In Memoriam

London NHM 1100621

“Good stories have teeth.”
Elizabeth O’Connor, 1956-2014

Elizabeth O’Connor was a teacher of writing, a dramaturge, and the Literary Manager of the Court Theatre (among much else).

It was in the latter capacity that I met her, doing a week’s internship in her little office at the top of the Christchurch Arts Centre (now, alas, no more). My task was to make a dent in the two-foot-high stack of scripts on her desk that had been submitted for consideration. As a budding playwright myself (budding? I was barely a sprout) I found both the job and her company very instructive.

The above quote is something Elizabeth used when teaching writing to children. It’s a sort of visual rendition of the fortunately-unfortunately pattern of storytelling, with the ‘teeth’ becoming longer and pointier as the stakes rise and the reversals hurl the character from the heights to the depths and back again. (Children tend to enjoy things that involve big pointy teeth, as do those of us who spend much time in the company of our inner child.)

In 2010 Elizabeth invited me to be part of the Court’s Young Playwrights Initiative, where I developed Dead Man Talking – again, a hugely instructive time. Encouraging as she was, Elizabeth was not one to let you get away with doing less than your best – and she knew if she hadn’t got it.
She was also instrumental in bringing about DMT‘s subsequent performance as part of the Elmwood Players’ 3 Piece, Sweet!

In short, I owe her a lot. She was not only rich in knowledge and understanding of storytelling, theatre, and the theatrical world, but she shared that wealth. She not only welcomed newcomers to that world but elicited the best from them while helping them find their feet. The New Zealand theatre world is a good deal the poorer for her untimely loss, and she will be sorely missed.

The last communication I had from Elizabeth was an assessment of a play I had submitted for the Olga E Harding New New Zealand Playwriting Award. She wrote “should write more”.
I have. And I will.

the Relentless Rhythm

About three or four weeks after your DNA was composed, when you were about the size of a pea (and a very small pea at that), something remarkable happened.

A little tubey squiggle in your pea-sized self started to pulse rhythmically. Not very dramatic, not very noticeable, even, but there it was.

Over time the tubey squiggle got rather more complicated as it developed, but the beat went on.

Fig1 HeBee

It’s carrying on even now, however many years later.

Except for major medical interventions (or situations requiring major medical interventions), that beat won’t stop until the day you die. It might speed up or slow down at various times, but the basic rhythm carries on.

Think back over your life: the ups, the downs, the scares, the joys. Through it all, your heart was beating away – despite what you might have felt at the time – largely unnoticed and generally unappreciated.

So today, why not do something nice for your heart in return? Eat another vegetable, go for a walk, or just take some time to de-stress. Keep your heart happy.

After all, it’s been with you longer than any of your friends (since you were a pea and it was a squiggle, in fact) and it’s probably let you down less often. It’s always there for you, just getting on with the job.

Speaking of which, why not consider donating your heart to someone else when you’ve finished with it? We don’t bury people’s tools with them any more, so why would you bury something as useful as a heart?

There are, sadly, many people whose hearts for one reason or another are not the reliable workhorses most of us enjoy (or more usually, ignore). Why not agree to pass yours on to someone who will really appreciate it?