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I dig jazz and single-malt scotch.  I write plays; I direct them too. I love STAR WARS more than is healthy. I walk my dogs every day, unless it's raining or terribly cold.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Hard Talk

A week ago a theater colleague to whom I had sent a new work sent a response to the play of mine that she had just read.  She bagan her e-mail to me like this:

Okay, here goes.  I'm going to give you a totally honest response - we don't know each other that well, but I'm going to assume that what you want (if it's not delete the e-mail right now).

She was ready with a response that was all about "the hard talk" with the playwright about the work.  As far as the communication that followed, it was thoughtful, well composed, and on-the-money describing the strengths and weaknesses of the work she had read. I will be taking her comments with me to a meeting I am having about an upcoming workshop of this play.

When this e-mail arrived I had to take the big gulp, allow my mind to open,  double click the message, and read.

It is not easy to be on the receiving end of "the hard talk"; it is also not easy being the one who decides to deliver it.

As playwrights it is important to be choosy when asking people for their opinions and observations about our work, especially the work that is still actively being shaped.

During a playwright introduction at The O'Neill Theater Conference I heard a playwright describe the best way to give feedback as questions, "Your questions about my play are always welcome; your answers about how to solve the problems not so much."  This is a good starting point for learning to talk about the plays, becoming aware of the questions.

On the other side of the conversation is the playwright. As the playwright how willing are you to engage in the "hard talk"? It's an important thing to know about yourself and your attachment to the work. It means you have to be open to the double edge elation of it being liked (loved?), and of the warts and bumps being pointed toward.

Are you willing to grapple with the work once this new perspective has been revealed to you?

I have been on the reader end of the question as often as I have been on the playwright end. I know that if I am dealing with a knowledgable theater person that I will listen if they are willing to go to the place beyond polite response into the area of the "hard talk." I in turn will go to the "hard talk" if I believe the colleague with whom I am dealing seems ready for it.

Even in the response that I quoted above there is the note about deleting the message before treading further. At that point I ready myself, and read on.

PS - The graphic I am using in this post is my first foray into drawing my own computer graphics. It took me three days of experimenting to draw it using just the track-pad on my computer. I guess I'm gonna have to buy a tablet soon, or draw them on my iPad and transfer them to the MacBook for editing. Any thoughts? Let me know. - Kato

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Gunning for Womprats

“It’s not impossible. I used to bullseye womprats in my T-16 back home. They're not much bigger than two meters.”

--------- Luke Skywalker, taking on a skeptic regarding the rebel’s chances of destroying the Death Star.

Sending out your play to a theater and getting a production out of it is a lot like the chances the Rebel Alliance had in destroying the Death Star, but they had to try. For them it was a life or death battle. For you and me it’s a matter of credibility and identity. Will my life as a playwright survive? Without that production coming along, the answer is “no.”

How do you get that production? First you have to bullseye a whole lotta womprats in your T-16 back home.

Gunning for womprats

Where are these elusive creatures? They take on a variety of forms, from reading books on playwriting, to taking a class, to going to the theater, to reading new plays, to local readings of your latest play, to 10-minute play festivals, to concert and staged-readings of your work. Womprats are everywhere. So why can they be so hard to see?

First, there’s the T-16. You gotta learn to fly that vehicle, take her out around the block, see what she can do. Then you take her for a spin in Beggar’s Canyon. Before long you're blasting at womprats as you tool along.

Learning to fly the T-16 is you sitting down and reading plays, going to local theater, and reading a few books on the craft of playwriting. It might also include taking a class, either through a university or an informal class through your local parks & rec. What’s available to you? Start at your local library. They will have a collection of drama and some instructional guides. They will also have information about local theater groups and classes.

By going to see plays you will not only learn about theatrical form and conventions, you also become acquainted with your local acting-talent pool. Keep the programs and mark the names of actors who might be able to help you read your play to you. Try volunteering with the theater groups that are doing work that interests you. Whether you’re helping build the set or handing out programs at the top of the show, the experience will help you understand the mechanics of theatrical production while it introduces you to the people who make theater happen in your community.

Write a short play and invite some of your new actor friends to come read it out loud. Take notes either during or after the read through, and do whatever rewrites are needed.

BLAM! You just blasted a womprat. Score one for you.

Now, you start looking for places to send your short play. There are many theaters that host short play festivals. A few minutes a day searching the web and you’ll have at least ten or more places that will be willing to read your work.

BLAM! Another womprat bites the dust.

Send out the play.

BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! More womprats.

You get a play into a festival! BLAMMO!

You're working on a few more short plays, having them read, rewriting, and sending them out.


You’re knocking off womprats left and right.

Try writing longer works. Get ‘em read. Send ‘em out. With your new and improved resume, and the theater experiencing you’re garnering with your group, you are starting to feel more like a pro. You are making a dent in the womprat population in your community.

See if there are other playwrights in your community and start organizing sessions where you bring in pieces of new work and read it out loud for each other. You can all share resource information, like where to send your plays. You can also begin organizing local reading series of your plays. See if a local theater, library, art gallery, church, or civic agency might be interested in donating some space for you guys to show your art.


You’re knocking off some impressive womprats.

Before long you’ll be ready for the big challenges, but they won’t seem so big anymore because you’ve been primed by taking out all of those womprats.

Death Star…Shmeath Star. You’ve been bullseyeing womprats in your T-16 back home, and they’re not much bigger than two meters. It’s not impossible at all.