The idea is so far-fetched as to be almost unbelievable. “Once upon a time in history, there was this phone booth in the Mojave Desert.” A fantastical whim, surely. And yet the setting for Claire Wilson’s new play Telephone is taken straight from life. After coming across the phenomenon on the Internet last year (and learning absolutely all she could about it), she knew she had found something “that was practically begging to have a play written about it”.
Through various writing exercises from second year training, Claire had begun to see a “very clear image of two people” – the same two people that Telephone is still built around. Sibyl and Jey are two people tied together by a concept of reincarnation, and by their connection to either the future or past. Because the original plot line, (involving a monster) basically “needed a movie” in order to see it come to life, Claire’s play also was created by the concept of reincarnation. During the ten different rewrites it has undergone, “the monster became fate, and fate became the voice on the telephone”.
Since Claire is also directing her play, she is in complete charge of the text. Things like “clarifying details and changing lines” are not a problem at all, and with the support of her cast, she feels “really free to say that problems are the writing’s fault” and that she “can go in and fix it.” She understands that there are “parts of the play that are really important” to her personally, and some themes “might not necessarily come through in the writing,” but the creative process is also to explore what themes emerge in rehearsal.
She does, however, want the space of the play to have a very specific feel – that of the desert. It’s part of the reason she is glad to be directing it, because the sense of danger, the expanse, the vastness, the temperature, of the desert is essential to the play, and difficult to imagine if you have not physically been there.
At two weeks into rehearsals,Telephone is exploring fate, past lives, gender ambiguity, social expectations, a sense of belonging in a space, and perhaps most of all, human connection. By the time it premieres at the festival, who knows how many reincarnations it will have undergone?
by Caitlin Denegre