Day One: Playwrights in Mind: A National Conversation – Part Three

Christopher Durang – no surprise – was very funny.  He spun great stories about his career and offered a few words of advice.

He says he was influenced by sitcoms of the 1950’s and ‘60’s because of their quick pace.  He didn’t want to write the overly realistic style of plays of the era.  He wrote his first play at age 8: his own version of the episode about Lucy having a baby.   At age 12 or 13, he decided to write the book and lyrics for a musical called “Banned in Boston” with the hit song “I Love Money.”  But he was too shy to tell anyone at the school.  His mother told the head of the drama club at Delbarton High School about the musical.  and they put it on when he was in eighth grade.  He went to an all-boys school.  So he got to audition girls from the nearby Catholic school.

His high school college guidance counselor didn’t recommend a single Catholic school, but did suggest lots of high brow places.  Told him schools wanted individuals.  “You’ve written plays,” he said, ” that’s unusual.”   His mother’s divorce lawyer suggested he also apply to Harvard.  He was so surprised to be accepted, he went there.  He wrote a musical and Al Franken was in it.  It was called the “Greatest Musical Ever Sung.”  It told the story of the gospels in musical comedy terms.  Songs included “Everything’s Coming Up Moses.”  “The Dove that Done Me Wrong” – sung by the Blessed Mother.  They couldn’t get 12 apostles, so they went with 9 and included some women.  Tommy Lee Jones and Al Gore both saw the show.  It ran two weekends and got a good review.  But there started to be letters saying “this show is offensive to Catholics.”  An English professor wrote back saying, “haven’t you heard of satire?”  One critic said Durang was “Pigs trampling in the sanctuary.”  He used the critique in his application to Yale.

Durang has a few bits of advice: the best drama comes from writing about your stuff,  what you know, not what pleases anybody.  It’s important not to just hold onto one play.  Be prolific.  His rules for avoiding writers block: write at least 5 days a week; at least 2-3 hours; and you’re not allowed to quit if you don’t like what you’ve written.  If you’ve written act one and stuck, get a reading.  You start thinking about actors and casting and you have a deadline to finish act two for the upcoming reading.

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