Playwright Tim Foley won a Bruntwood Prize Judges Award in 2017 for his play ELECTRIC ROSARY. As well as the £8,000 prize money, Tim has been developing the play in partnership with The Kenyon Institute and the Manhattan Theatre Club. Check out part one of his development diary here;
Why are you a playwright?
That’s always a difficult question to answer. But this time it felt a bit harder.
It was being asked by four burly immigration officers.
My journey to America started so well. The whole ‘in-flight movies and free food’ was a complete novelty to me, so I snuggled into my blanket and did both kinds of binging. The altitude makes you rather emotional, so I found myself weeping at films like The Post (“I just really value the freedom of the press,” I sobbed to my flight attendant. She gave me more pretzels.)
It all started to unravel at my Philadelphia connection.
WOMAN AT DESK: Is this you? [Points to passport photograph.]
ME: Yup, that’s me
WOMAN AT DESK: But…he hasn’t got your nose
ME: [Beat.] No, that’s my nose
WOMAN AT DESK: [Long, agonising pause.] Sir, you’re going to have to step in here
The office. There were at least four guards here. I knew they’d been pre-warned.
‘Look at his suspicious nose. That’s not his nose, is it?’
But it was my nose.
The first man I encountered had my passport in one hand, a Star-Trek-like device in the other.
MAN WITH DEVICE: Was your nose ever broken?
MAN WITH DEVICE: Have you had a nose-job?
MAN WITH DEVICE: But this is a different nose
ME: [Beat.] I don’t know what to tell you, it’s my nose
MAN WITH DEVICE: [Beat.] And you’re suuuuure you haven’t had a nose job
ME: I’m happy to get one if that helps
It did not help. Humour in general, did not help. The scowling man scanned my face with his device. Another man put on rubber gloves and started emptying my rucksack. I could tell they were getting angry with me when they took umbrage at the colour of my bag. It was bright pink, I’d borrowed it in order for it to stand out. I no longer wanted to stand out. I wanted to sink into the ground. Nose first.
Then came the questions.
WOMAN BEHIND COMPUTER: What do you do for a living
ME: I’m a playwright
WOMAN BEHIND COMPUTER: A playwright?
WOMAN BEHIND COMPUTER: [Beat.] Why are you a playwright
ME: Oh boy
WOMAN BEHIND COMPUTER: How can you financially support yourself
ME: Man, we discuss that A Great Deal on Twitter
WOMAN BEHIND COMPUTER: [Not impressed.]
The questions continued. I had no other form of ID, except for an out-of-date provisional driving license. And to my horror, this one had a different nose as well. In these situations, you start to question everything. I put my hand to my face and gave it a little prod.
This was my nose, wasn’t it?
This was my nose.
MAN FROM MAIN OFFICE: You’ve got three different noses now
MAN FROM MAIN OFFICE: We’ve got your passport nose, your driving license nose, and this nose. [Points at my nose.] Which one is your nose
ME: They’re all my nose
MAN FROM MAIN OFFICE: But they aren’t. They can’t possibly be. Unless you can prove it, there’s no way we can accept you’re Mr Timothy Foley.
How to prove who I am? There was nothing for it. I was going to have to do something extremely embarrassing.
I directed them to the Bruntwood website. This very website. We looked at sweaty pictures of me, stunned from winning an award. I read them my previous blog-post, explaining about my trip to America. I talked about my forthcoming reading at the Manhattan Theater Club.
ME: There’s even a livestream video of the prize-giving. I did a speech
WOMAN BEHIND COMPUTER: Was it a good speech?
ME: I dunno, I definitely rambled. But you can see it’s me. And my nose
WOMAN BEHIND COMPUTER: [Not impressed again.]
I was detained for two hours. I was just about to hand out copies of my play ELECTRIC ROSARY and do an impromptu reading (I wanted to make the angriest looking one play the Mother Superior) when Bam. The stamp went in my passport. I was free to enter America.
Just as I have three different noses, I have three different sections to this blog post. The above will be the first. The second will artfully tie my nose dilemma to some finer metaphor about writing. “A playwright must follow their nose”, yes, that would be an excellent way to start it. I’ll state that, even though people may question your writing, your profession, your state of being, you must be true to yourself. Just as your face can have no other nose, you cannot write someone else’s play.
But the immigration officers were convinced I could have somebody else’s nose, so maybe this isn’t a good line of thought.
Is this my nose?
Okay, we’ll scrap this second section.
The third section will save face and discuss my actual trip to America.
First up, rural Ohio. What a beautiful part of the world. A bunch of playwrights were hauled up in Kenyon College, Gambier, and we wrote and laughed and drank for an entire week. I swam in a lake, I ate too many bagels. I met some wonderful people, made some great friends, had my mind prodded and poked by lots of different creatives.
We laughed about my nose.
Then came New York. Wowzer. What a city. I didn’t like it at first – it was too much, it was hyper, it had seen too many movies of itself.
Then suddenly, I fell for it. Hard and fast. My love for it is as big as their portions.
And of course, the highlight of my trip: we read my play. Lord, those Sisters were wonderful. So much thanks to MTC for organising it, Teddy Bergman for directing it, and a fabulous cast of actors who made the script sing. There was a beautiful, disorientating moment when I was listening to my story about Northern Irish nuns and their robot, staring at the New York skyline…but at once I was in rural Derry. Glass became grass; stuffed, sweaty stores became empty expanses.
This is why I’m a playwright. To have wonderful life adventures like this.
So what next? Well, one more draft to go. Nose to the grindstone again.
Shit, maybe that’s why it looks so different.