Playing Ball

Author’s Note: Playing Ball was one of four libretti that I wrote while taking part in Tapestry Opera’s Composer-Librettist Laboratory (Lib-Lab) in the summer of 2016. It was presented as part of Winter Briefs in December 2017. Composer Norbert Palej and I wanted to create a piece with few words. I proposed a scenario featuring a woman visiting her convalescing father who had lost the power of speech. At the time, I was reading the World War II novel All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It contains a powerful story line of a father protecting his young daughter. In the opera, the daughter reads while at her father’s bedside and can’t help but be almost jealous of the relationship depicted in book. At the same time, the father tries to express his love and regret for their strained relationship. The daughter can’t understand his garbled words. The only communication they share is when he drops his therapy ball and she gives it back to him again and again.


The scene opens in a bedroom in a nursing home. TABITHA is placing a rubber ball on a nightstand. KEN (her father) sits in a wheelchair. Tabitha hums while she is combing his hair. Tabitha finishes combing. She puts the ball into Ken’s hand and has to wrap his fingers around it. He squeezes it rhythmically. It complements the tune that she is humming. Tabitha sits in an arm chair. She stops humming. A moment passes as Ken continues to squeeze the ball. She reaches into her purse and takes out a thick novel which she starts to read. Another moment passes.

Ken looks at her. He drops the ball. She gives it back to him and goes back to reading. He drops it again.

She returns it. They do this continuously throughout her aria. Reading, dropping the ball, putting it back in his hand.

TABITHA: This one is set in World War Two.
A little blind girl leaves Paris with her father before the occupation.
I like stories like this.
Where a father shows so much love for his daughter.

(Ken doesn’t drop the ball.)

Don’t want to play anymore?

(She settles into the chair and reads.)

KEN: (garbled, unintelligible) I do love you.


KEN: (garbled) I do love you. And I’m sorry. Please forgive me.


(She stands. He looks at her hopefully. She opens the blinds to bring in the sunlight.)


(Ken doesn’t answer. She sits and starts reading. After a moment, he drops the ball. She picks it up and puts it in his hand. She settles in the chair and goes back to reading while humming. He drops the ball. She ignores it and continues reading.)

Developed in Tapestry Opera’s Composer-Librettist Laboratory, 2016
Performance: Tapestry Briefs: Winter Shorts, December 2017
Director: Michael Hidetoshi Mori
Composer: Norbert Palej
Performers: Jacqueline Woodley and Keith Klassen
Videography: Darren Bryant

About Marcia Johnson

Marcia Johnson is an actor, writer, and dramaturge based in Toronto. She also works in the audiobook industry as both a reader (The Waiting Hours by Shandi Mitchell) and a director (His Whole Life by Elizabeth Hay; Lear's Shadow by Claire Holden Rothman; Close to Hugh by Marina Endicott among others). Her play Serving Elizabeth, in which she has a role, will premiere in 2020. Other plays include Binti's Journey (Theatre Direct, Manitoba Theatre for Young People, Black Theatre Workshop), Courting Johanna (Blyth Festival) and Late (Obsidian Theatre). Playing Ball is one of eight short operas Marcia wrote while participating in two editions of Tapestry Opera's Lib Lab. This particular piece was composed with Norbert Palej and was presented with other shorts during Tapestry Opera's Winter Briefs in 2017.

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