Saturday, November 29, 2008

But enough about you.

Often I’m asked to describe what I’m looking for in a play. And since I pride myself on my eclecticism, the sheer constancy of my criteria has sometimes come as a surprise. Sure, I admire all kinds of plays. And yes, one thing I’ll say for me, I’m skilled at separating my personal tastes from questions of how effective a script will be. Yet there are aesthetic yardsticks I bring into play (as it were) more often than not:

Does stage space get used or at least acknowledged? If your play doesn’t use the spatial relations that are one of theater’s strengths, you should ask yourself if you’ve really wound up with a teleplay. (All right, I can think of several exceptions to this rule of thumb. But unless your work is on a par with Pinter or Beckett, get smart!)

Is there an awareness that an audience is sitting right there? I don’t mean I expect every place to contain direct address or break the fourth wall or employ Verfremdungseffekt. But even the most “realistic” of scripts should take into account that spectators will never for a moment forget they are watching a play, and writing that takes cognizance of this is going to be more effective.

Do you ask the audience to participate in creating your play’s meaning? Remember that if they’re going to sit there passively and be spoon-fed the script’s content, they could have done this more cheaply and more comfortably in front of their own televisions. Give them a break and give them something to figure out – let them bring themselves into a mental dialogue with you.

And I could go on, but I’ll spare you. The point of all this is that I was trying to trace the origins of this mental canovaccio, and by working backwards I was surprised to find myself in . . .

. . . oh, but this post is already lengthy, so you’ll have to tune in to the next post if you want to know the shocking truth behind my unyielding and highfalutin standards. K? (The image above gives it way, really.)


patsypalooza said...


Mead said...


Steve Patterson said...

You want plays set in swanky tiki bars? Please tell me you want plays set in swanky tiki bars. With flaming torches flanking the front doors and fishing nets with glass floats hanging from the ceilings along with stuffed puffer fish and badly carved Hawaiian totems everywhere and Exotica playing on the hi-fi and drinks served in halved coconuts and guys in short-sleeved Madras shirts chain-smoking Winstons while cracking wise with haughty women in silky dresses with long zippers up the back.

Just for instance. No particular reason....

MattyZ said...

Amen, Mead! There are times I want to grab a playwright by the ears, look them in the eyes and speak really slowly: "You. Are. Writing. For. The. Stage." More and more writers tell me they find the stage confining - but I think that it is precisely the spatial limitations that unlock possiblities in our chosen uses of grand imagination. Thus: theatre. not film, not television. THEATRE.

h e r e x a c t l y said...

verb [trans.] (often be enchanted)
1. fill (someone) with great delight; charm
2. put (someone or something) under a spell

ORIGIN: from Latin incantare, from in- 'in' + cantare 'sing'

1. a large wooden or small greenstone image of a human figure

ORIGIN: Maori, literally 'image'

highfalutin, even to the verbal bones, indeed!

MightyToyCannon said...

Now I'm picturing Pinter's "The Birthday Party" staged in a tiki bar rather than a run-down seaside boarding house.

Anonymous said...

OK with the stage space and all that. But don't you also want dialogue with lots and lots of metaphors?

patsypalooza said...

sorry to give your next post away. can't wait to read it, tho. :)

hope tech/previews are treating you well. i'm sorta in love with my play right now...