Afterimage by Robert Chafe

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Authors: Robert Chafe
I expect that Afterimage would never have come into being if not for the fact that Jillian Keiley (founder of one of the country’s most innovative and fearless theatre companies, Artistic Fraud) is terrified of flying.
    Jill and I first met at the Labrador Creative Arts Festival in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in 1998. The week-long event invites professional artists in all disciplines to run workshops with school kids from across Labrador. The night before she flew back to St. John’s, Jill was already stressed about the thought of getting on the plane. I gave her a copy of my second book, Hard Light , a collection of stories and poems about outport Newfoundland. This will keep your mind off it, I told her. I meant it as a joke, but Jill claims she read the whole way home and never gave a thought to the imminent crash that usually occupies her time during a flight.
    A few months later she contacted me to suggest adapting parts of the book for the stage. Eventually Salvage: The Story of a House went up in an old merchant residence in St. John’s, the audience moving from room to room in groups of eight to hear a series of three-minute monologues. Each small group carried a map that told them which room to move to next, a hundred people jigsawing through the narrow hallways, the actors on the move between pieces as well. Everyone saw the same show, but each in a different order.
    I remember thinking, when Jill first described this Rubik’s Cube of an idea to me, that there was no way to make the logistical nightmare work. I was wrong, of course. And as I’ve learned from that experience and my subsequent run-ins with Artistic Fraud, Jill’s mind operates in a realm completely different than my own.
    * * *
    When Jill and Robert Chafe invited me out to lunch three or four years ago, I was expecting the unexpected. Several times after the Salvage show Jill had mentioned that she might be interested in adapting “Afterimage” for the stage. Fill your boots, I told her, though privately I thought it was a ridiculous notion and would never happen.
    The story is part of Flesh and Blood , a collection set in a fictional mining town that is remarkably similar to the place where I was born and raised in central Newfoundland. I have only the vaguest recollection of how the story came to me and how it took shape, but there were a number of real-life anecdotes at the root of it: a French woman who worked at the hospital in Buchans and told fortunes in her off-hours; a family friend who was badly injured in an industrial electrocution; ball lightning entering an outport house through the stove and circling the room until it was swept out the door with a broom. Why these completely unrelated events began circling one another in my head is a mystery to me. But they created a gravitational field that pulled in dozens of other stray incidents and stories I’d heard: the worm that curled up and died when held in the palm of the seventh son of a seventh son; the kids of an ostracized family who passed on a contaminating “touch” if you came into contact with them; the travelling photographer who went door to door in Buchans when I was no more than five or six years old. The episodic nature of the source material made for a story told in a series of brief scenes weaving back and forth across a number of time frames, many of them offering variations on images of fire or electricity. Not the kind of thing that seems to be crying out for a theatrical treatment.
    Over lunch, Jill explained her plan to build an “electrified” set with a copper floor and copper-wire walls with a live current running through them. She wanted to wire the actors’ costumes in a way that would allow them to complete a circuit in order to spark off one another or illuminate light bulbs by touch or mimic the flash of a camera. She sketched a few things on napkins, talking at length about the difference between AC and DC currents. I knew enough about Jill by then not

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