Gearing up for a new play: why reinvent the wheel?

All this week, I’m priming myself for the plunge into a new play. I’ve tried bribes and writers toys, given myself a soundtrack and some writing space. Now what?

Perhaps the best road map to success (which to me means typing “lights fade to black…”) is to see what my peers are writing. What can I learn from them?  What can I steal?

Having read and seen a LOT of new work lately, it seems I can divide the new play world into some very broad categories:

– Familiar stories in a world we’ve never seen before

Steven Drukman’s The Prince of Atlantis is a pretty straightforward story about finding your father and brothers growing up. But it’s set in an Italian American suburb of Boston in the cut throat world of the fish market. Yussef El Guindi’s Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World
is a simple boy meets girl, boy loses girl story.  But the world is that of recent Muslim immigrants in America.

I could take a familiar story, a familiar plot, but the play would become new and interesting when I take my audience to a world they’ve never visited before.

– reach for the classics

Everybody’s getting in on the updated translation act. Michael Hollinger tackled Cyrano. David Ives took on The Liar. For heavens’ sake, even Moises Kaufman is taking on The Heiress!

Why don’t I find my favorite classic and reinvent it for a modern audience?

– you gotta have a gimic

Or not. But there’s sure a lot of them out there. Christopher Shinn’s Dying City has the lead actor playing his twin brother. Natsu Onoda Power’s Astro Boy and the God of Comics had actors drawing cartoons right before your eyes. James Still’s I Love to Eat had food writer James Beard making canapes for selected members of the audience.

Is there something unusually theatrical that I can incorporate into my play?

That’s a start. But now I’d welcome your list of “must have” items for the modern dramatist. What’s getting produced? Why? What do you want to see?

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