The “Who Gives a S***” Test

So, I mention my “Who Gives a S***” Test and then I just leave you hanging for four days… what kind of lazy, no good blogger am I?

The kind that is on HOLIDAY!!!  I’ve been trying to sleep in (too much fun stuff to do) watching lots of movies (Yes, yes, yes) reading lots of plays (finally, my “To Read” stack is going down) and eating as much as I can before I head back (ugh) to work.

However, I promised you an explanation, and so an explanation you are going to GET.

Now, it may not be all that mysterious, but I think some context around the “Who Gives a S***” test would be helpful, so let’s dive right in.

Jessica Kubzansky is a genius director and dramaturg (I hope all of you have had/will have the pleasure of working with her!) who also happens to teach a dramaturgy class to the MFA playwrights at UCLA, and I think she’s the first one I heard telling us to really ask ourselves who’s going to get excited enough about our play to actually produce it?   That it wasn’t enough to just sit down and make out with our ideas, but we had to ask ourselves whether or not that idea was going to get anyone else’s rocks off as well as ours – because honey, being a new or “emerging” playwright is tough business, so why make it harder on yourselves by writing a play no one wants to see?

Fast forward a few years and I’m sitting on a panel at The Kennedy Center’s Page to Stage Festival (oh yes, I felt fancy!) when someone in the audience asks “How do you decide what to write, and how much do you take audience into consideration when you’re developing a story idea for a play?”

There were other (very awesome) people on the panel, and several of them had thoughts on a theatre’s responsibility to audience (not all of us were playwrights- so there were a lot of other awesome perspectives being put forth) but I remember one of the playwrights stammering about how she kept getting commissioned to write plays that never got produced, so she had a hard time thinking about an audience because she didn’t get to see her work in front of one.

Whoa!

Hold your horses, playwright!

You HAVE to think about the audience – unknown or guaranteed – Otherwise you may never see anything of yours in front of one.

Which is the crux of the “Who Gives a S***” issue – if no one but yourself is going to care about your play, then go write a poem or tell the story to your journal – get it out of your system or stick it in your mental crock pot to get bandied about by the muse… It may develop into something better, it may fade into the gray nothing from whence it came, but at least it won’t steal months of your writing-life away from an idea that does have the potential to ignite an audience with all sorts of “I love this play/playwright!” passion!

Because one of our jobs as writers for the stage is to anticipate the theatrical market – and I mean in a “What is going to get butts in the seats?!” kind of way… because that’s what theatres want!  They want to sell tickets, so they can all continue to get up in the morning and get paid to put more butts in the seats!

And it can be tricky – this self-reflective, self-administered standard of story “pruning”… We won’t always be able to get it right, of course, and sometimes a story we don’t think anyone will care about is just too loud to ignore and we have to write it anyway – and sometimes those stories become the ones they can’t get enough of… because it was told with too much passion to ignore… But if we force ourselves to ask these questions up front, we can save ourselves some time, some rewrites, and some self-loathing-“Why-doesn’t-anyone-else-like-this-play”-agony.

3 Comments

  • By Jennie Webb, January 5, 2012 @ 1:12 pm

    Love this! Fantastic way to start off this “We ALL should give a shit and how can I help make THAT happen?” year!

Other Links to this Post

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