Skint Director’s Notes
This page contains directors notes specifically on Skint. To learn more about directing in general, please visit the Directing page.
Skint: adj. Brit colloq. Having no money left [=skinned, past part. of skin]
In this play I was playing with myths of the Waste Land and some common issues effecting young people. The title is both indicative of the constant state of the Bristh student as well as a sense of being poor in spirit.
Skint is a complex play that brought up many challenges for me as director. It is also always problematic to direct one’s own writing because one has very little perspective from the text. I wrote and directed the play in 1998 where it was produced at the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff and the University of Glamorgan , and re-wrote the play substantially for its production at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1999. Enough time has passed now to give me the distance to perhaps more effectively reflect on this project.
This play has as its central theme the idea of the myth of the Waste Land , and aims to show a contemporary view of what a Waste Land was on stage. Its title comes from a British slang word, meaning having no money left, or literally, skinned. The idea being that the characters in this play, disillusioned Gen-Xers, were poor in spirit.
Skint uses as a starting point the origins of myths regarding The Waste Land and the Fisher King. Legend has it that the Fisher King is ill and decrepit, causing a blight on the land; various heroic figures try to intervene and heal him to remedy the land, as in the King Arthur myth. An earlier source of the legend has it that a goddess was raped, resulting in the barrenness of the land. These myths are thought to be an early way of explaining the changes in the season, bringing together ideas of sacrifice and renewal. This Waste Land becomes the literal and metaphorical background for the play.
The Waste Land myth has a number of applications for contemporary times. T. S. Eliot’s eponymous poem considered the way in which the Waste Land could be considered a landscape of spiritual death. “April is the cruelest month” because while covered “in forgetful snow” we can forget how we ourselves are poor in spirit. Memories will come back to haunt us: “that corpse you planted last year in your garden, has it begun to sprout?”
Catrin, placing herself in the midst of these stories, re-views her own life as if it were myth, as a way of explaining her own life to herself. In her thoughts and memories she “auditions” different versions of the past. Seth, is implicated in the Fisher King myth, suggests that she should accept the past for what it is. By going through her memories she realizes everyone has their own Waste Land.
I shared with the students what the different ideas about it had been from Arthurian literature to TS Eliot, and I asked them what it might mean today. I then gave them half an hour to design a set based upon these ideas and that became the basis of the set we used at the Sherman theatre, which sadly, I did not document, but which featured large, teetering stacks of books. The stacks of unread books provided only a backdrop for more “empty” activities such as drinking or watching television.
If the waste land was the symbolic reference point for the play, the subject matter was very different. I wanted it to be a political play with a distinct political message, written about recent graduates for a student audience. The topic was rape, more specifically date rape. As a playwright I wanted to take on the ideas in a way that was not simplistic, but that was filled with grey areas and that might encourage them to question their own beliefs and values.
I put aside the issue of rape for the first few rehearsals for a number of reasons. First of all, this was a student production about people roughly their own age, and I felt that part of my responsibility as a director was to approach the subject of sexual abuse with a great deal of sensitivity. I felt that using techniques such as emotion memory or hot-seating was important, but I also felt that I did not want to cause psychological damage if any actors involved had had any experiences of sexual abuse. Working on the premise that all women could relate to being objectified, so we began by working on improvisations of women having comments made to them by men on the street, for example. These moments of victimization can form the basis of an emotion memory; one can approximate an experience without having been subjected to it.
In the most disturbing scene we focused on, the main character, Catrin remembers, in an expressionistic scene, what it felt like to be raped. Rather than reliving her actual experience, I suggested that in her imagination she would be victimized by all three men in the play. I had originally decided that the men in the play move to touch her, but to always remain a slight distance from her. This would suggest violation without being unnecessarily graphic. In one workshop, the students decided that a rape victim’s senses would become heightened during her experience. The male actors encircled the woman and whispered in her ear, smelled her hair, etc. Her eyes were shut. At one point, one actor broke this invisible barrier and turned her chin so that she faced him; she opened her eyes and glared at him defiantly. At this point the men then began to actually touch her and she tried to push them away. Finally, she seems to have succeeded in pushing them off her but we felt that it was perhaps too optimistic so the scene ended with them swooping back on her in an unwanted embrace. We moved to this scene slowly, and I waited until good personal relationships and trust had formed throughout the entire cast. In the end, the actors referred to the “rape” scene as the “touchy feely” scene, defusing the tension and indicating their own ability to enact disturbing stage business without becoming too emotionally involved.
In writing the character of Catrin, I wanted her to be wry and confrontational and to resist the typical “victim” status with which we are so familiar. If it was a “stranger” scene, no one would have had any problem being on Catrin’s side. However, date rape is all about grey areas, and it created the metaphor of re-writing the past. Catrin convinces herself it wasn't really rape by choosing to see her assailant one more time on her terms, in order to legitimize their relationship and to deny to herself that she truly experienced rape. Catrin lies about her rape to her friends, insisting that her rapist was not known to her, when in fact she was on a date with him. She lies to her friends in order to get the sympathy that, I argue, she deserves in the first place. In the scene when Catrin finally tells the true story of the rape, I wanted it to be complicated by the fact that Catrin, like 60% of all date rape victims, has had sex with her rapist again. Through rehearsals, we decided that she might even put the same music on that she had been playing when he forced himself on her. We tried to show that although her act was ill-advised and disturbing, that she was trying to somehow regain some control over a situation she previously had been helpless in. What I had not expected, as a writer and a director, was that many audience members would not only condemn Catrin for her actions, but would actively dislike her as a character. The message that I created as a playwright and a director was not necessarily one that audiences wanted to hear.