The article below is written by Claire Wilson, Director and Writer of “Telephone” showing at the 2nd annual International Festival (2017). Wilson talks about the themes of the play, her inspiration and directing her actors into the desert.
There’s something about a desert—the smell of sand in the air, and the feeling of really wide open space, and the heat, and the way that the average color of the natural world is not green, but red and orange—it gives the world a weird sort of magic. It doesn’t take long to get far enough away from civilization that the world doesn’t quite feel real. Everything feels all empty, and quiet. If the wind blows, you can’t hear it. To me, this is the kind of place that feels like literally anything can happen. Stick a phone booth in a place like that, and the image is so strange and out of place that without literal photographic proof of its existence, I never would have believed it was real.
From the moment I first read about the Mojave Phone Booth, I immediately started wondering what someone might do, or think, or feel, if they were sitting next to a payphone in the desert. I mean, if you see a phone in a place like that, you can’t exactly call just anyone, and if the phone rings there’s no way just anyone could be calling. No way. Nothing normal can happen in a place like that.
Somewhere along the way, I got to thinking about fate. I’ve always thought fate was almost hilariously impossible to nail down. When people talk about fate, I think about Oedipus, and Macbeth, and that part from the trailer for Brave where the girl, in her thick Scottish accent, says “ef yuu could cheenge yer feit, wood yeh?” And I kind of laugh to myself. What is fate, really? It’s arbitrary. It’s either something you can’t change, and so is basically just a spoiler on the plot of your own life, or it’s something you can change, which makes it nothing more than a speculation about your future. The idea that there’s this piece of outdated, out of place technology sitting in the middle of a desert, waiting to tell you your fate is, to me, almost hilarious.
A few things came out of this, beginning and ending with how fate as a concept is totally meaningless. Our three characters here are a woman so obsessed with her fate she loses the ability to create her own life, a girl whose life is altered by the hearing of her fate, and Fate himself, too busy to keep up with any of it. There isn’t a single person in this play for whom fate functions as a perfect, constant, and unchangeable force. That’s important, guys. Fate is stupid. Just live your life.
But even then, fate isn’t really what this play is about. I thought I had written a whole play about it, only to look at the finished product and find that I hadn’t written about fate, but faith. This is the story of someone who believes in something so powerfully that her whole existence, her whole sense of self and of worth, absolutely relies on that one thing. This is the story of how her faith is taken apart, piece by piece. This is the story of how the destruction of her faith does not kill her, but grants her new control over her life.
If I tell you that I wrote about myself entirely by accident, will it sound less narcissistic?
The answer to that question is probably no, but narcissism aside, hopefully there are some things in here that haven’t been felt by only me.
Somehow, this story became a weird love letter to the way I grew up, and the place I grew up in. I hope that you come and see it, and I hope that when you do, you understand a little bit. Or if nothing else, you just have a nice time watching a bunch of Europeans pretend they’ve ever been anywhere near a real desert.