Day One: Playwrights in Mind: A National Conversation

The temperature in my car reads 103 as I park outside the Mason Inn. Inside to pick up the nametag and schedule and Dramatists Guild lanyard and then we were herded onto a shuttle bus for a short ride up the hill to the theatre. There’s a couple of workshops to choose from. I started off in Jeffrey Sweet’s “Improvising Your Play.”

Sweet says it’s much more effective if you don’t use the “word.” The audience can figure out that it’s a play about divorce and “him” is dad. It’s called pattern completion. If you don’t say the most important word, the audience figures out and believes it more deeply.

He says we go to the theatre to watch actors making choices – in the present. Even if talking about something that happened in the past, use historical present. Or use one line in the past and shift into the present. Then the character is re-experiencing the past in the present. Thornton Wilder calls it “the ever renewable present.”

No adjectives and adverbs: they make an audience passive. Let them make that evaluation. Put the premise on the stage; let the audience reach the conclusion.

Take out that line that spells out the “theme” of the play. 

A lot of very good plays are not very good reading experiences.  Scripts are meant to be performed.  If you have any chance of putting up a staged reading, and invite appropriate people, you’ll have a better shot at getting produced.  But make sure the play is ready.  Don’t invite them to your exploratory work.

The event of a play is not literary.  The point of a script is gives actors an opportunity to create compelling behavior.  And sometimes the language isn’t even first rate.  The passion, the behavior, the emotion behind the language is what works.  The words float on top of the behavior.  The novelist gives you everything you need.  The playwright doesn’t.

Look at those first ten pages.  All exposition?  Think of it as scaffolding for your play.  Take it down.

Here’s a tip from Jeffrey: if you’re visiting a theatre town, find out where the storefront theatres are, which ones are doing new work, write a letter, tell them you’re coming to see the show and want to buy them a drink.  It gives them a face to put with your script.

1 Comment

  • By Nancy Beverly, June 15, 2011 @ 11:15 am

    A belated thank you — great tips from Mr. Sweet, thanks for passing them along!!!

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