Playwright’s Commentary: “Common Ground”

“Stories High XVII” is currently playing at San Francisco’s Bindlestiff Studio. This annual showcase brings together the talents of the hard work of everyone who had participated in the series of writing, acting, and directing workshops leading up to this creative collaboration. Six one-act plays are featured in this year’s rendition, and I’m happy to say that for the very first time, I am the writer for one of them: “Common Ground.”

As I mentioned when I first announced that this would be happening, “Stories High” was the very first show I saw at Bindlestiff Studio. To have a play featured in it this year is not only an honor, but it’s also a full circle coming into fruition. While I will have seen the show by the time this blog post is published, at the time of writing, I’ve yet to see “Common Ground” in its fully developed form. Despite that, similar to when I provided commentary on my writing for “The Geek Show,” today I want to go in depth on the conceptualization and development that went into writing “Common Ground.”

In a time of chaos and never-ending violence for humanity, the Creative Spirit is angry with the Spirit of Death over summoning the souls of individuals far too early in their lives. Through the course of their argument, the two spirits come to realize that they share more common ground than they had ever expected.

The idea for “Common Ground” is one that I’ve had in the back of my mind for quite a few years. I remember exactly how I got the idea for it. It was in the aftermath of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and a photo taken by a mother came upon my newsfeed on Facebook one day. It was a photo of her two young sons, sharing a bed together, for the sake of closeness in a time of absolute insanity. That image – which I’ve since been unable to track down – sparked an idea for a story where two spirits of different purposes converse over the state of humanity and its ongoing notion to destroy one another.

While I could have easily written “Common Ground” as a short story, this idea was different. This was one that I knew I wanted to present in a more visual medium; whether that be by way of a short film or a stage production. I carried the idea around with me since then; keeping notes and reminders to myself to one day pursue it when the opportunity arises. That’s why when I signed up for the “Stories High” writing workshop, I knew exactly what story I wanted to tell.

Despite the conception for the story dating back a few years, it didn’t make it any less relevant. Instead, with the mass shootings, police shootings, and bombings that have happened in the years since, the story has instead grown to be more relevant; especially in the shadow of the violence that happened in Charlottesville a few weeks ago.

Maybe it was because of my recent experience of writing for “The Geek Show” and the fact that I was taking a writing workshop that I went into the process, knowing that the story had to be altered from how it originally came to me. I made the argument between the two spirits much more heated. I utilized the stage space by having the Creative Spirit do an interpretive dance. While it originally ended a little solemnly, instead, as what appears to be the nature of my brand of storytelling, I ended it on a hopeful but ambiguous note.

Looking back on writing “Common Ground,” I realize how it is actually a little similar to “The Shadows;” the fantasy short story I released a month and a half before A Moment’s Worth. Spirits responding to the state of humanity in dismay is definitely a shared concept between the two. I’ve never been a religious person, but I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of spirits being out there. What makes this one different – and maybe more effective than “The Shadows” – is the more darker, urgent tone in reevaluating where we are headed as a society when innocent lives are being unnecessarily lost. (Also, in case you are wondering, yes, the usage of the origami cranes is a callback to their presence in A Moment’s Worth.)

“Common Ground” is a dark piece, without a doubt. What I hope that audiences who view it during the nine performance-run for “Stories High” is to consider our circumstances and find the driving hope to do something to change them. Maybe then, the spirits that may be among us will be satisfied.

“Stories High XVII” is now playing at Bindlestiff Studio; one of the performances is showing tonight at 8pm. If you plan on attending, please buy your tickets here.

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