The Stakes are Raised

This weekend, once again, I will walk through the streets that pave the dark, fantastical world of “They Live Among Us.”

Lovers will come together; others will be torn apart. There is a heightened sense of danger, of peril. Serafina has left the safety of Caim’s home to return to the only night she knows. Caim is faced with a decision – to let her go, to let her lead this life… or to take the risk of trying to save her – a gamble that could end her life. Buer encounters old acquaintances. Jimmy searches for Beth. A John is in need of comfort for the night. Lives intertwine.

I begin my journey Friday, in a little place known as the Paradise…

The mind is its own place, and in itself,
Can make a heav’n of hell; a hell of heav’n – John Milton, Paradise Lost

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The Torments of Love

“But that afternoon he asked himself, with his infinite capacity for illusion, if such pitiless indifference might not be a subterfuge for hiding the torments of love.” 
~ Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

It is a bitter moment when we learn the hard truth of life, that the course of love never runs smooth.

The world of They Live Among Us is peppered with supernatural beings – who suffer from painfully human problems.

Episode Two, Fall From Grace, introduces the central story thread that will bind all of the characters together – the story of the star-crossed lovers, Caim and Serafina.

The story is emotionally evocative; the images painfully raw. We follow Caim, seemingly indifferent to the world around him, as he wanders through the mean streets of Los Angeles. And then, his countenance changes. Shock washes across his face as he discovers Serafina in her present incarnation, hardened by life on the streets, clad in disturbingly provocative attire, frail, like a rag doll.

Her lover Rocco approaches her. He is a like a wild animal, ready to spring upon his prey… and spring he does, his fury unleashes itself upon her. The fight is brutal. It is painful to see a person disassociate, to move so far away from being human; I am tempted to avert my gaze… but I do not.

Caim appears, and rescues his love. He is so gentle as he ministers to her wounds. What torment it is for him to find her fallen so low. He can no longer afford indifference; this time, he will not stand by and watch as she is destroyed yet…

…and yet, he is only half of this equation, for Serafina’s choice is the sum of the whole. She can stay with Caim, a complete stranger, who tells her that he only wishes to take care of her, or she can return to Rocco. The choice for her is not as simple as it seems, for Rocco’s love is the only kind she has known. What draws a woman to a man who drains the life from her, who resorts to verbal and physical assaults, who treats her as offal? Serafina is so far removed from being the Chosen One. She cannot even imagine the possibility of who she truly is – and who she can become. She may, however… if she is strong enough.

A Place Called Paradise

I spent Sunday night in Paradise.

Urban sprawl provides one with anonymity, as if the masses surrounding you form a shield of invisibility. You are indistinguishable amongst the masses. You cannot be seen for who – or what – you truly are.

It was under this protective veil that I entered the Paradise Bar.

There is no measure of time in Paradise, for there are no windows with which to gauge the hour of day. It is eternal midnight within its dark walls. A few mismatched bar stools, a couple of small seating areas – this is the sum of Paradise. It is a place where troubled souls venture, in order to numb the pain within.

Across from me were two men engaged in debate. One of them, the older, wore the clerical collar of a priest; the other was cloaked in black. Their discussion, barely audible, had the sense of a lifelong debate between the two. I wondered why the priest found such pleasure in his whiskey… what horror he was trying to forget… and yet, he seemed hopeful. Ebullient, almost, clinging to idealism the way a drowning man might clutch a water-logged seat cushion.

His companion was of a different ilk; dark, beautiful, intense. Detachment was his defense… and yet, a glimpse of something else. An offhand remark; a rare smile, a bit of self-deprecation… and pain. I watched as the mask was dropped. Anguish wrapped around him like a lover’s embrace – anguish, and hope. I thought of Janus, the two-faced god, and wondered which of the faces would become master, and which would become the slave.

A movement caught my eye – a young man stepped into the room. His clothes were rumpled, there was stubble on his cheeks. He seemed lost – and utterly alone.

He slid onto a stool, and began the age-old ritual of self-medication. On his right, a lone man. He seemed almost an anachronism in the bar – his suit was pressed, he wore a silken tie, and a fedora sat by his side. Like the rest in Paradise, he, too, seemed invisible in the world. Why was he here? Why so alone?

Paradise’s bartender was a youthful chap; I assumed that he was a writer, as he kept a journal close by his side. When he was not recording his musings or serving customers, his attentions were solely devoted to the cocktail waitress. Secret glances passed between them; every opportunity for contact was fully exploited. I thought of the head-rush of new love, of how one’s senses become amplified, of the feeling of sated pleasure. I wondered how long that this would last for them. For some people, this passion is a fleeting escape from the harsh inequities of life; for others, it is the coming together of souls. What will it be for them?

A young woman sat next to the rumpled man. She was fresh and pretty; clad in a simple pink dress, the epitome of the girl next door… and yet, within her eyes, I could sense abject loneliness – and something else. It was her eyes. Yes. They seemed older than she. Perhaps only I noticed, for the man next to her certainly did not. He zeroed in on her; to him, she seemed like oxygen to a dying astronaut. I could see her measure him; her need for love was palpable. Perhaps this time love will find her, I thought. Perhaps this time, everything will be okay.

And so, I sat in my darkened corner Sunday night in Paradise, and watched the stories that surrounded me. The two men rose, and slipped into the night. The young woman and the man left together. The young lovers whispered in the flickering lights, while the man in the suit drank alone… and I knew that their journeys were about to begin.

Acts of Intimacy

This weekend marks the beginning of production for They Live Among Us. Within a few weeks, all will be visible, all will be known, and you, gentle readers, will be able to join us on this journey.

Soon, I will write in depth about this weekend; what I saw, what I heard, what moved and intrigued me. What I hope for the characters… and what I fear for them most.

Until then, I leave you with thoughts from an entry about what I’ve experienced during the creation of TLAU from my other blogsite:

Acts of Intimacy

Writing for actors is an act of intimacy.

When you take this approach, you are peering into an artist’s heart and soul… and you are allowing them to peer into yours. You ask questions of their characters – detailed glimpses into their lives, for these glimpses provide you with not only what is happening in the present, but what has happened in the past… and in the world of They Live Among Us, backstory – the character’s lives, their fecund histories – is everything.

It is a little frightening, this transparency. Yesterday, at the table read, I revealed a suspicion of mine in regard to a character’s backstory. It is a dark and terrible moment in his past; the reveal was unsettling for all.

It is much safer to keep things gay and light. To reveal something so dark is to open one’s self up for inspection, for criticism, and for judgement. Such reveals are an articulation of the struggle within. To commit this act is to stand there naked, for all to see.

This intimate act of writing is as if you have been speaking with a person for a while… and you move in close to them… and discover that they are wearing a scent. You look around, and realize that others in the room do not know this scent. It is subtle. It is only for those who are allowed so close.

Intimacy is not without risk. Shedding defenses, stripping off layers places you in a position of vulnerability. What if you are rejected? What if the sum of you is considered to be aesthetically or morally displeasing? What if you are found to be ugly?

As I prepare to incorporate notes and thoughts from the read, I also prepare to bare my mind, my heart, my soul. My friend Dari says “Write like you’re naked,” and never before have words rung so true.