Modeling: In progress chamber drama excerpts
MARLO, Model, late-20’s-late-40’s, slightly toned build, has spinal curvature and chronically painful injuries which aren’t immediately obvious. Appreciates the challenge of fulfilling artist clients’ needs.
SANDY, Photographer, late-20’s-mid-50’s, slightly toned build, has short limbs/atypical number of fingers/mobility device/stutter/recurring tremor/etc.: someone with fairly typical sensory function, and a signifier of atypical condition, perceptible with clothes on. Likes to be a Top.
Note: so far it’s written that Sandy holds a sizable pro camera for extended durations, and moves from standing to squatting with relative speed. Casting may entail mods like more tripod use and a release cord, depending on actor’s limb availability.
Written for open gender casting, characters may be played by performers of varying genders.
Note: I am a white playwright. My hope is the characters are written openly enough to be cast with actors also of varying races. This script will be adapted as needed to more fully realize the storyline and feature artists of colour.
Note: It is intentionally at unfinished draft stage; the plot will be determined partly by devising, collaborative input from performers.
Sandy’s living room in private apartment, has space set up with equipment. View of kitchen counter, and hallway to other rooms.
Two physically disabled artists, of genders yet to be determined, get into an erotic power play during their first modeling session together, and grapple with their attractions and fears about disability and vulnerability.
(lights up, MARLO and SANDY in SANDY’s living room in private apartment, by photo equipment. View of kitchen counter, and hallway. MARLO in zipped jacket with backpack on, after first arriving, looks around living room to a few framed photos, SANDY by kitchen)
SANDY: Hot tea is coming up. I’m glad you said you have the day open; I know it’s a long booking. It just takes time to get into the territory I’m hoping for. Meanwhile, make yourself comfortable, and if there’s something you need for that just say so.
MARLO: Thanks, tea would be nice.
SANDY: What about this? Close your eyes to just smell it, then tell me what you think.
(puts open container under MARLO’s nose)
MARLO: Mm, real vanilla! Rose, and…I’m not sure what else, but such a fragrance!
SANDY: I think let’s go for it. You won’t say no to something that delicious, right?
MARLO: All right, since you put it that way…thanks for sharing a treat. I’ll take mine as is, undiluted. (looks back at photos)
These portraits have a very intimate tone.
(MARLO begins removing clothes; somewhat anxious MARLO fumbles and catches jacket zipper at its top, right under chin. SANDY has been getting tea mugs in back of where MARLO stands, notices struggling and comes up close from behind, touches MARLO’s shoulder, then moves in front.)
MARLO: I’ve got it, thanks.
SANDY: I just thought it’s easier when you calm down, and someone can see how the fabric’s caught; it’s awkward when it’s up there and you can’t see-
MARLO: -I’ve got it; I’ll work it out.
(MARLO breaks away from SANDY, goes to mirror on wall)
SANDY: Ok, right you are. (goes to pour tea water)
MARLO: You know once we’re working you aren’t supposed to touch me unless you ask permission, right?
SANDY: Of course I’ll ask you to adjust poses as necessary. You also won’t always be able to see just where I want you to set an angle, so I’ll need to make small shifts—and you to trust me to do that, within the range of what you’re capable of.
Sorry if that felt presumptuous. I suppose you’d question a yoga or martial arts teacher modifying your posture without checking with you first, huh?
SANDY: …Me too.
MARLO: Hmm, have you taken any yoga or martial arts classes? Found any…welcoming around here?
SANDY: I prefer training on my own terms.
Let’s set up.
(notices MARLO looking again at set of portraits by mirror, comes over to bring MARLO a mug)
SANDY: Yeah, some of my series get intimate. The more risqué ones aren’t in the living room.
MARLO: You’ve gone more risqué than this, huh?
SANDY: All artists have to push themselves. Through photography we can encounter unique, sublime bodily realities. I like opportunities with models which let me depict that.
MARLO: (relaxes with tea steam) Presenting one’s body for art, what it stirs is what got me to try modeling.
SANDY: Shall we?
(goes to adjust lights, removes layers to short sleeve)
SANDY: Is this warm enough for you to have your clothes off? I can turn it up.
MARLO: Yeah, just up a notch will be good.
(MARLO starts moving out of centrally lit staging area)
SANDY: Wait, will you stay and take them off here? I’d like to start with pictures of that.
MARLO: Oh. I brought my robe, and some drapes like you asked; do you want me to get them out?
SANDY: The drapes here will work, that’s not necessary right now.
I know for art nudes, models undress separately, and go from robed to nude at the model stand. We divide the person you are outside this function, and the figure to study you are once on the job. But I want to depict someone becoming naked before an audience who’s looking for aesthetics. Witnessing that shift informs the rest of the shoot.
MARLO: You mean showing behind the scenes can add to the magic?
I can do that. Do you want me centred under the lights?
SANDY: Yes, facing me. Please remove your clothes slowly, excepting underwear for now. You can decide how much you want to acknowledge me with the camera, or not.
(MARLO gets ready, stands looking toward SANDY, begins very slowly lifting off shirt, drops it to side, then unfastens jeans and slowly slides them off, keeping gaze toward SANDY. SANDY takes a number of shots)
SANDY: Excellent, thanks for that opening. Nice pacing too.
I noticed your torso engaging a bit differently on the left and right, and looks like your weight favours one side?
MARLO: Yes…I do have a degree of asymmetry, from spinal curve. I also had a groin hernia, so sometimes when I bend or stretch you can see a difference where the surgery was. But I can do fine with a range of poses, and if you want me to present more equally weighted I can try.
SANDY: No, just let yourself be in postures that feel natural for you. I like the asymmetry!
MARLO: Ok, got it. It’s just—
I’m generally the one to mention my…slants. And artists have said they didn’t notice at all. The curve’s more subtle than some cases, but…doctors did take it seriously once, and it does shape me.
SANDY: I note how people carry themselves. How our bodies are marked is meaningful. In modeling—chances to display yourself—you can play with that—in composing photographs, so can I. I’d love to take some focused on your back; would that be ok?
Yeah. This way?
SANDY: Yes, except please turn to face away slowly, keep everything slow and turn your head away last. I’ll get some closer shots, and after this set we can have tea.
(MARLO resumes forward stance, waits for SANDY to begin shooting, begins slow-paced turning to show back, keeps head looking back toward camera till all the way around)
SANDY: So, you had some doctors look into your curvature, huh?
Stay right there, will you?
How do you usually feel as a modeling session proceeds?
MARLO: What do you mean?
SANDY: Well, start with what you notice physically.
(MARLO faces away, speaks carefully while holding still, shifts arms, hips subtly to show different angles)
MARLO: When I do figure modeling jobs, requiring lots of gestures and long poses, I can get into pushing myself with what creative postures I can hold. I feel a rush with making tableaus, but sometimes too clever for my own good.
It takes me a while to relax more for photo sets.
SANDY: ‘Cause the camera’s been used in more medical contexts?
MARLO: Hey, I could use a drink now; can we take a break?
SANDY: Sure; I’ll turn off the glaring light while we do that.
(MARLO pulls a shirt back on, takes long drink)
MARLO: About relaxing for photos…modeling for people snapping nude images of me is how I see how my back looks from the outside, not just the partial views I get in a mirror. It’s still odd to see that unadorned—not suggested in a charcoal sketch.
I don’t think I had to get medical photos taken; I remember seeing a girl’s pictures who’d agreed to be an example for other patients: I was a bit sorry for her, and glad it wasn’t me.
I’ve never talked like this at a gig before.
SANDY: But usually the artists you model for don’t have apparent…conditions, right?
Some people say I’m brave. I’d just say…going ahead despite the unknown is the only way I’ve gotten anywhere. I think you can understand feeling that.
I heard a rumour you might have some kind of disability. Your name came up at a painting group; someone mentioned seeing work of yours in a show, and overhearing that you had a condition going on, but it’s not addressed in your themes and you rarely meet with the public. Trying to look you up, I noticed you don’t promote with self-portraits. The point is your artistic vision and services as a photographer, not how you look, right? Still, I wanted to know why you approach your work the way you do, and why no stray images of you are on the Internet.
MARLO: I like to meet crips—I identify that way, though I never tell able-bodied clients that, and if you’re uncomfortable with the term I promise I won’t use it with you again. But whatever you call us, we have a unique affiliation. And I like learning about who we are.
About the Author
seeley quest is a trans disabled environmentalist, working in literary and body-based composition, and curation. Sie presented in the San Francisco Bay Area 2001-14, with Sins Invalid 2007-15, and has toured the US. In Montreal since 2017, hir playscript “Crooked” is in At the Intersection of Disability and Drama, and first game narrative debuted for Canada’s National AccessAbility Week 2020. Sie inaugurated a 2021 Quebec Writers’ Federation workshop for disabled writers, featured in Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times’ 2021 Rhubarb Festival, and will have an online script reading in Vancouver’s 2022 rEvolver Festival. Not on social media, more’s at https://questletters.substack.com.