scans first pages)
ASHLEY: Toss this. Hold this. Toss-- Wait! What if we tell this author we want to see his script as a teleplay? As a mini-series! Ask him to write it on spec, for our friend the executive producer-- we could use the network's letterhead--!
TIM: A letterhead? You risk getting caught.
CYN: (delighted) No risk! Phony name, PO box, the rejection we sign with a different phony, saying phony number one has moved on. Oh, it's perfect! Even if we get caught, so what? Jerking writers around is industry standard!
ASHLEY: Do you realize what you have, here? The perfect virtual training course! I can play these amateurs all I want, with no consequence; and when I get good enough I'll do it where the money is! A few years' practice, I'll be running NBC!
CYN: Tim, we've been thinking too small. We can get writers to pay us.
TIM: Whoa, there. Once you start charging, there are laws about fraud-
ASHLEY: Don't be an idiot. If taking money for bad advice was illegal, who'd be out of jail?
TIM: But for rewrites, wouldn't you have to actually read--?
CYN: Hell, no. If you’re big enough, you don’t even look at the treatment!
ASHLEY: This is a work of genius, Tim. No investment, no angst-- pure manipulation! Oh, we are the masters of the universe, and we're going to have such fun! (joyfully hugs the manuscripts before opening another to scan as the lights fade)
END OF PLAY