Yes We Candide - Part 1 of 2
The Best of All Possible Worlds! My first cliffhanger. An outline of a modern adaptation of Candide by Voltaire, me and Geoff Pinfield that was strangled at birth by Creative New Zealand.
If you’ve never read Voltaire’s novella Candide, you’ll enjoy Yes We Candide. If you have read Candide, you’ll be blown away by how perfectly a story first published in 1759 can be tailored to our present moment. Our adaptation closely follows the original chapters and journey structure. We updated the settings, characters and scenarios. It didn’t take us long. We had a lot of fun doing it. Thanks Geoff for bringing this idea to the creative table.
The Story of the Story
It’s no one’s right to receive public money. I accept that CNZ - New Zealand’s arts funding body and chief project validator - told us to get lost (twice). It’s a shame because The Wanaka Festival of Colour had committed to stage the premier and 5 other regional festivals had written to say ‘if they make it, we’ll buy it’. We assembled a stellar creative team including actor Anya Tate Manning, composer Gareth Farr ONZM - who’s work featured at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics - playwright Dave Armstrong as story mentor, producers David Goldthorpe and Debbie Fish of Goldfish Creative - who stage spectacular outdoor events and nurture feature films - and director Sara Brodie, the Arts Foundation laureate. Geoff and I are in awe of the artists who backed this tale. All we needed to transform it from idea to joyful reality was CNZ’s seal of approval, and the shoestring budget that comes with it to signal to the creatives that their work is respected and valued. No dice, unfortunately. But in the spirit of the story: maybe it was all for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds.
CANDIDE an idealistic Gen Z woman, FELLOW GRADUATES, RICHARD MEROS, B.A, OPPOSITION MP, PROMINENT MEDIA FIGURE, GOVERNMENT MP, NOTABLY ECCENTRIC BILLIONAIRE, RESPECTED FORMER LEADER OF THE FREE WORLD, JUDGE JESUS, POWERFUL OLDER WOMAN, NOTABLE OLDER WOMEN, A CUCKOLDED HUSBAND OF POWERFUL OLDER WOMAN, STREAMING GIANT MURDER APOLOGIST, THE DECAYING EUROPEAN UNION, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, DEAR LEADER OF NORTH KOREA, SENTIENT COWS, MARTINA THE FREELANCE JOURNALIST, ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS, LADY BRITANNIA, AMORAL START UP FOUNDERS, POPULIST ALLEGEDLY STUPID (FORMER?) WORLD LEADER, MARKET ACOLYTES, RICH-WORLD REFUGEES, FUTURE GRADUATES.
Designed to be played by two professional actors, a local community choir and the audience. Supported by the unusual use of everyday technology.
Chapter 1. The University of New Zealand Graduation Ceremony.
Candide, Richard Meros, B.A., Local Community Choir, audience as fellow graduates.
The show kicks off with a joyful choral anthem by Gareth Farr entitled It’s OK to B.A.
Candide graduates in the class of 2021 with a BA in Economics. She is inspired by the valedictory speech of prominent academic Richard Meros, BA. In it, he proves that no matter what the pessimists and ‘experts’ might say, this is the best of all possible worlds. If you could be born at any time in history, you’d choose right here, right now and you’d be happy with your choice. Candide is inspired, full of hope and student debt.
Chapter 2. The Mean Streets of NZ.
Candide, Opposition MP, Prominent Media Figure, Government MP, audience as passers-by and live studio audience.
Candide has a BA, no job, no prospects and is homeless. An Opposition MP realises Candide’s plight could be media-managed to cast a poor light on the incumbent government and score political points.
Candide agrees to get paid ‘in exposure.’ She’s co-opted into an emotive campaign in which she cries 3 tears shaped like the map of New Zealand. It goes viral.
She goes on morning TV, where she’s interviewed remotely by a Prominent Media Figure. Candide undermines the whole campaign by being far too cheerful about her abject state, and quoting her hero Richard Meros as she optimistically casts herself as an ‘office-free entrepreneur at the coalface of the gig economy’ - a benefit to her and opportunity to society. But it’s still embarrassing for the government.
As soon as she steps off the soundstage, a Government MP tells her she’s been selected for a pilot scheme to optimize underutilized human capital. Candide is given a one-way ticket to Australia.
Chapter 3. Off-Shore Detention Centre.
Candide, Notably Eccentric Billionaire, verbatim audio from an incarcerated asylum seeker, audience as fellow asylum seekers.
Candide is incarcerated without due process as part of Australia’s new Zero Tolerance of New Zealanders policy (ZTNZ). Candide is optimistic – she’s got a roof over her head, three meals a day and the cramped conditions and lack of air conditioning means it’s like a free Hot Yoga class. She asks her neighbour why s/he’s here. We hear a verbatim audio of an incarcerated asylum seeker describing how they got there and what it’s like. It’s awful and moving. It makes Candide question whether even Meros could put a silver lining on a world that works like this. Candide turns to the person on her other side and asks him why he’s here. It’s a Notably Eccentric Billionaire. He’s not a prisoner at all. He outlines an extraordinarily entrepreneurial get-rich-even-quicker scheme to make the world a better place by buying this island for his own pleasure thereby causing the trickle-down effect of asking them all to leave. Candide thinks its very clever. He likes the cut of Candide’s jib. He purchases the island, and evicts everyone into the sea - except Candide, who he invites to return with him to his Island Tax Haven aboard his private yacht.
Chapter 4. The Pacific Ocean.
Candide, Notably Eccentric Billionaire, audience as the sea.
In which they sail the ocean blue while the Notably Eccentric Billionaire shows Candide how he does everything for his own benefit, and how that benefits the world. If only more people were like him, the world would be a much better place. The Notably Eccentric Billionaire reminds Candide of her idol, Meros. She accepts his offer to acquire her virginity. While passing through the Panama Canal, the Notably Eccentric Billionaire falls overboard during a media storm unleashed by the latest tax avoidance scandal. Candide tries to save him, but the Notably Eccentric Billionaire refuses - it’s not in his nature to accept a hand up under any circumstances. With a dying breath he bequeaths Candide all his wealth and interests. Candide floats on to the Island Tax Haven.
Chapter 5. Island Tax Haven.
Candide, Respected Former Leader of the Free World, Judge Jesus, Richard Meros, B.A, audience as an angry mob then jury
Candide washes ashore. As the inheritor of the Notably Eccentric Billionaire’s global interests, she’s soon on trial for tax avoidance and conspiring to collapse the world economy. A Respected Former Leader of the Free World (and paid lobbyist for said Notably Eccentric Billionaire) defends her in the court of Public Opinion. He makes a speech in her defence that is eloquent but useless. Then there’s a victim impact statement. We hear the audio of a real person/organisation’s story about tangible suffering due to global corporation tax avoidance. Judge Jesus sentences Candide to death by social media. On the pyre of the Twitter-based auto-da-fe, a new and improved advocate appears – it’s Richard Meros, BA! He articulates a rousing defence of tax avoidance that casts it as a virtue and a patriotic duty. The audience gets to be the jury – does Candide go free, or does she hang? Whatever the populist result, Meros will spirit Candide away to his new sugar-mommas’s pad.
Chapter 6. Holiday Home in the BVI.
Candide, Richard Meros, Powerful Older Woman & Notable Older Women – played by women plucked from the audience & lovingly put on the spot. Likewise, A Cuckolded Husband of One of Said Women.
Candide is overjoyed to see Meros. He has been detained by his own success. His recent attempts to get a Powerful or Notable Older Woman to take him as her young lover have paid off rather too handsomely! A Powerful Older Woman AND and a Notable Older Women have clubbed together to take him as their Young Lover on a timeshare basis. One gets him Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, the other gets the Lionesses share. Candide is worried that the demands of servicing two strong female Key Opinion Leaders must take it out of him. Meros is upbeat: he describes how he’s leaning into it, and the increased demand has caused him to innovate sustainably productive methods of supply.
The Powerful Older Woman enters. She thinks Candide is cutting her lunch. She tries to kill Candide, who reflexively and accidentally kills her instead. Candide wishes women could be more supportive of each other. She also fears they’re going to be in big trouble for murder. Meros is about to offer a positive spin when the Notable Older Woman arrives. Meros introduces her. Candide figures, in for a penny, in for a pound and kills her too. Meros is mortified, but he justifies it on the basis of meritocracy brought about by healthy competition. He knows where they can seek public exoneration for cold-blooded murder: they flee to Netflix HQ.
Another audience member is prompted to offer an awkward eulogy outlining his love for the Powerful Older Woman. The Notable Older Woman’s body is tossed on a dunghill where it will be retrieved and carved up by medical students.
Chapter 8. Streaming Giant HQ.
Candide, Meros, Streaming Giant Murder Apologist.
The Streaming Giant Murder Apologist is delighted to meet Candide. SGMA has made a fortune - and captured the hearts and minds of billions of viewers - by selectively editing available footage, evidence and testimony to make people convicted of grizzly murders look completely innocent - or at the very least, hard done by. The results are sensational - the highest rating series across all streaming platforms! SGMA is particularly thrilled to be working with Candide at this early stage of her journey, because she’s on the run, and the real-time footage of her takedown by the Interpol SWAT team SGMA has called will be a great climax for Episode 1. As the helicopters swirl, Candide flees for her life while Zooming with her agent, Meros, who is delighted by this turn of events: truly the best of all possible worlds - Candide has a credible fear of being victim of police brutality, and that means she can apply for asylum in the EU. Because it’s a cross-border police operation, it’s also as misconceived as a piss-up in a kindergarten. Candide seizes the weapon of a Morally Conflicted Differently Abled Female Minority POC Interpol SWAT team member, and charm-bribes the pilot of one of the helicopters to fly her to the beating heart of the EU.
Chapter 9. Brussels.
Candide, Meros, audience as decaying European Union.
"When two wrongs don’t make a right, try three.”
It’s the last days of the fourth Reich. The EU is having its own crisis and doesn’t have time to help Candide with hers. They’re gathered in a bunker, as bits of the world’s second biggest trade block keep breaking off. Meros outlines a barkingly plausible plan to save the Union through a politico-economic form of bareback multinational polygamy called ‘Free Trade’. The EU votes overwhelmingly to accept it. It’s so stupid it just might work. What does Meros want in return? He wants the EU to help Candide come to terms with herself as an unrepentant murderer. The EU knows exactly how to help. It sends Candide to the Middle East with special envoy Lawrence of Arabia to undertake a 150-year performance review of western intervention in the region. Meros and the EU will stay behind and save Europe through unfettered movement of goods and people.
Chapter 10. The Middle East.
Candide, Lawrence of Arabia, Audience as middle eastern wedding party/angry mob.
As they stride across the Middle East like giants of enlightenment, Candide reflects on the guilt she feels for killing two women and forcing her friend Meros to waste his life trying to save the EU from itself. Lawrence of Arabia shows her how to not feel guilty, and to see that it’s all for the best in the best of all possible worlds. He points to the carnage all around them and explains to Candide how despite appearances, the west actually did a great job in the middle east, starting with him. Candide witnesses a child bride marry the oldest gentleman in the audience. She intervenes, only to find she’s out of step with local opinion; they don’t actually want her to intervene. An angry mob turns on them, then turns to a million bloody pieces when Lawrence of Arabia reflexively calls in an airstrike.
The audience is exploded.
In revenge, Candide and Lawrence of Arabia are taken hostage by radical islamists and about to be executed. Lawrence talks them out of it. He says it’s very right that they should kill westerners, but in fact he and Candide are only here because Candide has murdered two western women – one shamefully Powerful, and one embarrassingly Notable - two honour killings if you will, that turned back the clock when it came to those women’s personal agency. Furthermore, Lawrence posits, his own actions in the middle east destabilized the Ottoman Empire and opened the door to more than a century of radical islamic terror. So really he’s their leader and they should do what he says. The radical islamists agree. Candide and Lawrence are released. Candide reflects how lucky it was that she murdered those women. Perhaps she does live in the best of all possible worlds after all. But it might not be a good idea to hang around in this particular part of it. Lawrence of Arabia agrees. Now that the fashion is for renewable energy and decolonization there’s nothing in the middle east for him anyway. Lawrence of Arabia tosses a theological grenade into the crowd. They leave while the middle east tears itself apart.
Chapter 11 El Dorado, North Korea.
Candide, Lawrence of Arabia, Dear Leader, North Korean citizens, mathematicians and engineers. Audience as 100 red suitcases laden with treasure.
They can't go back to New Zealand, Australia, the Island Tax Haven or Streaming Giant HQ. Europe may not exist anymore, and radical islamic terrorists are unlikely to release them a second time. Instead, they follow their noses and end up somewhere where the streets are paved with gold: North Korea. Candide is surprised, given what she’s heard about the place. They are hosted brilliantly in the most delicious restaurant ever. It’s a government run establishment so it’s all free.
Thanks to a private audience with Dear Leader, they learn how North Korea is actually awesome, and how they conspire to make it look shit to the outside world in order to stop too many people coming over and ruining it. Dear Leader makes a brilliant argument for high-minded isolationism. At one point many years ago there was a schism between those who thought they should look outward, and those who wanted to enjoy what they had and hide it from the rest of the world. Those who looked outward were beggared by globalization. Those who looked inward enjoy the most peaceful privilege possible. They thank God rather than ask for anything because he has furnished them with all.
Dear Leader has a magnificent palace, but doesn’t stand on ceremony. There are no law courts, no prisons, and no disputes. They are devoted to science. Dear Leader is witty and talkative and welcoming.
Candide sees that North Korea is paradise and wonders if Meros could see it and still state, in good faith, that the world he knows and lives in is still the best?
They're allowed to stay forever, but after a month Candide decides that being rich in the land of the rich is nothing special. She misses Meros, and she yearns for some more visible inequality and to win at competition so she can feel superior. Lawrence of Arabia agrees. Dear Leader thinks they’re silly, but orders the construction of a missile to convey them across the border. It happens very quickly and costs a lot but it’s of no concern. They're given 100 red suitcases laden with gold, diamonds, precious stones and cryptocurrency. Enough to bail out Europe several times over.
Next week in the thrilling finale of Yes We Candide:
Candide is divorced from her North Korean loot, meets a talking cow, travels to California in a shipping container full of white slaves, rubs the balls of the Wall Street Bull and strikes start-up gold in San Francisco before fleeing the climate apocalypse in a private jet with a bunch of Rich World refugees.
Thanks for reading Citizens of Nowhere! Subscribe for free to receive a new short play for stage, page or screen in your inbox every Saturday morning.