Wednesday, October 10, 2012

THE PLAYWRIGHT AS MURDERER





Audiences are not stupid.  They buy a ticket, go to the theater with one purpose in mind; entertainment.

As the playwright, your first (and only) job is to entertain.  If you write well, your work might also inspire and educate.

But do not be confused; if your audience is not first entertained, your play is dead.

Playwrights are clever little murders.

We, unknowing, kill our characters, our plot-lines, our scripts as casually as you slop together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for your five-year-old.

FIRST RULE - LET YOUR PLAY LIVE!


Below are three writing devices that feel like script writing. They're not.  Instead, they're cheap, easy ways to murder your script. 

Any time you find yourself “writing” any of the following devices into your work, stop.  Replace them with actual writing, and your script will live.
 
We don't need no stinkin' narrator.

 

1.  A SCHLOCKY NARRATOR  – 

Hey, we don’t need no stinkin' narrator.

True - a monologue is easy to write, easy to stage.  But for your audience, a monologue is cheap and boring.

Ask any Artistic Director what he or she thinks of monologue.

Instead of telling us how your actors reached your dramatic moment, show us.

Show us how they feel about each other through actual behavior in a scene. Make them individuals, not narrations.

2.  THE BREAKDOWN

 I don’t know how this one got started, but I see it everywhere.

It begins about halfway through ACT I - a secondary character has some kind of an irrational, ridiculous, physical and/or emotional breakdown.  Some playwrights place it before intermission, thinking the audience cares.

The audience, however, is not stupid.  The audience knows when you are sinking to cheap manipulation.  And emotional breakdown is not a common, human experience  - and so, to your audience, it has no meaning.

Breaking down is not actual behavior.
Why?  Because most of us cope with our lives.  To the majority of us, breaking down is not actual behavior.  Instead of throwing one of your characters into a crazy-ass breakdown, meet your audience where they live

Show them the nuanced, internal dynamics that lead to existential despair, confusion, pain or sadness. In doing so, you'll challenge your actors, inspire your director and move your audience. 

Yup.  Show.  Don't throw!  

 

3. GAY, LESBIAN, TRANSGENDER PLOTS

Oh, my god.

Once - - once! - - - I'd like to go to a "festival of plays" and exit without (once again) being lectured, taught, trained, informed, on the many, many, many struggles faced by our gay, lesbian, transgender and queer brothers and sisters.

Lest I sound intolerant - - read on!

Writing a play about the GLBT community (even if you are a member of the community!) is now, officially, overdone.

We're all on the side of the angels!
We'ver heard it all - and listen to me. . . WE ALL AGREE!!  We're all on the side of the angels on this one!

Theatre-going audiences are among the most accepting, educated, sophisticated audiences in our communities.

If you, as a playwright, hope to reach them, it is important you step outside the cliche of our time and into the unexplored, dangerous world of original story telling. Try to shock your audience by not trying to - well - shock your audience. 

Time, my friend, to integrate GLBT characters into your scripts as the accepted individuals they are in our communities.

Aren't you tired of putting all our "weird" stuff on GLBT folks?  In my experience, some of the strangest people I've known are so heterosexual, they should be in prison!

Let some of them share the weirdness of our collective tales of challenge, decay, glory and redemption.

Stories that expose our GLBT friends as uniquely perverse bore your audience.

I know, I know. . . there are stories to tell about the GLBT struggle.  Bullying in schools, discrimination at work, equality in marriage - blah, blah, blah.

Sorry, bunky.  We've heard them all.

This is not to say - if you have an original take on this theme - bring it!

Beware, however - the choir has been preached to, one too many times.    Your plot must contain a real story - - not another sermon to the all-ready-converted.

Speaking of which. . . 

Do you have any idea how hungry your audience is for a real story?  A real plot - with real conflict?  Something that reflects our real, common humanity?

Struggle with this one, kids. You'll be happy you did.

Your audience will rise up - and call you blessed!


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