A Q&A with Arthur Jolly

A Q&A with Arthur Jolly

What was the initial inspiration behind “The Lady Demands Satisfaction”?

I knew I was writing the play for a stage-combat oriented theatre (see my later answer for who!) and I started by sitting down and just trying to think of a fight that I had never seen on stage before. I considered a “fight in complete darkness” – but that’s a classic of Beijing Opera, it’s been done for hundreds of years. I struggled to come up with something truly original… and then I had the idea of an anti-fight, an opposite-fight: A scenario where two characters are each trying to LOSE a fencing match. They spend the fight trying desperately to touch their body to their opponents’ sword. Now, to make that work, both people must have a life-or-death reason that they must be the one to lose, and being a decent playwright I wanted an entirely different reason for each character – but they both needed to be justified and plausible; I also knew that neither character could know the other one was trying to lose, and they couldn’t tell the other person either. The entire convoluted, three act plot grew out of trying to set up that very specific circumstance!

Were any of the characters in the show inspired by someone in your own life?

Yes, my aunt was killed in a duel, thank you so much for bringing it up. Okay, not really. Lord Abernathy is perhaps inspired by one or two “mansplaining” types we have all met, and many of the phrases and idioms are from people I knew from my childhood in England, but the actual characters sprung from the needs of the play rather than from people I’ve known.

Who did you write this play for and why?

I wrote the play for an all-female, stage combat oriented company – Chicago’s Babes With Blades Theatre. They have a biennial competition – Joining Sword and Pen – to find plays with fight roles for women, and that incorporate a particular scene from a work of art that must be brought to life on stage at some point. The art work that inspired the play showed a rather dour woman holding a small sword, suspiciously looking around, while two women – one wearing a fake mustache – peek around the side of a large tree right behind her. I had won this competition twice before, both times with very heavy dramas – but looking at the artwork that year, I knew they wanted a flat out comedy, and the false mustache? That screamed classic farce with a servant in disguise as a nobleman!

Describe what it’s like seeing your play come to life.

There is a total dichotomy of experience in watching your own play. On one hand, there is nothing quite like it – it’s a giddying, dizzy experience, like seeing a dream come to life, and if I could sit alone in the theatre, it would be like seeing the absolute best play ever – the one that was custom crafted to be exactly what I want to see. On the other hand, seeing it with the other people in the audience makes it still exciting but also terrifying and a bit like walking down a busy street naked while everyone stares and makes loud comments on your physique — luckily, with this play, raucous laughter is exactly what I want to evoke.

Were you already familiar with the art of swordplay before writing the play?

My first career was as a stunt performer and fight choreographer – I actually met my wife at a stage combat workshop in Las Vegas – so there was a time, many years ago, when I was certified by the Society of American Fight Directors, when I was adept with multiple swords and styles… but what I carry forward from those days is how to write a scenario that can inspire a choreographer, rather than to write any actual moves. I’ve been a playwright and screenwriter for much longer than I was ever a stunt guy, and I know that a good stage fight is an extension of a relationship, a physical way of revealing character and furthering plot – that’s what’s important. I have seen plays where the story stops for a fight, and it bugs me to no end – the story continues, you just tell it with steel.

Why should audiences come see this show?

There aren’t many shows that just work across age groups – this seems to be one. I’ve seen young kids and their grandparents giggling together, I’ve even seen surly teenagers hiding their laughs from their roaring parents. My kid loved this play, and they’re a rambunctious eight year old that won’t sit still for anything. I’ve written funny plays and serious plays, this one just happened to catch lightning in a bottle. Plus – it’s a coming of age story about a young maiden with a sword – one critic called it “a fierce, feminist farce.” That’s a great combination!

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