Monday, September 29, 2008

the complete plays of jamie bradburn, age 7

There's a local reading series called Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids that allows people to do just that: expose to the public odd pieces they wrote during their formative years. I haven't attended one, but the concept inspired me to dig through the storage tub of early literary masterpieces back home.

Among the goodies I found was a script written around grade 2, Zama's Talking Bird. Memory serves that this was a group assignment meant to follow up a story in one of our Gage readers. The play is credited to three writers but I suspect I devised most of it, since its structure and narrative pattern resembles other works from the same period...unless I absorbed the thoughts and writing rhythms of peers.

Revisiting my early writing, the more I'm convinced that:

  • My imagination was healthy
  • I was aware of what certain type layouts should look like (plays contain acts, etc)
  • Warner Brothers cartoons were my formative creative influence
  • My destiny should have been absurdist writer or performance artist

Background: in the early grades I was perceived as a genius, due to a sponge-like ability to absorb information. In a small semi-rural elementary school, this attracted attention. It occasionally meant being showcased in front of senior students like a sideshow attraction - it took years to live down reading a history book in front of a class of grade 8s when I was in grade 1. How much context I understood is debatable but it took little effort to reel off the winner of the 1911 World Series or what D.W. Griffith's important films were. By grade 2 I was tossed in front of the senior classes to lecture about old movies, until my parents put a stop to my circus freak days.

Video evidence (a class video shot in grade 1) shows I was a precocious brat with an Elmer Fudd speech impediment, prone to upstaging others and expressing my exasperation at those a few steps behind me during assignments. I was a chatterbox, which resulted in low marks on my report cards for personal behaviour. Definitely had a flair for the dramatic, inherited from Dad.


Why this script was typed out is a mystery (Formal presentation? Method of permanent preservation?). The typist would have either been Mom (note neat indentations) or me (preservation of the play's structure, liked to play with Mom's typewriter).

Click on images for full-size versions.

Zama's Talking Bird (Page 1)
Page 1: The opening scenes. Mostly makes sense, except for the crow's sudden slip into duck talk. Discuss amongst yourselves the deeper meaning of this change in language.

I detect my writing style in its embryonic form, especially when Zama blurts out "Okay, if that's the way you feel!"

Zama's Talking Bird (Page 2)
Page 2: Note mysterious insertion of act numbers. I guess I had an inkling of how plays were structured after flipping through Dad's collection of Edward Albee paperbacks (even if I thought Martha rambled on about "Gotham records" in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? and couldn't understand why no animals ran loose in The Zoo Story) or his copy of MacBird!

Also note the gratuitous death. Horrible diseases tend to be treated in my early writing like blackout gags, non-sequiturs or the literary equivalent of Wile E. Coyote's mishaps. My grandfather passed away a year earlier (and my maternal grandmother would follow within a year), so I knew what death was and understood that it could serve as a device to move a character off the stage for the rest of the script.

Zama's Talking Bird (Page 3)
Page 3: "Old Waterfront" failed to hit the Billboard Top 100 chart upon its release as a single from the soundtrack album in fall 1982. I imagined the song was set to a rinky tink barroom piano that the characters gathered around.

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