Playwriting: good for what ails ya.

I've been doing a fair bit of writing,  revising,  producing, and rehearsing a bunch of plays and libretti over the past couple of years.  It's been quite full-on recently, what with The Death of Albatross just a few nanoseconds away from opening night, and with the imminent performance of the two short operas Houston and I have collaborated on (they'll be on in November in Sydney; watch this space for details!).  This has prompted me to reflect on the salutary effects for the writer of writing, quite specifically, plays.

First, there is not one thing in the entire world that will improve your dialogue writing anywhere near as much as writing entirely in dialogue (with maybe the very occasional and very sparse stage direction).  Gone are the adverbs, gone are the dreary explanations and infodumps, gone are the pitiable imitations of the prose style you really liked in that book you read last week!  Instead, you write characters who (as all good characters should) reveal their inner lives through how they interact with other people: how they stand in amazement, how they glance, startled, at another character or shatter a dinner plate in rage — and, most importantly, how they speak to one another.  If you take your playwriting seriously, you leave lots of space for the director and the actors to do their art.  You constantly seek to trim every extraneous syllable, every conversational triviality.  This can only be a good thing for everything you write.

Second, playwriting makes you acutely aware of how long things take, and how long they should take.  The ear of the audience member (not to mention the reader) becomes bored far more quickly than the pen of the writer.  Of course we writers love our own stuff and could listen to it, enraptured, all day!  Of course!  But as soon as you start writing for the stage, the passage of time becomes real, and crucial.  It takes time to speak words out loud!  You must master and control the audience's perception of time through the use of poetic language, dramatic tension, setup and setting, empathetic characters — all crucial tools for anyone writing stories of any kind. Even more, you have to be an excellent steward of your audience's time.  They're trusting you with two hours of their lives:  can you really live with yourself if you waste that gift?

Third, when theatre is done right, it's win-win.  In fact, it's win-win-win-win-win-win.  The playwright, the actors, the director, the audience, the producer, the venue, and the audience all come away full of joy.  And everyone needs more joy.


At 7:47 AM, Blogger Houston Dunleavy said...

A long time ago, I mentioned the concept of "forging time" when you are a composer. Your comments here about the control of the time for the audience are what I meant. It's better said here, but it's what I meant :)


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