Paper Humans

us__en_us__ibm100__punched_card__80_column__620x281Lentz and Carmille

I have been struggling to write about Jacob Lentz and René Carmille for over 15 years.

I first read about them in Edwin Black’s book ‘IBM and the Holocaust’, a chilling history of how the Nazis used data processing technology during World War II. When the Nazis took control of Germany in 1932 they used IBM technology to implement the Nuremberg Race Laws. Returns from the census were punched onto cards and run through a series of sorting and matching processes (including alphabetical matching, the rocket science of its day). Any person identifying themselves as Jewish on a census form could be matched to any of their descendants (using name, place and date of birth), and the number of Jewish-identifying ancestors a person had could be tallied: the Nazi definition of ‘Jewishness’ was anybody with a minimum of 3 Jewish-identifying grandparents.

During WWII the SS applied this processing in every territory the Germans conquered, particularly in Holland and France. In Holland, the head of the Population Registry Jacob Lentz was tasked with applying the Nuremberg processing to the Dutch population. In France the job went to René Carmille, head of the French Demographic Service and former Comptroller General of the French Army.

Lentz eagerly did as he was told, not because he was particularly anti-semitic, but more from an obsession with the accurate processing of data, no matter the human cost: a geek before his time. His goal was a ‘Paper Human’, a regime where the interaction of every citizen could be tracked using punch-cards and tabulators. Thanks to his willing implementation of the Nuremberg processing and the widespread implementation of IBM technology in Holland, 75% of the entire pre-war Dutch Jewish population died in the camps. Lentz served a 3 years prison sentence after the war and died in 1963.

Carmille took a different path. France had more serious demographic problems than Holland, much lower levels of tabulator usage and a far less settled Jewish population. Through various subterfuges Carmille delayed his processing for as long as possible. Seeing the human issues from the beginning, he cheated the Germans of their prize. Not only did he sabotage the punch-card process, so that answers to the vital question ‘Are you a member of the Jewish race?’ were not punched onto the cards at all, he covertly used his Tabulators to perform a secret mobilisation of an entire Army in Algeria, ready to support the Allied invasion of 1943. Thanks to him, ‘only’ 25% of the entire pre-war French Jewish population died on the camps. Carmille was finally arrested following an anonymous tip, interrogated by Klaus Barbie (the Butcher of Lyon) and died in Auschwitz in 1945.

What drew me to the story? At the time I read ‘IBM and the Holocaust’ I was working in Direct Marketing, developing/maintaining software that used methods strikingly similar to those used by Lentz and Carmille on behalf of the SS. That made it personal, made me think ‘What would I have done in the same circumstances’. How could I tell their story?


Cards for Clara (2011)

35‘Cards For Clara’ was written for Theatre West’s ‘Picture This’ project in 2011. A group of writers were each given photographs found in a German street market and tasked with writing a 10 minute piece inspired by it.

My photo showed a shipyard, so I wrote about an IBM salesman visiting a German shipyard owner in early 20th Century to sell him the benefits of using punch-card technology to track components and construction. The owner is interested, but is distracted by his daughter, who never speaks but communicates only through the business cards she has acquired from her father. Through the cards she offers, it becomes clear (to the audience) that she is seeing the future, sensing the dangers the punch-cards pose.

The play received a rehearsed reading at the Alma Tavern, Bristol on 29th May 2011.


Paper Human (2014)

For the final hand in for my MA in Scriptwriting I wrote a radio play based on the story.

This time, I focused on Lentz preparing to stand trial after the war, struggling to accept the consequences of his actions while he learns for the first time the truth about Carmille. Meanwhile, Dutch officials and IBM representatives connive to prevent too much embarrassing truth from emerging.


Paper Human (2019)

With hindsight, the issues with the story of Lentz and Carmille have been –

It’s about two people who never meet

It’s too much about technology and not about people

The events play out over months and years, something not always easy to put over on stage or satisfying to experience

I didn’t want to end up with something like one of those TV mini-series set over a number of years where the actors appear to age (grey in their hair, different hair cuts) every 20 minutes.

Over the Winter of 2018/2019 some ideas fell into place. I had always assumed that Lentz and Carmille would be the protagonists of the story, but I remembered reading that one of Lentz’ subordinates had approached him, concerned at what the SS would do with the data they had amassed, and suggesting they sabotage or even destroy it.

I decided to invert the story and invent a new, younger protagonist: one of Lentz’  former employees who has decided to destroy the cards to prevent the SS using them to target Dutch Jews. Lentz becomes the antagonist and the whole story becomes focused on a single moment, an hour in time when Lentz must defend his data (his life’s work), justify what he has done and persuade the would-be saboteur to stop what they are doing. And if Lentz had a would-be saboteur employee, I could give Carmille one too.

And rather than alternating between scenes set in Holland and France, both stories now play out on the same stage, virtually at the same time, the occupants of each story (set in their different countries) almost completely unconscious of the the other, the lines of dialogue following each other like punch-cards speeding through a tabulator, with a few instances, specific phrases, where the characters speak lines simultaneously. Until the end, when Carmille’s dialog diverges from Lentz revealing the differences in what both men actually did.

Like Philip Pullman’s ‘The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ’ – whose story begins so close to the original Gospels but by the end tells a completely different tale – Lentz and Carmille’s stories are virtually identical, but finally diverge.

The final version of the story was around 30 minutes long and has since been submitted to the Windsor Fringe Kenneth Branagh Award, Script Space and the British Theatre Challenge.

 

The Destiny of Shoes on Youtube

screen shot 2019-01-24 at 20.20.45Back in 2017, writer and former Radio 4 Producer Paul Dodgson led a workshop in radio drama at the Somewhere Else writers group. One of the exercises involved writing about the shoes we were wearing and I happened to be in some relatively interesting shoes, bought cheaply (from Burton’s for £5) as one had become slightly faded from exposure to the sun while sitting in the shop window.

I ended up writing a complete script based on the idea, in which a pair of shoes (with very different personalities, one laid back and philosophical, the other pessimistic and anxious) contemplate the threats to their existence and the possibility of an afterlife for shoes.

I submitted the completed script to Off the Rock Productions for their Soundwaves opportunity, it was recorded by them in late 2018 and now available on Youtube.

Cargo at Fictive Dream

screen shot 2019-01-03 at 19.40.03I have a small city. It doesn’t have a name, all I know is it’s somewhere in Europe and was inspired by places like Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon and Jan Morris’ Hav. I once read a superb short story set in the (fictional) People’s Republic of O, created when the former Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic, Slovakia. And O.

I have set a number of stories in my (as yet) unnamed city, modern day urban fables, owing more than a little to Shaun Tan’s superb little book, Tales from Outer Suburbia, which I highly recommend.

The latest ‘Cargo’ was picked for the 17th Stroud Short Stories event back in November. It has been accepted by Fictive Dream for Flash Fiction February 2019 and will be published on the 14th February 2019.

Parzival… at Bristol Old Vic

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After weeks sitting on some amazing news, I can now go public: I have been selected by Bristol Old Vic for Open Session Writers 2018. My first full length play ‘Parzival’ will get a year’s worth of development support and workshopping and (potentially) a production in Spring 2019.

Parzival has been a long time in the making. Originally titled ‘Nothing’, I wanted to write about someone who (in a world filled with Conspiracy Theorists shouting about increasingly fantastic Conspiracy Theories) had a genuine Secret, about which they chose to say… Nothing. Why would they remain silent about it and how would they react to the threat of an outsider?

In Parzival, Alison’s remote farm is invaded by Conspiracy Theorist Dan, determined to find proof to support his bizarre theory. His arrival forces Alison to finally reveal the farm’s true secret to her daughter Emma, who must decide between the rival narratives and (potentially) use the situation to enable her escape to the city.

I have already had one workshopping session at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School which was great fun, generated many useful ideas and gave me a chance to get excited by the whole project all over again – the script was originally submitted back in June 2018.

I now have to complete a new draft by January. Plenty time…

Sky Pilots Redux

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Back in the studio last week to re-record my Radio play Sky Pilots. Although it was broadcast on BBC Solent back in June, it wasn’t legally possible to broadcast the BBC’s recording on Cirencester’s Corinium Radio. On the plus side, it gave me the opportunity to work with Alice Vellender and David Lloyd, who did a great job.

Monday 29th Oct 10-30pm
Thursday 1st Nov 6-00pm
Saturday 2rd Nov 11-00am

Alice and David also performed the piece at the ‘For Invitation Only’ Showcase at Parmoor House Cheltenham, one of three plays performed for Caroline Summerfield’s Writers and Directors Showcase.

Nosferatu at the Cockpit

Screen Shot 2018-10-13 at 14.12.19After being performed in Gloucester back in May, my monologue Grave: Nosferatu will be performed at the Cockpit Theatre, London on Tuesday 27th November, as part of Bashir Productions’ ‘Creative Collisions’ showcase.

Creative Collisions is a showcase of amazing talent including actors, writers, directors and other creatives. The showcase is comprised of monologues and scenes, written by a variety of wonderful up and coming writers and featuring colourful, dynamic characters. There will be two performances on Tuesday 27th November at 2pm and 7pm.

Stage Managers: Clarina Mascarenhas
Casting Directors: Crispin Harris, Joy Waldron, Clarina Mascarenhas & Rachael Head

27/11 at 2PM & 7PM
Tickets: £10 *
Venue: The Cockpit, Gateforth St, Marylebone, London NW8 8EH

Gloucester Citizens

Gloucester-Citizen-Poster-212x300The latest project from Gloucester Scriptorium is ‘The Gloucester Citizen’, a series of tiny plays and monologues with characters inspired by the city of Gloucester.

The show includes two of my own pieces, both of them monologues set in a graveyard, originally written for Stroud Fringe.

In ‘Pension Plan’ bank robber Derek (played by Andrew Thorn) looks forward to enjoying the spoils of his late partner-in-crime Andy… who may have left him more than he’s expecting.

In ‘Nosferatu’, widow Lucy (played by Jilly Breeze) prepares to tell her late husband’s friends some home truths in the hope that she can begin to move on with her life.

The performance takes place in the Fountain Inn, Gloucester, at 19:30 on Thursday 31st May. Entry is free, although donations to the Scriptorium would be welcomed.

Sky Pilots: The Broadcast

BBC-SolentHard to believe the whole process is all over, but at 9:30  last Friday morning 18th May, my short radio play ‘Sky Pilots’ was broadcast on BBC Solent during the Julian Clegg drive time show – then repeated at 17:40. It was lovely to hear it complete with all the sound effects I had written in, but which couldn’t practically be done live at Thornden Hall – especially the hot air balloon burners.

The whole show is now available on iPlayer here, starting at 3:05:30.

It was great to be involved with the BBC Solent people, particularly Louisa Hannan who did such a great job of organising the whole venture, as well as fellow playwrights Ben White, Georgina Pitts  and GillianPalmer, I hope to hear more from them in the future.

Now comes the hard part, moving onwards with other projects.

 

 

Nothing Is As It Was: Earth Day

NIAIW Cover FileRetreat West’s Climate Fiction anthology ‘Nothing Is As It Was‘ is officially released today, 22nd April. Proceeds raised from the book sales will be donated to support the work of the climate action group, Earth Day Network.

The book is available from Amazon in both eBook and paperback formats and includes my own short piece ‘The Window Box‘.

 

Live, from Thornden Hall!

BBC-SolentStill mildly high after Thursday night’s recording!
On arrival at the venue, I was whisked away to meet the cast, Belinda and Orlando, plus other actors Jilly Bond and Tomos James, also director James Barry, everybody full of nice things about the plays. Food had been provided but I was too light-headed to be hungry.
Time to relax and chat to fellow winning scriptwriters Ben White and Georgina Pitts (Gillian Palmer away at sea),  nice, funny people, I can only wish them well. We had to do some more interviews, both recorded and live with Louise Peters, plus a brief Facebook Live video. We were finally led into the auditorium for the performance at 6:20.

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Orlando Brooke and Belinda Peters rehearse ‘Sky Pilots’, watched by James Barry

The plays had all been rehearsed and recorded earlier in the day: these recordings plus the live versions would be used for later tweaking/broadcast. Louisa ran the whole show, aided by James Barry.

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Belinda Peters, Orlando Brooke and Louisa Hannan prepare to record ‘Sky Pilots’.

Ben White’s ‘The Family Way’ first, and good fun too. A simple premise, based on Ben’s own life story: a father with tickets to see Southampton play Man United in the cup final at Wembley… except that his pregnant wife is due to give birth on the same day.
Georgina Pitt and Gillian Palmer’s ‘Searching’ had a looser structure, with two old friends determined to have fun during a trip to the Isle of Wight.
I had to stood up and introduced ‘Sky Pilots’, although I sounded a little on the quiet side (according to the video on Twitter). Not as many laughs as the other 2, most of the laughs coming in the middle third. Still, people seemed to like it, Paul Marchbank and Sarah Sullivan (both from Southampton Solent University) very complimentary.

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Organiser Louisa Hannan with the cast: Tomos James, Orlando Brooke, Jilly Bond and Belinda Peters

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Orlando Brooke, Stephen Connolly and Belinda Peters

I was reluctant to leave and break the spell. Now the wait to hear what they sound like on radio…
To be continued…