Gary Beadle in premiere at Oran Mor Glasgow (Lesley Black)
Tom Wainwright tells us about his play.
It previews in Bristol before going to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
This is the story of a play I’ve written called The Room In The Elephant
2004: A man with no ﬁxed abode, Tachowa Covington, moves into a deserted water tank near the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles. He kits it out with a ﬂoor, carpets, furniture, even CCTV.
2006: British grafﬁti artist Banksy holds an exhibition of his work in LA. Controversially, the centre piece of the exhibition is a live elephant painted the same pattern as the surrounding wallpaper. A sign reads: “There is an elephant in the room we are all ignoring – that 2 billion people are still living below the poverty line.”
February 2011: Banksy is back in LA, attending the Oscars where his ﬁlm “Exit Through The Gift Shop” is nominated but doesn’t win. While he is there he notices Tachowa’s water tank, and that it looks a bit like an elephant. He asks Tachowa if he can write “This Looks A Bit Like An Elephant” on the side of tank. Tachowa says yes – he has no idea who Banksy is.
Two weeks later, the tank, now a “Banksy” is purchased by an anonymous buyer and removed. Tachowa is evicted, and now homeless. [Banksy has always said of his work that once it is removed from its original context it’s no longer a piece of art – he certainly receives no money in this instance] Banksy is made aware of this turn of events and pays for Tachowa’s accommodation for a while.
Gary Beadle plays Titus Coventry (Paul Blakemore)
Journalists also get wind of this. Some draw the conclusion that Banksy’s “elephant” statement was a commentary on poverty linked to his 2006 exhibition, and that in a cruelly ironic twist, that action has led to a man being evicted from his home of seven years.
Others counter that the water tank just looked a bit like an elephant.
June 2012: Director, producer, whirlwind, Emma Callander approaches me with this story and asks me if I want to write a play about it. I say yes, and then realise I’ve got nothing to write as I’m ﬁrmly in the camp that Banksy meant nothing more than that the tank really did look a bit like an elephant. I also feel grabby – grabby of Tachowa, grabby of Banksy, generally grabby.
I start writing not about Tachowa, but a ﬁctional character called Titus Coventry. Having recently been thrown out of his water tank home of the past seven years after some guy called “Banksky” tagged it, he’s now living in a cave. An old friend rocks up who’s been looking for him ever since his eviction. He shows Titus something on his phone – on the internet. In the UK, a writer called Tom Wainwright is writing a play about him. At ﬁrst Titus is amused, ﬂattered, then angry. Nobody asked him. It’s his story. He didn’t even realise he had a “story” but if he does, he’s damned if he’s going to let some British manchild tell it. Gary as Titus (Paul Blakemore)
Armed with a video camera he goes in search of the water tank [located somewhere in the city – if you’re wondering how he ﬁnds it, or what he’s doing with a video camera – a mixture of contrivance and artistic license] in order to tell his story on his terms.
That’s the show – he breaks into the tank in a deserted warehouse, presses record and tells his story.
Then he leaves. Along the way, because it’s a play, he learns a few things.
September 2012: The show opens at Oran Mor in Glasgow and gets some lovely reviews like this…
“A vital piece of 21st century drama, about who gets to hold the camera, to deﬁne what is art, and to shape the stories we hear; and whose life ﬁnally counts” * * * * The Scotsman
…which is good enough for me.
Interestingly, it gets destroyed by Exeunt Magazine, who I write for sometimes. I’m not quoting what they said. No. The show features a barnstorming performance from Gary Beadle. He. Is. Awesome.
Spring 2013: Emma Callander establishes contact with documentary maker Hal Samples, who has been ﬁlming Tachowa for the last ﬁve years. Hal gets in touch with Tachowa – currently living in a tent out in the forest outside LA – tells him about the project, they read the script and all of a sudden life is imitating art in a most peculiar way.
May 2013: we have a Skype chat with Tachowa and Hal. Exhilarating. Weird. And genuinely moving. Tachowa’s not angry – he thinks it’s great. So far. At one point in the call, Tachowa declares he is “becoming one of the animals” and turns his head slowly to the right to reveal that he is wearing wearwolf ears. I do a new round of rewriting.
July 2013: I write this article and only at this point do I realise I’m writing it in the same way the show is structured. Titus tells his story from the beginning all the way up to present moment. And then has to deal with…now.
So what happens now?
We preview the show in Bristol before it goes up to Edinburgh in August. We are previewing at the brilliant new performance space in The Station down town. We have decided to make tickets free for anyone under 21 for the first performance on the Friday 26th July.
On Saturday 27th July we’re having a bit of a launch party for our new company The Sum that are presenting this show. The play will be at the Station followed by some exclusive documentary footage of Tachowa shown by Hal Samples who himself who is flying over from Dallas especially! The doors will then be thrown open to the Island Courtyard for a party hosted by the infamous Police Rave Unit.
On Sunday 28th July we’ll be performing at the Tobacco Factory Brewery, the last show before heading to Edinburgh. Wish us luck.
The goal, ultimately is to perform the show in LA, in front of Tachowa. Only that would be a ﬁtting “conclusion” to this adventure. I can’t help feeling there’s a few more twists and turns, awaiting us between now and then.
The water tank in LA (Hal Samples)