Sunday, July 29, 2007
Get that play READ!
From Playwright Zoo
You've got a new play? You want to know if it works? There's only one way to discover what you've got, and that's to hear it out loud.
Call some of your actor friends, get them over to your house, and have them read your play to you.
What? No actor friends? In case you weren't paying attention when you started writing your play, these things happen in the theater. How can you not know some actors?
Well -- this does happen sometimes, but it is a situation that must be resolved. Go to some local shows, small non-profit theaters, community theaters, college theaters, to see who's doing what in your area. Next -- volunteer to help with whichever group you liked best.
This sounds like a commitment? It is. You are a playwright that has to become committed to your local theater scene. There's no way around that, so quit stalling and COMMIT ALREADY! Involve yourself. Then start collecting actors' contact info.
Not only will your commitment bring you actors, it will bring you additional knowledge about theatermaking, and this will enrich your playwriting. See the benefits of the cycle?
Now, invite some of thoe actors to your house to read your play out loud to you.
Be sure to have refreshments on hand. Also have some snacks, but I recommend staying away from salty/crunchy for a reading. Try fruit or soft candies. That way people gnoshing won't interupt the sound of your play. Also fruit is good for the vocal cords.
Now that you've heard your play it's time to rewrite. Begin by cutting the things that sounded ackward or were redundant. Then start the work of revision. Some plays need only a little tweeking, but more likely your play will need some retooling, rearranging, and new material now that you've lopped off the first half of your play (sometimes that's what happens).
Then you're ready for phase 2: The concert reading... but that will have to wait until another musing.
Saturday, July 28, 2007
The two cold reading workshops that I ran with the TheaterMakers at the O'Neill are now complete. The first one was more succesful than the second, but I had a great time with both and learned a lot about my plays in the process.
The first workshop was held in the basement of the DMT -- and was a more energized space than the second location, which was in the screening room. Also, day 2 was much hotter, the play was more difficult, and the students had just presented their final project the evening before, so they were pretty tired.
The first workshop we put forward WHETHER: A NOAH RIFF. What a blast! The students brought some great work to the table.
The second workshop we worked MINOTAURS. TOREROS. It was unfortunate that the students were not abe to get the text in advance. It is a difficult play to present as a reading, and I'm not sure that the students were able to really understand the play before presnting it. It led to a subdued and careful rendering of the text. Between the heat and the pace, the performance itself dragged. But I thik that the action of working on the play throughout the day was beneficial. I know it was beneficial for me as the playwright.
I was engaged listening to the new sequences, which I think need a little trimming an revision.
I would like to figure out to better communicate cold-reading techniques for future workshops like this. The skills required for cold-reading are invaluble for young actors whoo might wish to make connections with playwrights and theaters. It is a skill to hone, because it can be useful in opening doors.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center will honor the late Lloyd Richards, who led the National Playwrights Conference from 1968-1999, above with actress Angela Bassett at the O'Neill Center in Waterford in July 1999, with a tribute at 2 p.m. Sunday at the center. George C. White, founder of the O'Neill, will emcee, and there will be remembrances from conference alumni and friends, video and tributes.
Friday, July 13, 2007
After the opening play last Thursday at The O'Neill National Playwrights Conference I took a few minutes to thumb through my program. I found a blue slip of paper that announced the Wendy Wasserstein Fund for Open Submissions.
"Wendy Wasserstein was a loyal friend of the O'Neill throughout her distinguished career, from her earliest work as an assistant to Lloyd Richards, and as a mentor to other writers long after her first produced play, Uncommon Women and Others, was developed at the O'Neill in 1977. She was a passionate advocate for the O'Neill's OPEN SUBMISSIONS program and the opportunities it presents for emerging writers who can benefit from the O'Neill's resources at pivotal times in their careers, just as she did."
This fund is an endowment that will ensure the OPEN SUBMISSIONS program in perpetuity. Income from the fund will be used for operational costs of the Open Submissions program.
While I don't have a lot of money to give to this fund myself, I do intend to have a donation can dedicated to collecting donations for this cause whenever one of plays is going up or my production company producess a workshop. I am also going to see if local community groups and theaters will put out donation cans as well.
If you would like to make a contribution, or make a local collection toward this endowment, send it to:
The Wendy Wasserstein Fund for Open Submissions
O'Neill Theater Center
305 Great Neck Road
Waterford, CT 06385
For more information call 860.443.5378
or visit the website http://www.theoneill.org
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
36 Assumptions About Writing Plays
by Jose Rivera
Over the years, I've had the good fortune to teach writing in a number of schools from second-grade to graduate school. I usually just wing it. But lately, I've decided to think about the assumptions I've been working under and to write them down. The following is an unscientific, gut-level survey of the assumptions I have about writing plays, in no particular order of importance.
- Good playwriting is a collaboration between your many selves. The more multiple your personalities, the further, wider, deeper you will be able to go.
- Theatre is closer to poetry and music than it is to the novel.
- There's no time limit to writing plays. Think of playwriting as a life-long apprenticeship. Imagine you may have your best ideas on your deathbed.
- Write plays in order to organize despair and chaos. To live vicariously. To play God. To project an idealized version of the world. To destroy things you hate in the world and in yourself. To remember and to forget. To lie to yourself. To play. To dance with language. To beautify the landscape. To fight loneliness. To inspire others. To imitate your heroes. To bring back the past and raise the dead. To achieve transcendence of yourself. To fight the powers that be. To sound alarms. To provoke conversation. To engage in the conversation started by great writers in the past. To further evolve the artform. To lose yourself in your fictive world. To make money.
- Write because you want to show something. To show that the world is shit. To show how fleeting love and happiness are. To show the inner workings of your ego. To show that democracy is in danger. To show how interconnected we are. (Each "to show" is active and must be personal, deeply held, true to you.)
- Each line of dialogue is like a piece of DNA; potentially containing the entire play and its thesis; potentially telling us the beginning, middle, and end of the play.
- Be prepared to risk your entire reputation every time you write, otherwise it's not worth your audience's time.
- Embrace your writer's block. It's nature's way of saving trees and your reputation. Listen to it and try to understand its source. Often, writer's block happens to you because somewhere in your work you've lied to yourself and your subconscious won't let you go any further until you've gone back, erased the lie, stated the truth and started over.
- Language is a form of entertainment. Beautiful language can be like beautiful music: it can amuse, inspire, mystify, enlighten.
- Rhythm is key. Use as many sounds and cadences as possible. Think of dialogue as a form of percussive music. You can vary the speed of the language, the number of beats per line, volume, density. You can use silences, fragments, elongated sentences, interruptions, overlapping conversation, physical activity, monologues, nonsense, non-sequiturs, foreign languages.
- Vary your tone as much as possible. Juxtapose high seriousness with raunchy language with lyrical beauty with violence with dark comedy with awe with eroticism.
- Action doesn't have to be overt. It can be the steady deepening of the dramatic situation or your character's steady emotional movements from one emotional/psychological condition to another: ignorance to enlightenment, weakness to strength, illness to wholeness.
- Invest something truly personal in each of your characters, even if it's something of your worst self.
- If realism is as artificial as any genre, strive to create your own realism. If theatre is a handicraft in which you make one of a kind pieces, then you're in complete control of your fictive universe. What are its physical laws? What's gravity like? What does time do? What are the rules of cause and effect? How do your characters behave in this altered universe?
- Write from your organs. Write from your eyes, your heart, your liver, your ass -- write from your brain last of all.
- Write from all of your senses. Be prepared to design on the page: tell yourself exactly what you see, feel, hear, touch and taste in this world. Never leave design to chance, that includes the design of the cast.
- Find your tribe. Educate your collaborators. Stick to your people and be faithful to them. Seek aesthetic and emotional compatability with those your work with. Understand your director's world view because it will color his/her approach to your work.
- Strive to be your own genre. Great plays represent the genres created around the author's voice. A Checkhov genre. A Caryl Churchill genre.
- Strive to create roles that actors you respect will kill to perform.
- Form follows function. Strive to reflect the content of the play in the form of the play.
- Use the literalization of metaphor to discuss the inner emotional state of your characters.
- Don't be afraid to attempt great themes: death, war, sexuality, identity, fate, God, existence, politics, love.
- Theatre is the explanation of life to the living. Try to tease apart the conflicting noises of living, and make some kind of pattern and order. It's not so much and explanation of life as much as it is a recipe for understanding, a blueprint for navigation, a confidante with some answers, enough to guide you and encourage you, but not to dictate to you.
- Push emotional extremes. Don't be a puritan. Be sexy. Be violent. Be irrational. Be sloppy. Be frightening. Be loud. Be stupid. Be colorful.
- Ideas may be deeply embedded in the interactions and reactions of your character; they may be in the music and poetry of your form. You have thoughts and you generate ideas constantly. A play ought to embody those thoughts and those thoughts can serve as a unifying energy in your play.
- A play must be organized. This is another word for structure. You organize a meal, your closet, your time -- why not your play?
- Strive to be mysterious, not confusing.
- Think of information in a play like an IV drip -- dispense just enough to keep the body alive, but not too much too soon.
- Think of writing as a constant battle against the natural inertia of language.
- Write in layers. Have as many things happening in a play in any one moment as possible.
- Faulkner said the greatest drama is the heart in conflict with itself.
- Keep your chops up with constant questioning of your own work. React against your work. Be hypercritical. Do in the next work what you aimed for but failed to do in the last one.
- Listen only to those people who have a vested interest in your future.
- Character is the embodiment of obsession. A character must be stupendously hungry. There is no rest for those characters until they've satisfied their needs.
- In all your plays be sure to write at least one impossible thing. And don't let your director talk you out of it.
- A writer cannot live without an authentic voice -- the place where you are the most honest, most lyrical, most complete, most creative and new. That's what you're striving to find. But the authentic voice doesn't know how to write, any more than gasoline knows how to drive. But driving is impossible without fuel and writing is impossible without the heat and strength of your authentic voice. Learning to write well is the stuff of workshops. Learning good habits and practicing hard. But finding your authentic voice as a writer is your business, your journey -- a private, lonely, inexact, painful, slow and frustrating voyage. Teachers and mentors can only bring you closer to that voice. With luck and time, you'll get there on your own.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
This week (and maybe some of next) I'll be working with the TheaterMakers at the O'Neill Theater Center. We'll be workshopping a play or two of mine with the college-age group that is in-house during the National Playwrights Conference. It's in the throes of radical transformation after a lackluster innagural summer a year ago.
The two guys who are running it this year were participants last year and decided to restructure the project to make it more interesting and valuable to a recent college grad interested in making theater.
Their focus is quite strong -- to make a introductory experience to real-world theater making that bridges the college experience and the professional world. It is timed to make use of the in-house NPC and its creative staff.
Students shadow writer/director meetings, rehearsals, and help with the readings being presented throughout the month-long conference in Waterford, CT.
I'm excited to be working with the group and looking forward to hearing my plays.