Yours truly guest blogged about playwriting for Author Dan Baldwin's weekly "learn how to write" newsletter.
Effective Writing Tip of the Week
Guest Blog – George Sewell
The Play Writes the Thing
To be, or not to be, a playwright? An author or writer is not another name for the one who pens the words, spoken aloud, to an audience, alive, for one moment only, in time.
Okay, that was mischief. Yet contained in that mischief are prime characteristics of writing for the theatre – it’s quite different from other creative writing formats, screenwriting included. The novel can be experienced by a reader over time, and read again. Same for short stories, magazine articles, website posts and other media. But not theatre.
Like a concert, the play exists for a short time only – a time where performers act out a story to an audience, seated in a place for such an experience. After a while, the curtain comes down (or the lights fade out) and the performance ends. Gone, forever. Only those gathered in that space for that time will have the experience. Granted, another performance of the play is scheduled, but because the audience will be different, and other variables may affect the performance, it cannot be the same show as the one presented earlier. Theatre is by definition live; it is the presence of living performers and audience that create that special electric experience found in no other medium. Think of the play script as a blueprint for that event.
Now if that makes any sense, then you’ve got the basics to write a play. Although there are plays that have little dialogue (it’s the live energy of the performance received by an equally live audience that does the magic) it is the words, spoken or withheld, that make the play. Some writers have an ear for dialogue, some do not. All writers create characters. For the playwright, the characters are meant to be seen, on stage, in the flesh. And the rascals know it! Be prepared, as you write, for your creations to jostle about, seeking a more dominant position in the evolving script.
Seriously. Talk to any playwright and you’ll hear how a character, perhaps slated in support of the plot, manages to con the author into more dialogue, more stage time...upstaging the other characters. It’s lively writing!
You’ve tamed your rowdy creations and herded them into the first draft of your play (short, full length, doesn’t matter). Now you need to hear it. You will benefit greatly from assembling actors to read the script aloud. It’s not what’s on the printed page that counts – it’s how the words printed on the page are heard by an audience. In this case, you.
You might be delighted with what you hear. It might scare the hell out of you. This reading is for your benefit. The fun of crafting the play begins. You have the story firmly on the blueprint. The dialogue cues actors about the personalities you created for them to mimic. Caution: Egos ahead. Theatre people are hugely talented, lovable, greedy, and prone to “fix” every script they find.
Case Study: “Lawyers”. Lawyers was a comedy written by yours truly and Micah Hackler. The story centers on a hapless fellow caught up in a litigation society run amuck. Imagine a legal establishment enmeshed with the internet, keeping a close eye on you. It was a futuristic foray when written. In the premier production, the script was played straight, that is, normal. Contemporary characters, in contemporary costumes – the comedy deriving from the “fish out of water” experiences of the protagonist. It was well received, even by the local Bar association.
Another production, in another state by a university, had a different approach. Nothing was straight in this version. The characters were costumed like cartoons; the visuals were cartoonish, such as a Judge’s gavel the size of a baseball bat. It was well received by the audience.
The point is that the story via dialogue came through to the audience regardless of interpretation of staging. It did scare the hell out of the playwrights, however.
|Satisfying when your characters come to life|
Let your show begin!
(George’s website http://www.georgeesewell.com/ is well worth a visit for anyone interested in writing and/or committing philosophy.)