In all plays the first scene is very important. Because a play is meant for viewing and not reading, the patron cannot ‘turn back the pages’ and reread something he or she has missed. As a result, in setting the tone and mood of the play, or giving basic background information, the playwright tends to take great care that what is written comes across clearly and grabs the interest of the viewer.
THE ‘STORYTELLING’ DEVICE
Old Story Time is a play in which a character, Pa Ben, tells a story to a group of people. In the story that he tells, he is one of the characters.
Storytelling as a dramatic device became popular in the Caribbean in the 1970s when theatre artists were searching for ways of presenting their work to audiences that would have greater impact on them. At this time, many societies in the Caribbean and Latin America were involved in serious social, cultural and political revolutions as they strove to establish their cultural identities. One of the clearly established Caribbean art forms was storytelling. In the Caribbean, the Anancy story had a specific style in which the storyteller ‘enters into’ the story and becomes one or more of the characters.
In Old Story Time, the playwright hones this storytelling style into a most effective technique. Pa Ben is the storyteller and he is telling his story to a number of people, which includes both the persons in the audience- note that he says to them: “Make yourselves comfortable on them nice chairs...”- and the other villagers who are on stage with them. The villagers play dual roles. They are, at some moments in the play, in the present where Pa Ben is telling a story. At other times they enter the stage as the characters in the story that is being told. They then enact whichever episode Pa Ben has introduced.
Pa Ben’s role is interesting. Like the actors who play the villagers, the actor who plays him has to play two characters. He is Pa Ben of the present, the storyteller, and he is also Pa Ben, the character in the story. This gives the tale he is telling authenticity- he was there when the events were taking place and he was close to some of the main protagonists. But as storyteller he ‘knows’ everything, including things that Pa Ben the character could not know. So we, the audience (and reader), must at all times be aware of this.
The fascinating part of his dual role lies in the fact that as participant in the ‘story’ of the play he has an important function but then, as the storyteller, he has a separate and even more important role in the ‘plot’, that is how the drama develops.
The use of this technique allows the playwright to include many different settings and time periods simply by having the storyteller say somethingthat means ‘the next scene takes place in...’
To facilitate our recognition of Pa Ben’s dual role, and avoid confusion, the playright in his stage directions asks the director to create a ‘space’ for Pa Ben the narrator.