"The Backyard" is about a relationship between three people: myself, Patti, my best friend from home, and her fiancé Paul, my other childhood best friend who committed suicide in 2005. In the passage I read in the video, Patti and I stand in the backyard of Paul's parents’ house five years after his death to drink and reminisce. When I wrote a shorter version of this piece for 2nd Story, this was the opening scene and closing location. Scenes of our friendship in high school comprise the bulk of the piece and intimate how we would move forward as adults.
I was enamored with keeping this Russian-doll-like structure ... It simply had to exist that way.
As I expanded that story into a larger work, I was really enamored with keeping that same, Russian-doll-like structure of starting and ending in the same location in the present tense. For me, it is the scene the piece orbits—the place we returned to as adults—that represented the entire grand metaphor of shifting, expanding, uncomfortable changing of our lives. I even titled the work “The Backyard.” It simply had to exist that way.
Except it didn’t work. That scene in the backyard also revealed Paul’s suicide to the audience. Re-reading that scene in the context of the larger piece, it felt manipulative. Suicide carries emotional gravity on its own terms; most listeners and readers will sympathize with anyone who informs them they lost someone close in that way. But sympathy wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted the audience to understand why I needed to tell that story, why the details of my life and Paul’s death and our friendship are so important. I wanted to convince them that the world lost a special human being; that our story was bigger than Paul and Patti and me; that they could connect their lives with mine.
I wanted the audience to understand why I needed to tell that story.
A friend who read that draft suggested that it really took off during a different scene—later in the text, but set in high school—with Paul playing his guitar under the bright summer stars. Perhaps, my friend said, that should be first scene of the piece. I was hesitant to make the change; it would ruin my perfect structure!
Turns out my "perfect" structure was an entirely arbitrary need. When I tried what my friend suggested, I settled on something that, I think, is far more interesting: present tense scenes from life "after Paul" spliced with past tense scenes from our lives as friends. I still move toward ending the story in the backyard, with Patti and me and a final revelation before we part. But hopefully it’s more challenging for the audience than it was before and that I’ve accomplished what I set out to do, "perfect" structure or not.
Nicholas Ward is a writer, storyteller, producer, production manager, casting person and very occasional actor who has worked with Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Theatre Seven of Chicago, Sinnerman Theatre Ensemble, PineBox Theatre, and PR Casting. His writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from HYPERText Magazine, the Eunoia Review, and the 2nd Story podcast, where he has been a company member since 2006. In May 2014, he performed “The Backyard” for the Chicago Home Theater Festival and the piece will be published in an upcoming issue of Road Post Magazine. He lives in Logan Square with Amadeus the cat.
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