Inside Sam's Head / by Marsali Taylor
FRENCH TEACHER - Madame Delarge
ENGLISH TEACHER - Miss Seeker
SCIENCE TEACHER - Mrs Nathan
This play can be done by an all-female cast and equally by a mixed cast, changing some pupils' names to boys. Sam could be male or female. The teachers, too, could be either sex.
Maximum numbers are 18 but this can be reduced to 13 or 14 if required. Less would make some of the group scenes difficult, though there may be possibilities, for instance - giving Sophie only one friend, a composite Anita / Isobel. Other pupils too could become composites. Further reductions like this would result in a minimum cast of around 10.
Doubling, if desired, for a cast of 13, might be as follows: Mother / Stacey; Madame Delarge / Anna [Anna's lines in French class given to Sue]; Miss Seeker / Debbie; Mrs Nathan / Amanda; Sue / Pupil. If an exam piece, Jane may have to amalgamate with another character, such as Marie to give it sufficient weight. All the pupils' parts can be made more substantial by careful work on the improvised section.
If the improvisation section is built up, there will be enough for all cast to have sufficient to do. There are other opportunities for ensemble work too.
The play has a running time of approx twenty to twenty-five minutes.
It would make a good GCSE examination piece, providing doubling is used to ensure sufficient exposure time.
Sample Pages from the script
A stage with items scattered around it, well spaced
out, in a rough semi-circle. Each item needs an individual spot.
The items are: a table with phone on it, a vacuum cleaner, a table,
different height, with a radio on it, tuned to a music station;
a drum-set, a microwave; a table, again different height, with
a tape recorder with talking taped on it; two alarm docks together.
Each item has a person in black in charge of it - one of the cast
members who play the pupils.
At the opening of the play, the stage is in darkness. Through the darkness, we hear the sound of the alarm clocks; a spot goes up on them as they continue to ring. Then, at five second intervals, each of the above items starts to make its noise, at the same time a spot coming up on it as it begins to sound. The sounds should be loud, and, once all have joined in, almost unbearable.
Sam enters into the centre of the semicircle A spot comes up on her.
SAM inaudible over the din behind
Good evening. Pleased to meet you. I'm Sam and I'm going to take you on a journey inside my head. [Shouting.] Can you hear me out there.
She notices the noises and moves from item to item. As she touches each one, it is switched off by its operator. As each item is silenced, the stage lightens to normal bright. Sam brings the vacuum cleaner down centre and sits on it.
You see, that's the problem. Haven't you ever noticed what a noisy world it is? Machinery, music, people talking - all these noises - along with the noises inside my head ...
I'm not deaf, or at least not so's you'd notice. I'm not different. I read and watch and pick up clues and guess from context. You'd never know if you met me.
Sam rises and moves to the person with the drumset. The drum thuds in time with her steps.
Those are my footsteps. There are times when I'm walking and they reverberate up my spine and echo in my head - thump, thump - drowning out everything else. But at least I can control those.
She makes a 'cut' gesture towards the drums and moves over towards the alarm clocks. They start to ring.
They call this tinnitus. Like two alarm docks, all the time, ringing and ringing on slightly different notes. It never stops - never - not even in my dreams. [Looks straight at audience.] People think being deaf is silent. I wish. [Spot on the `phone as it rings. Sam does not react.] Ringing on and on. What I'd give, sometimes, for silence. MOTHER entering and grabbing `phone
Yes - yes - no, that's okay - 4.15 on Wednesday - right, thank you. [Puts `phone down.] Sam, you could have got that.
What? Oh, sorry, Mum, didn't hear it.
Well, I'm used to hearing ringing noises. And there's this. [Beats tattoo on vacuum cleaner. Switches it on briefly.] I bet most of you don't even notice the air conditioning in here. Somehow, it's right on my frequency. And then there's more noises on top. [Indicates microwave, radio and tape recorder, which are then switched on.] And the noise you're trying to listen to. [She brings the radio to the front.] There is a pause while we all strain to hear the separate sounds - which juggle between the tape recorded voices and the radio music for dominance, as the operators juggle the volumes. [Then Sam makes the 'cut' gesture again and the sounds are switched off.] And then people talk to you as well and wonder why you can't hear them. Well, I'm not going to go explaining, am I? Mega - embarrassment. But there was one day at school that made me think that maybe I shouldn't be embarrassed - that being deaf is just a fact, like having brown eyes - a fact I should tell people. [She sits down by the radio.]
The people in black remove their black tops to reveal school uniform below, They are the pupils.
All freeze. The light becomes intensely bright, but cold. Gobo
of bare trees. A sunny, still day in Winter. Sam stands and comes
forward. The Mother comes on, slowly, turns her face to the sun,
smiling, then tilts her head, listening. We hear birdsong. Her
face becomes rapt, joyful: the end of Winter is in sight and Spring
is near. She starts looking around her, bends to touch the soil.
The first crocus shoots - through already.
She stands once more, listening, looking, seeing all the signs of the new season.
Mum, what are you doing?
Listen - the birds are singing.
Sam listens. She can't hear
It's freezing out here.
Spring's not so far away.
The ground's solid. Iced over.
Look at the green on the pine trees.
No, under the frost it's green. Look at the ivy, how bright the leaves are.
And the perennials - the lady's mantle and pinks. They're all ready to come again, just as soon as the thaw ends.
Mum, it's December.
Tomorrow's New Year's Day. The birds know it. Oh, it's beautiful - look at the blue of the sea. It's like a summer's day, early in the morning, before anyone's awake. [A long pause, enjoying it. Then she moves purposefully.] Well, this won't get the house cleaned for New Year.
She goes off, suddenly revitalised. Sam watches her go.
And I couldn't see it. Somehow she knew that the worst was over: the warmth conquering the cold, the days lengthening. The birds had brought the end of Winter and all I could see was the frost on the ground and the leaves withered on the stalks and three long months still to go.
She returns to her seat, dejectedly. Lights up. The class are all laughing as they rise to put books away and start exiting. Sam tugs Lesley's sleeve.
What was all that?
Oh, she just made a joke.
What was it?
Oh, I can't remember.
It wasn't very funny.
It's easy for you. You can choose to listen or not - I can't. I have to depend on the rest of you to be able to join in. I'm sick of being on the outside, pretending to laugh because you're all laughing, so that I'm not different. I don't care if it isn't funny. I just wanted to hear the punchline - just once. [She storms off.]
I hadn't thought. You don't, do you? I hated that listening test we had to do, but Sam's whole life's a listening test...
... and we just helped her fail it.
Sample Pages from Production Notes
PRODUCTION NOTES + TECHNICAL CUES etc.
N.B. These notes are suggestions only. You may find them helpful to follow; or they may act as a springboard for your own ideas; or you can choose to ignore them entirely!
INTRODUCTION: THEMES, THE PLAY'S INTENTION.
Sam is not profoundly deaf - she can 'hear' at times, if she is expecting a sound and is focusing all her intention on it. She can follow conversations, providing she can see the speaker - a mixture of lip-reading and picking up clues from body language. She can often pick up sounds, like the telephone, through the vibrations they make.
Sam takes the audience into her head, to experience what it is like to be her. We experience her frustration, how she sometimes picks up tantalising pieces of a conversation but then either cannot make sense of it [particularly true of jokes] or has to use her obviously considerable intelligence to juggle sounds until the 'proper' sense is evident.
Because she is so bright, she manages to cope with normal education, but herein also lies a problem. Sam wants to be accepted as normal, the same as everyone else. Only her closest friends and her sister know that she is deaf. Her teachers do not know, because Sam wants to be treated the same as everyone else. We admire Sam's pride and understand her reasons, aching for her as a bullying and insensitive teacher persists in treating her as stupid and, worse, as deliberately refusing to do her work.
In the end, the truth has to come out and it is, really the best thing all round. Teachers and other pupils are able to include Sam in more by being aware of her problem but, because she has made it clear that she wants to be normal and because she can really cope extraordinarily successfully, no one patronises her. Each 'side' accommodates a little to the other.
The moral seems to be understanding on both sides. Sam needed to recognise her pride sometimes as too extreme, actually in the end making things hard for herself. Schoolfriends and teachers have to realise both her need to be normal and the small subtle accommodations that can be made without wounding her pride.
The play achieves a sympathy from the audience by teaching them to 'hear' or not hear as she does. We experience the jumble of sounds she has to live with - deafness is not to live in a silent world; quite the contrary. We experience - by 'hearing' only when someone is facing the audience and 'not hearing', when that person is turned away - something of the frustration and, sometimes, comedy as things get misinterpreted or only partially understood. The whole play is experienced through Sam herself; we are 'inside her head.'
CHARACTERS - all of whom will be 18/19 years old
The following cannot really be character studies, since that is not appropriate on the whole for the play as it is. Most are just normal, typical - without being stereo-typed - school children. The style of playing should be naturalistic in the scenes themselves, even though feezes and such like conventions used throughout the play, demand a disciplined and stylised format round the edges of the scenes.
SAM - a third-year girl, [Year 9] deaf, but not profoundly so, intelligent and proud. Wants to be treated as normal, so secretive about her condition. Only her sister, sister's closest friends and her own two close friends know.
LESLEY - another third-year girl [Year 9], close friend to Sam, who knows about Sam's deafness.
CAROL - Sam's other best friend, also in the know.
MOTHER - practical and hard-working. Capable of sensitivity and joy.
SOPHIE - Sam's elder sister - by about a year. Fourth year, [Year 10] concerned about Sam missing out on life and fun. Protective of Sam in general - as in the scene in the science lab.
FRENCH TEACHER, MADAME DELARGE - a largely sympathetic and kind teacher, genuinely concerned about Sam.
ENGLISH TEACHER - MISS SEEKER - very sympathetic and supportive of Sam - though she doesn't know her problem. None of the teachers do.
SCIENCE TEACHER - MISS NATHAN - an impatient, strict teacher, who is probably normally perfectly reasonable, but has a bee in her bonnet about Sam being lazy and difficult. Very chastened when she finds out Sam's problem.
MARIE - another third year [Year 9] Rather bitchy. Perhaps a group leader. But she goes out of her way to be kind when she knows Sam is deaf. Perhaps that is her way of apologising.
SUE, ANNA and STACEY - three more 3rd years [Year 9s]. Marie's 'set', giggly and gossipy.
ANITA and ISOBEL - friends of Sophie's, Sam's sister. Fourth year [Year 10s]. More sensible and a little aloof from the younger girls. It is Isobel who tells Miss Nathan about Sam and she is right to do so.
DEBBIE, AMANDA and JANE - yet more of Sam's class.
Best done in a studio -type environment, or a smallish enclosed space - stage reduced by blacks, for instance. There is no setting as such - the furniture and props are all on stage from the start and moved around as necessary. The actors sit around the edge of the playing area, quiet and still, on chairs. If you want the gobo to show on the back, then an area of cyclorama will need to be visible, the edges cut off by blacks. Depending on your floor covering, the gobo may be more effective creating a shadow on the floor.
Various areas of light are indicated, as follows:
1.General stage lighting - over whole playing area, called from now, Area A.
2. Rectangular area of light in centre of stage to outline 'bus. + spill of light to one side for bus-stop. This combination called from now Area B.
3.Central circular area of light, enough to accommodate three people, not too crowded together, soft-edged. Called from now Area C. Will use some of the lanterns used for Area B, just adding further width and changing the outer shape. This same area needs to be used for one exterior scene. So you need to be able to lose the warm interior lights and just use bright white, blue and grey-blue to suggest a bright Winter's day. The gobo is also used in this scene.
4. 7 separate spots in a rough semi-circle around the middle and back of the stage, focused on the different items: a] two alarm clocks. b] table with 'phone on; c] vacuum cleaner; d] table with radio; e] drum-set; f] microwave; g] table with tape-recorder.
5. Single spotlight, front centre. Called spot h].
6. Pin-spot focused just on Sam's face for blind scene, Page 9. Probably also in a front central position. Perhaps it can be one of two spots used for h.] This pin-spot called from now, spot j.]
In addition, a gobo is needed, of bare trees, thrown onto exposed area of cyclorama at the back - or it could work just thrown as shadows on the floor.
Coloure disco lighting is needed near the end to cover the whole stage. A strobe is also needed.
Beginning of play. As each sound comes in, its spot comes on, in the order a, b, c, d, e, f, g.
When the sound has carried on for a couple of seconds at a near unbearable level, bring a spotlight up - spot h] front centre on Sam. As Sam starts to move from item to item, start to bring up the general stage lighting to bright, submerging the spots with this.
After first line at top of page. Cue: Sam and Sophie -'Yeah, yeah!' Lights to reduced central rectangular area, B: bus.
Towards the middle of the page. Cue: Marie and friends giggling and moving off. Cross-fade Area B lights to out and bring up circular central area of light C.
Bottom of page. Cue: Carol -'See how we feel by the end of the day.' Bring up rest of lights to join C - Area A, whole stage.