by Mark Scharf
THE QUICKENING is a result of the confluence of many impulses, experiences, and I guess you could say tastes. I wanted to write a ghost story that works on the stage, that used its limitations as a strength to create an event that could engage and frighten; that relied on the power of suggestion and ideas to make tangible what cannot be seen.
I was brought up believing I have a soul – the intangible “me” existing independently of, yet somehow in, my body. My body would die but my soul – the “me” without a body – would live on. And where that soul would go after my body died depended on what I did while inhabiting my body.
So, for me, it wasn’t a great leap to believe in the possibility of ghosts. I thought if we saw or experienced a ghost what we experienced was some visual manifestation of a soul of someone who was dead.
As I have lived my life, my religious beliefs fell away while at the same time I have had experiences I cannot definitively explain. When family pets gather and stare into an empty corner of the room I cannot say for certain there was something there I could not see that was visible to or sensed by the animals. I can tell you that the space – the air in those empty corners seemed somehow “thicker.” But I can also say I have a very active imagination.
I put my stock in Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
When I was twelve years old, my parents let me stay up to watch a movie while the rest of my family went to bed. Alone in a darkened room, I watched THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE made in 1963 and based Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel. It scared the hell out of me earning a permanent place in my heart and head. And it did so by suggestion – by relying on my reactions and thoughts to create fear. You never saw a creature or apparition; you saw empty rooms and stairs and the reactions of people to sounds. You saw writing that had appeared during the night on a wall. You heard banging on a door echo like timpani on steroids and watched as a door knob ever so gently turned, but the door never opened.
The technique and the effect stuck with me and I have always wondered if I could write a play – a ghost story for the stage that employed the same approach to engage and frighten. It was an idea that kept appearing in my notebooks, but one that always ended up taking a back seat to a different play; I think now it hung around until I was ready to tackle it.
Next time, I’d like to share the history of the play before during and after writing the early drafts…