Thursday, June 28, 2007

More Drama, Less Hound

Over the past few days, I’ve noticed this blog is more “hound” than “drama,” and I’ve asked myself what’s up with that. I’m not unqualified to write about theatre. I went to college, then grad school, joined The Dramatists Guild (http://www.dramatistsguild. com/), wrote plays, wrote more plays, taught, dramaturged (not a pretty word, certainly not when used as a verb; it basically means helping the playwright shape their play into what they want it to be, either before or during rehearsal), wrote the libretto and lyrics for two short musicals, taught, wrote, etc.

Part of my reticence is never wanting to sound like the voice of God. I can’t get a roomful of students to agree on “what a play is”- nor should they. A playwright without opinions can’t be much of a playwright. Some years ago, I had an incredibly talented student who kept blowing off my class. He didn’t even bother to be sneaky about it- I’d see him hanging out in the hallway with his girlfriend. When I confronted him, he said, “You’re trying to tell me how to write.” I was astonished. Really. I said, “I’m trying to give you tools to help you write. I’d never tell you how to write. What would be the point of that?” He never missed a class again.

Writing plays is sort of a strange process. Unless you write with a partner, it involves a great deal of solitude; the discipline to not let the rest of your life (blogging, friends, bills, email) distract you for blocks of time; the continuing act of will to keep at it, despite the fact you will invariably be rejected many more times than accepted (I mean, of course, the work being rejected, though it often feels infinitely more personal than that); and the willingness to commit something of yourself to paper. A very smart director friend said to me once that the act of writing a play means that you believe that something that is emotionally true for you is true for everyone else. She was right, and I’ve never forgotten that.

And then, if you’re lucky, you go into rehearsal, and everything changes. You talk (to the producer, the director the designers); you take notes; you ask the director questions; you rewrite scenes that don’t work. You listen (to the director, the actors, the designers, the producer). You rethink characters. You rewrite lines that assault your ear like a car alarm. You invite someone you trust professionally to rehearsal, and listen to what they say. Finally, you reach the day that the script has to be frozen (no more changes, not even moving a comma), or the actors will rise up and kill you. And then, you can’t do anything. Which in its way is the hardest part of all.

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