lateral thinking

Do you remember lateral thinking? Edward de Bono's ideas about it date from about 1967. I was aware of  him and I think I have a paperback book somewhere about LT.  I leaned on the idea  heavily in 1975 when I was in trouble trying to "write" a play for a non-literate acting company.  Theatre Passe Muraille, headed then by Paul Thomson, was a collective group, an ensemble of actors who went out and "researched" the components of a story and then came back and acted them out, putting the loose parts together to form a play.

We hooked up because  I wanted to write a play about Reverend Horsburgh, the United Chuarch minister who was arrested, tried and convicted on 4 or 5 out of 27 counts of contributing to juvenile delinquency in his church (in Sarnia).  He actually served about 27 days in a federal prison (Kingston) before being acquitted by the Supreme Court of Canada because he had been convicted on the uncorroborated testimony of minors. As I  began doing my research before being committed to Passe Muraille, I found that my subject changed like a chameleon according to who was describing him.  To some witnesses he was an angel; to others he was the devil incarnate. That's why I asked Passe Muraille to take him on. I needed a collection of minds to approach the character. And that's how I came to lateral thinking.

Once into rehearsal I wasn't allowed to write. The actors went out daily or nightly exploring various aspects they hoped to cover in their production and came back the next day to report physically and audibly on what they had discovered. Nothing in writing, though.  It was highly entertaining and I laughed a lot.  But we had no script. I started reading and working through lateral thinking, trying to find a handle. I tried de Bono's recommended methods: free association with words, wishful thinking, exaggeration, distortion, reversal and so on.  I sent up  (yes, sent not set) different circumstances and movements. I asked 'why?' a lot. I tried to fin multiple, parallel answers. Finally, I put paper in my typewriter (this was long before computers) and wrote a scene-by-scene breakdown of a play that didn't exist. 

Act One, Scene One, in which the Reverend Horsburgh meets his new congregation and startles some of his listeners.  

Like that.  

I handed the pages to Paul Thomson with a book of matches so he could burn them if he wished. he read them through two or three times and said, "This makes me feel a whole lot better."  He pinned the pages to a wall and the company began to rehearse, improvising dialogue to fit the demands of the scene and also remembering words from their play-time.

At the end of the day, Eric Peterson, one of the lead actors in the company, said, "We actually have a play to rehears and we have three whole days to get it ready for an audience. This has never happened before."  They were all ecstatic. I was relieved.

The play went on tour before it came into Toronto to run for a few weeks.  After it was over I  wrote it down and it was published along with my reporter's notes and the collective experience, titled "The Horsburgh Scandal."

I couldn't have done it without lateral thinking. I thought of it this morning as I swam because I need some of that thinking for the chapter I am working on about epiphanies.  Funnily, enough, lateral thinking is one of the suggested synonyms for LT.  I didn't know that.