Tonseisha – my initial thoughts


The astounding Erik Patterson

I found the script of Tonseisha pretty much on or close to the 24th of February 2011 and immediately wrote to the playwright, Erik Patterson, based in LA. (Erik recently won a Daytime Emmy for The Haunting Hour!)

I have been working on it, pulling together a super team of people and artists, for some time now, and I feel that we’re reaching a certain point whereby the show has gathered a momentum and has to now come forth in its full form (We’ve shown sections at three different events to date).

Below is, apart from edited-out talk of logistics, what I wrote to Erik in 2011, a few hours after I’d read the play for the first time. Forgive the earnest tone (well, you might be used to my earnest tone by now!).

Why have I thought of looking up my email to him? I read a piece today about writers, abstract texts; on making theatre. About gaps/silence/’nothing’ on stage and how it is exciting to work on a text that has this fizzy potential written into it. Tonseisha is a bloody gift of a piece and the fact that Erik is allowing us to play with it, to write a bloody opera into/around it, to turn it into/encase it within an installation, maybe, is amazing. I AM bloody lucky.

Cat Harrison saw an early work in progress showing of it and said that she longed for more silence, stillness, quiet in the section we showed, which was rather deliciously full on. All of this is grist to the mill. I cannot wait to get back into the room with the wonderful genius of a director, Gary Merry.


Dear Erik

Thank you for your lovely email. I have since re-read Tonseisha in greater detail and I am very excited about talking to you about what you want for the piece. 

I have scribbled down a rambling list of my initial reactions as to why I am interested in Tonseisha for you (see below). This is by no means a comprehensive guide and I hope you don’t mind the note format – I am not a writer!
As a quick summary, I think it’s very striking, and would be a wonderful challenge and a gift to work on. I would like to know more about what you think about it as a piece and it’s performance history to date. Your starting point for this play, per your last email to me, really makes sense. His lonely, horrible death doesn’t seem right; it’s mythic.
I discovered Brautigan by chance. He’s hardly known of here in the UK but someone lent me Sombrero Fallout years ago.  He’s one of those writers whose writing makes my mouth dry up or my heart skip – it’s unbelievably beautiful writing yet very grounded at the same time. Something Tonseisha is too. 
I’d like you to ask me as many questions as you need to as well. I like to think that I am pretty upfront and honest about how I operate.
To answer your first: I found you rather simply – I was wondering if Brautigan had ever written a play and while others have adapted single books of his as dance pieces/experimental theatre, yours was the first I found which was thematic. And the brief excerpt online grabbed my imagination and as I very much trust my gut, I sped you an email on spec.
General writing
In my second reading, I was really struck by how tightly structured the writing is on the whole. I am a huge fan of technique and you’ve phrased Tonseisha like a musical piece. The shifts are clear and breathtaking and allow for a dense emotional landscape.
The poetry and dreamlike quality of the piece is gorgeous. And very well balanced with stark, grounded, real-life stuff.
Your use of repetition, muddle, and abrupt shifts, with the startling snatches of clarity, really work.
Storytelling, Repetition
Love the theme of telling stories/appropriating stories/making up fantasies and lies, and how we sometimes, if we feel lost, use this as a strategy to place ourselves in universe. (Incidentally, my associate, Anna Sulan Masing’s Phd focuses on the appropriation of stories and how repetition changes the storytellers as well as the audience.)
Art – Texture – Visuals
You have written in huge amounts of gorgeous texture – sound, temperature, pace, landscapes – and hard-hitting imagery . The world of the play is distinct & would be a gift to the artistic team that gets to work on it.
Akiko isn’t just a poetic victim/lost girl. She’s articulate, she provokes, has great moments of clarity and self-awareness, intelligence. Her speech on pg 42 ends perfectly. And the fact that Robert has also ended up in the r’ship through his own series of projections counter-balances the Akiko thread nicely.
(Am really interested in the while male-Asian female, older man/younger woman threads as well. Plus of course, delving deeper into the parent-child relationships. I have lots of questions, which is a great sign as to how intriguing Tonseisha is.)
Well-chosen, well-placed theatrical devices
–  speaking in unison
– stage directions: “make blurry love” – impressionistic, dreamlike, scope for movement in play; domestic scene of A moving about with sounds from faraway, no dialogue. Perfect!
– Brautigan on stage
– direct address

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s