Who cares about syntax anyway?
July 27, 2005
Nick Josten is completing work on an English degree and a philosophy degree this year at his Sioux Falls, S.D., college.
After graduation, he is considering moving to Japan to teach English for several years.
Nick Josten also likes writing.
He likes it so much so that he spent the past year at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, a place similar in size to Reno, working on a play for Carson City’s Brewery Arts Center.
“The Town without Syntax” took the 21-year-old eight months to write. Time was a scarce commodity and whenever he could, he wrote. That often meant hours late into the night and mug after mug of coffee – nothing too unusual since he was doing it anyway to keep up with school.
“There’d be gaps of writing in the play,” he said. “I’d be thinking about it in the back of my mind, coming up with new concepts.”
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And suddenly, the inspiration and the time would come and significant strides toward completion were made.
“I’d sit down for 10 to 12 hours on a writing spree and kind of hack out pages,” he said. “Those were my best and favorite writing sessions. Pretty much anything I wrote during that time period stayed (in the play). All the character’s voices were flowing through my head. It was just all coming out. It was really good. It really worked.”
“The Town Without Syntax” tells of a conflict that develops after high-schooler Fred Smith sits in his English class one day and hears his teacher, also his mother, break down a sentence into its fundamental parts – subject, verb, object, etc.
Something clicks in his head and he decides to start talking without syntax. Essentially that means there is no order to the words. Here’s an example right out of the play.
“Syntax is important because we can’t understand each other without it” becomes “Important it is because we understand each other not without it.”
The other students at the school pick up Fred’s way of speaking, but his mother sees it as a threat to culture and tries to stop it.
A feud grows between the students, portrayed in the characters of Fred, Mary and John; Bobby, a jock at the school; Mrs. Smith, the teacher; Betty, a history teacher who opposes Mrs. Smith; old man Macgillicutty; the mayor; the mayor’s wife and the sheriff.
The play’s denouement is about whether syntax is restored. The play opens 7:30 p.m., Aug. 12 at the Brewery Arts Center, 449 W. King St. Tickets are free, but donations are accepted. Seating is first come, first served.
Josten, a 2002 graduate of Carson High School, first got his experience with plays as part of the drama club at the school.
“I was in pretty much every show I could get to in high school,” he said. “There were pretty much four plays a year.”
For his senior project he researched playwright Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” and then wrote four short plays, one of which was called “A Town Without Syntax.”
His play has its roots there, but really began to form this past year as he developed it into a 1950s horror film parody for a scary story contest. From there, it took its current structure as a comi-tragedy. It is set both in the 1950s and the present.
The two-act play is an hour and 45 minutes and has a cast of 20. Last summer, Josten asked the BAC if he could spend a year writing a play and bring it back to Carson City.
So, in addition to writing a complete play, he’s also directing it and has learned lessons from that as well, he said. He has worked with the actors since late May.
“I’m definitely very nervous about the opening,” he said. “My cast is doing a very good job. There are still some kinks, but we’ll iron them out before we open.”
Josten, the middle of three brothers, said writing is part of who he is. His parents are both involved at the Brewery Arts Center.
“Just writing in general is something I will keep on doing throughout life, whether I get paid for it or not,” he said. “It gives me a chance to just get stuff out there and figure out stuff about the world.”
n Contact reporter Maggie O’Neill at email@example.com or 881-1219.
If you go:
What: “The Town Without Syntax”
Where: The Brewery Arts Center, 449 W. King St.
When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 12, 13, 14 and Aug. 18, 19 and 20. There are no matinees.
Cost: Free, donations accepted. Show up early.