I feel like I’m writing way too many blog posts lately the gist of which is, “I’m an idiot and totally screwed up.”
We need to talk about the Tale of Tales project nicknamed 4th Orange. I’ve talked about it in very general terms but I haven’t really come out and explain exactly what it is and I think it’s time to do that so I can properly explain the mess I’ve gotten myself into. Before we get into this: yes, the project is still happening and, yes, it should still be done soon. But, as you’ll soon see, a big mistake on my part has changed the project so I need to figure out exactly how to proceed.
Back in 2002, when I was adapting The Love of Three Oranges my senior year of college, I wanted to read the original fairy tale on which it was based. Most places will tell you that Carlo Gozzi’s play is based on The Three Citrons from Giambattista Basile’s Tale of Tales (aka the Pentamerone) so I set out to read it. What became immediately clear (which is why I think it’s somewhat funny that so many places have this wrong) is that The Three Citrons is only one of several tales Gozzi’s play is based on and I was going to need to read the whole collection of 50 fairy tales to figure out where all the bits of that story came from. Because I am a huge nerd, this kind of literary scavenger hunt is exactly the sort of thing I would enjoy doing for fun but, as I was facing down an honors thesis, graduation and the post-college job hunt, I decided it was a task for another day.
Fast forward to three years ago when my daughter was a newborn and I was suffering from The Worst postnatal insomnia on earth. Like, the baby was sleeping but it was doing me zero good because I couldn’t sleep so I was getting < 2 hours a sleep a night. Do not recommend. I couldn’t take meds (because breastfeeding) so I was trying every random recommendation I could find online, one of which was to read something super boring.
Weird old Italian fairy tales I’ve been meaning to read forever? Sounds perfect. I started cracking open the Tale of Tales whenever I couldn’t sleep, which was pretty much every night.
Unfortunately, as an insomnia tool, it was a fail because I ended up really enjoying them. I had a list of them I wanted to adapt into plays but the collection of fairy tales itself was so little known that I knew I needed a hook of some kind to be able to effectively sell them. Then an idea jumped into my head fully formed which I eluded to back in May of 2013 in this post: I would adapt the tales in the same sort of modern commedia style as my Gozzi adaptations and give it a Three Oranges tie in that would be my marketing hook.
The play, which I started thinking of as The Fourth Orange, began when Truffaldino gets kicked out of a royal banquet for making a tasteless joke and ends up getting stuck babysitting the royal kids: three princesses that, though the play never officially says, I was picturing as Tartaglia and Ninetta’s grandkids. Come bedtime, Truff insists on only reading fairy tales they’ve never heard of which allowed me to showcase some of the weirder tales from the collection as standalone tales within this frame story while also having the fun of essentially having four narrators, three of which are exasperating kids. The final tale he tells them is The Fourth Orange, a story adapted from one in the collection but tweaked so that it works with the world of my version of The Love of Three Oranges. This tale not only served as a fun prequel / sequel / spinoff to Oranges that I thought would satisfy fans of the first play, it was also the story of how Truffaldino met Franceschina, making it a prequel to The Green Bird was well. Meanwhile the project as a whole was a love letter to obscure stories and giving them a new chance and it immediately starting coming together as soon as I started it.
But as I whipped through my draft of 4th Orange, I ran into a problem. I had already toyed with adapting The Green Bird as a sequel to Three Oranges back in 2002 and decided against it mostly because I absolutely hated that play and didn’t know how to fix it. But if I was going to write this play, which essentially happens after the events of The Green Bird, I didn’t want to write myself into a corner where I couldn’t adapt TGB later if I wanted to. Ugh. I figured I better reread TGB, as it had been years, to make sure I wasn’t screwing up the continuity there.
And then something weird happened. I figured out how to write The Green Bird at last and the rest is history.
I put 4th Orange on hold while I finished The Green Bird since it came chronologically first anyway. In the meantime, I realized I was reading a bad translation of Tale of Tales and started my research over. (Side note: I wanted to take Italian in school because it’s my heritage and it wasn’t offered so I had to take French and I am increasingly bitter about this the more time I spend on these projects where I have to rely on someone else’s translation because I don’t speak the language!)
I adapted six tales as standalone one-act plays, some of which are already available for productions, the last two of which I’m still finalizing. My plan was to have slightly longer one-act versions of each of the tales that could stand alone and then compress these stories into the frame story for the full length play. I adapted six tales, though I anticipated only needing five, because I wanted to leave my options open. I also outlined a few more tales I wanted to write but realized I probably didn’t have room for.
So far so good. Things were moving along so swimmingly and I was super confident in the play so I took a break to work on a novel. We all know how well that went.
So I came back to the play a few weeks ago. I’d been concentrating on doing the tales as standalones so far but I finally started to put them together in the frame play to get a sense of how it worked as a whole. I wanted to know exactly how many tales I had room for so I could plan accordingly.
Here’s where I got messed up. I think it was a combination of having the wrong things checked off on the Scrivener compile function so I was looking at an incorrect total word count for the project and some kind of simple math fail on my part. Either way, when I first I put the project together, and looked at the length of it so far, I came to the conclusion that I easily had room for three more plays at the length the other three had come out at (because these are weirdly all averaging about the same length), so I could add that sixth play in after all and the whole mess would be just about the length of The Green Bird. Perfect, I thought, because six seemed like a good number (that’s how many are in All In The Timing, possibly the most famous full length play made up of one-acts) and proceeded putting the play together. The only wrinkle was that one of the tale plays was rudely raging into a full length play despite my best efforts to rein it in but I figured I’d find a solution to that once the time came.
I finished yet another tale play on June 6th, which left me two left to finalize, and that’s when I realized my error: When I had reached the conclusion that I could add three more plays I was actually already over my target word count for the entire project. The total word count I’d been looking at was only a couple of documents and now, the play as I planned it, was impossibly huge. There was absolutely no way I could do this play as I’d first envisioned it and that SUCKED.
I did some absolute freaking out for a while when I first found the error on Monday night but when I finally talked myself down, I realized this is not entirely a bad thing. No matter what happens, I will have at least six new one-act plays all of which can stand alone or groups can mix and match and pair for a fun custom evening of weird Italian fairy tales.
But what about the project I had already put so much work into? Can I still do the full length, TLOTO/TGB prequel / sequel play I planned in some form? Well, I’ve already got at least two full length play’s worth of content so I know the answer is yes… it’s just a matter of figuring out how. It will likely involve shuffling things around, rethinking some things and adapting a few more of those tales that I outlined but didn’t write or maybe just cutting some tales out to include in a future project. Either way, I was hoping to tell you I was almost done and instead I’m scrambling a bit to figure out how to still do this project how I wanted to. But I really think, while this threw me for a big loop, it’s going to wind up being a good thing in the long run.
This is a good reality check to note. People are always asking me how I get so much done with so few working hours and so little sleep and the answer is, yeah, I get a lot done, but sometimes I really completely screw up because my brain is tapioca.
So that’s where I am. Two additional tales will become available for productions soon and then I’ll be taking a wee break to work on another play I owe someone before tackling the final stretch of this massive multi-year project. The good news, though, is that I know you’re going to love what I’ve got so far, in whatever form it ends up being in, and I’m incredibly eager to finally show it to you soon!
Edited to add: I wrote this post on June 8th and scheduled it to go up the next morning and for some reason it didn’t. While this is annoying, it gives me the opportunity to add a little good news at the end here. After a bit of planning and rethinking, I’ve discovered that this mix-up will actually mean 4th Orange will be done faster than planed. I will be including only four tales in the full length play and releasing one of the extras as a standalone play that productions will have the option to substitute in for one of the other plays if they want to make the play a little shorter or the cast size smaller. That means I’ve only got one small section left to revise and this play could be done as early as the end of this month! That’s way sooner than I hoped to have it done so I’m pretty psyched.
The final tale was trying to become a full length anyway so I’m going to let it. I read through the first draft the other day and it’s pretty strong and I still love it. It’s been shelved for a bit until 4th Orange is done but I’ll revisit it as soon as this play is done so, while I’m not promising anything, that might be done before the end of the year too. If the full length comes together fast enough, maybe I’ll still do a one-act version of it as well because why not?
Anyway, that’s all from me, back to writing forever…