Saturday, April 23, 2011


When I was young, I was obsessed with magic, completely and utterly. I read Harry Potter and believed every word of it (yes, I waited for my acceptance letter to Hogwarts), I watched movies like Matilda and absorbed the whole idea of special powers, and I made fairy houses in my backyard. I believed that dust was made from fairies who had died because people didn't believe in them, and I dreamt of finding magic wands.
Magic was a huge and very real thing to me. I never wanted to give up any belief in magic, and I still don't want to give it up despite being nearly out of my teenage years (gosh!). And while I don't wait for fairies to come to my door anymore, or expect, one day, to close the door with my mind, I realise I haven't actually given up magic, and that's because of two things: 1. My writing. and 2. Theatre.

When it comes to my writing, I can create everything and anything I've ever believed in. I can have a world that lives and breathes magic and in a way I can live through that. And the power of that magic is that maybe one day, other children will learn to believe in magic through that. The ability to create something completely new and completely from your own imagination is magic in itself. It's a thrilling experience and it's one that I feel lucky to be able to live.

But this week my focus has really been on theatre. And boy what a week it's been! Not only did we (meaning Schming and I) get a chance to work on our show with some incredibly talented people, but we were given the opportunity to show it and get some truly constructive feedback. We learnt so much about the show, about where it can go and what it needs. But I also learnt a lot about the magic of theatre, especially in musicals. The fact that our most well received moments are the one's that are less naturalistic goes to show that everyone loves a bit of magic, in the sense that they want something that isn't completely real. In a musical, you can go quite wild with that and the audience will follow along completely, because they want to be entranced by the magic on stage. Take The Lion King for example. The audience can see the people behind the puppets, they know they're not real animals, but still it completely takes their breath away to see an elephant walking down the aisle. You don't need to tell them it's not a real elephant, of course they know that. But being swept up in the moment and magic of the theatre gives everyone an incredible ability - the ability to imagine. The audience fills in the blanks, they make these creatures seem real, more so than the puppeteers do. And I think that's amazing.
Similarly, there is a play on Broadway at the moment called the War Horse. They use puppets as well for the horses and it's the same story. It's not realistic in the sense that they look like puppets, and you can see the people within the puppets, but the audience simply doesn't care. They make it a real horse.

Now I think that's magic, don't you?

Friday, April 15, 2011


Once there was a woman who had two shoes and one of them she laid in the river. The shoe nestled between the river grasses and slowly over the days the woman sang to the shoe so that she might have a husband. The shoe grew first a baby and then a boy and then a young man until at last the woman came to the river and found a fully grown man sitting on the river's edge.
"If you bring me the shoe to match this one," she said to the man, showing him the shoe that was the pair of the one she had placed in the river, "you shall marry the spirit of the river and you and your children will have eternal life."
The man said, "And where might I find this shoe?"
"It is in the last place you will look."
The man looked up and saw the moon, who was going to bed late that day.
"I could ask the moon, but as that is the first place I have looked I am bound to be unsuccessful, so instead I shall ask the sun," he said.
The sun was not happy to be troubled by a man but she said she had seen a shoe just like that on the banks of a great river which flowed down from this very river and was no more then a few days's walk. The man was well pleased and set off downstream. But the way was hard and the pathway treacherous beside the wild river. As the man walked his skin grew fur and soon he had transformed into a wolf. The sun passed him by and laughed at his travels.
"You will never find eternal life as a wolf," she said.
The man now spoke to the moon, who was that night full on the horizon and so close enough to talk with.
"The sun has tricked me. Where might I find the show I am seeking?"
I have seen one just like it in the depths of this river, but you must swim deep to find it."
In the light of the moon the wolf swam in the river but no shoe could he find. He was washed downstream in the water's flood and as he journeyed his fur was washed away and he was clothed instead in the shimmering scales of a fish. At last he was swept into the ocean and washed to the show and his fish form slipped from him as he lay on the cold sand. There on the beach a white bird spoke to him. "If you climb that tree over t
here you will find the shoe you seek," she said. "But remember it is in the last place you will look."
And so the man began climbing the tree. When he was only a small way up his hands grew sharp, and soon his arms and legs were black and shiny, and he was transformed into a small beetle. The wind blew at him and rain fell and many times did he cling to the tree for life. At last, at the top of the tree, he found the bird who had laughed at him. She fluttered her wings in the breeze.
"Fly to that mountain over there and look into the waters of the blue lake and you will see the shoe, and there you may choose the gift of eternal life, if you so wish it."
The man was transformed into the shape of a great raven and flew high into the sky and far across the land to the last peak, where the bright light of ice glo
wed white in the sky. Though it took all his endurance to fly so far, at last he gazed into the lake. But, instead of his own reflection, he saw only the sky.
"I am nothing," he said, dismayed. "The lake does not even note my presence. I began as a man and I have journeyed the pathways of beast, fish, insect and bird, but now I am nothing."
"What form would you seek?" said the woman from the river
, appearing beside him at the water's edge.
"My own true form," said the man.
And so the man became the shoe he had grown from in the river.
"You see," said the woman, "you are what you were seeking."

I came across this story in a book called 'The River Wife' by Heather Rose. The whole book is very fable-like, such as this story, and tells the tale of a wom
an who is part of the spirit of a river, and has to keep it in order. She is a human by day, and a fish by night, and dies if she is too far from her river, or too far from water. She falls into love with a human man, despite her promises to her father (another human) to never go near them.

I love stories like these. Yes, they're very stylistic. Yes they can be slightly predictable in their formulation (generally character + question + three tests/experiences = meaning-of-life-style-moral) but they always mean something. Always. It's never just a story for the sake of being a story.

Now this one in particular, I have cropped slightly. There is a tiny bit more to the story (he comes back to life, marries the river woman and they live eternal life with shape-shifting babies) but I like it when it finished right here, because something stands out to me about one of the points of the story. And that is, boy, we think too much sometimes.
I think what the majority of the story is trying to get across is how much we pointlessly question things. It's always how, what, how, what, how, who, when, what, where, what with human beings. We always want to know more, know everything. And in some ways that's a brilliant thing. But in other ways it's entirely meaningless. Lik
e in this story. The man was desperate to know who he really was, wasn't he? By the end of his journey he had lost all sense of purpose, and he wanted to regain it. And the enlightened answer to his plea? You're a shoe.

And we're people. Maybe we're in the exact same situation. We ask the 'Who am I?' questions all the time. And I have to say I don't quite understand them. The whole 'I need to go find who I am' soul-searching thing. Perhaps we should take a leaf out of thi
s book and simplify it, because in all honesty, if I asked 'Who am I, God?!' I was probably get - "You're Emily, stupid."
Maybe God wouldn't say that.
Either way, it's a simple answer. And while I am cautiously spiritually optimistic, I cannot possibly believe that through years of soul-searching and questioning my existence I would find a different answer from 'You're Emily' because basically that is all I am. I am a human, yes, I am a girl, yes, I am Emily. What else is there? If we're asking what we're here for that's a different question entirely, and one I think is answered simply by 'to live'.
So who am I and why am I here? 'I am Emily and I am here to live.' and isn't that a terrific and simple life motto? You don't need anything else!
This is what I think the story is saying in it's round-a-bout way. It's saying, while you can look for who you are as much as you want - to the point where who you are is completely lost in your turning it upside down and inside out to examine it - it's a simple, straightforward, you-are-you answer, and the simplicity and straight-forwardness of this is the exact thing we need.

Anything else and we all seem to get far too confused.
So there you go. That's my personal take on this fable. I bet you read something different into it. Share in comments if you want or keep it to yourself. And t
here's no saying I'm right either, but my answer works for me, and you know what? That's all I want.