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Our Simple Skill

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“Alright, is everybody here?” Peter Quince does a quick headcount, finishing with a curt, satisfied nod once he’s sure all are in attendance. Shuffling some papers covered in hastily scrawled notes he begins the meeting. “What we’re going to discuss today is – “

“I say we do The Odyssey!” Bellows Bottom, pounding his fist decisively on the table.

“Is that the one with Hercules?” Snout asks

“I could be the Lion again,” this from Snug, eager to reprise his non-verbal role.

“No, I think that’s just called ‘Hercules’, isn’t it?” Flute – academic as a frog with an abacus – chimes in.

They are barely fifteen seconds into the meeting and already Quince’s temples are in desperate need of pain relief. Since the overwhelming success of Pyramus and Thisbe their little troupe has been walking on air – Bottom most of all who has taken to carrying around a notepad and pen to hand out autographs no one asked for. Quince tries to reign in his overzealous crew.

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves – we have plenty of options. And no, Snug, sadly there is no lion in The Odyssey.” Snug takes this into consideration.

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure.”

“Is there a bear? I could do a bear…”

“No, Snug, there is no bear. The Odyssey is about Odysseus, and his ten-year voyage after ten years at war to get home to his loving wife Penelope. Along the way he fights a cyclops, and a –“

“How could he have been on a voyage and at war for ten years?” Starveling is already lost.

“No, no, he was at war for ten years and then away for another ten.”


“For a total of twenty!” Snout’s aptitude for mental math never ceases to amaze his compatriots.

“Yes, exactly, twenty years: And he fights a cyclops and he has to –“

“I won’t have to be the girl again will I?” Whines Flute

“We’re a long way off from deciding anything yet”

“OH THE SIRENS, HOW THEIR SONG HAUNTS ME,” an alarming wail breaks through the muddled conversation as Bottom takes it upon himself to solidify his spot as the star with an impromptu soliloquy. “HOW THEY SOUND SO MUCH LIKE MY ANTELOPE, AND MY DEAR BOY, MY TALL-LECHEROUS. UNTIE ME MEN. FROM THIS MAST.” Thrusting his arms behind his back Bottom mimes captivity. “LET ME EMBRACE THE WAVES, LET ME SWIM TO DIRGE OF THESE DASTARDLY DEMON DAMES.” With that, he flops onto the table in a fit of (thankfully mute) histrionics.

“Right. Well – “ Quince yet again fails in his valiant attempt to get a single sentence out

“I say we do The Odyssey!”

“Me too!”

“Me three!”

“Me five!”

“Four, Starveling.”


“What about you Peter Quince?”

“Yes, what say you, Peter Quince?” All eyes are on him, wide and unblinking.

The chewed pencil behind Quince’s ear shifts as he leans back in his chair a little and lets out a deep breath.

“Well…logistically – “

“Come, Peter Quince the thee-ater is not about the mind, it’s about the heart!” Bottom starts up again, placing a hand over the right side of his chest, hesitating, then left side of his chest. “For what is a portrait but paint? What is a song but notes? Is it the paint that makes the music?” Voice rising, this time he actually pushes back his chair and steps on top of the table as if to address a nation of wall-mounted people at eye-level. “No, lads, it is the heart. Where love lies, where despair derails. It is the heart that loves the portrait’s notes, the heart that cries at the song’s paint. When we set foot on the stage it is like falling in love: Quick, scripted, sometimes cacophanied by props. Your heart and the audience’s beat as one in this most admirable of pursuits: Who-manatee. For what is more human than a heart?” His garbled pep talk finished, Bottom gets off the table (leaving muddy boot-prints on the newly varnished wood) and takes a seat once more. Snug looks as though he may shed a tear.

“Yes, I understand that, Bottom – “ Quince starts

“But of course you do – you have the noblest heart of all, Peter Quince. You…are a writer.” A hush mutes the room as Bottom gestures to Quince with a flourish and the rest of the Mechanicals simultaneously remember just how spectacular their De Facto director is. What a poetic soul he must harbour behind his stern and often inexplicably pained expression. For the life of him Quince can’t see how writing ties into love and singing paintings and whatever else Bottom was rambling on about but apparently it makes sense to the others who look as though they may ask to be baptized at his hands.

“Tell us what it’s like Peter Quince!” Flute says in an awed whisper; emboldened to act as the group’s delegate now he has remembered a veritable Homer is in their midst.

“What what’s like?” Quince, though flattered by the attention, still can’t shake the feeling he’s fighting a losing battle against the whirlwind of misguided passion that is Nick Bottom.

“To have a human heart!”

There are times when Quince sees fit to correct people gently. This is not one of those times.

“Flute,” he begins, speaking slowly and using small words: “You, are also a human, Flute. You have a heart too.”

“Oh, I know!” Flute continues, completely unperturbed. “But what’s it like to think with your heart?”

Quince exhales again.

“It’s, fine, I guess – look, weren’t we talking about The Odyssey?”

“Oh, yes, we were!” Confirms Snout.

“Can we do it?” Snug now.

“Of course we can do it,” exclaims Bottom. “The question really is, lads: Can we do it?”

Everyone falls quiet again, this time trying to decipher the cryptic change of syllabic emphasis.

“What?” Starveling’s succinct if not eloquent voicing of his friends’ thoughts breaks the silence.

“Can we nonplus ourselves?” Bottom begins to elaborate, getting dangerously close to stepping up onto the table again. “Can we top Pyramus and Thisb-eye?”

“This-bee.” Quince pinches the bridge of his nose between his fingers.

“This-bee! Yes, lads, we can…but only with all our hearts – our human hearts, for lads, there is a writer in all of us.” “Even me?” Queries Snug “Even you, Snug, you loveable illitermat cupcake. All of us! But we shall have to work like never before. The prologue may be one hundred verses long!”

Quince makes a mental note to put the kibosh on that at the earliest convenience.

“The cyclone may be horrible as a nightmare, the sea may be salty as a sardines, the suitors may be vile as hellhounds but it will be an epic, lads. It will be a tale that our great-great-great-grandchildren will remember. All of Greece will know our names!”

The Mechanicals cheer, already captivated, clapping each other on the back. It doesn’t matter what Quince says now – The Odyssey it is. He imagines a gavel coming down with a sharp bang in his head. Whether he likes it or not: Meeting adjourned. Time to find a cold compress for his head.