This morning, I was very excited to read in the New York Times that half of the movies at Sundance were directed by women this year. Half. Yay! Now, yes, it’s Sundance and not mainstream American cinema, but lately I’ve become a big fan of just taking a minute and saying yay! Yay! Okay moving on.
Today I want to talk about minimalism and what it means to me.
According to my old Webster’s dictionary, minimalism has two definitions. First, minimalism is an action of a minimal or conservative kind. Second, minimalism is a movement in art, dance, music, etc., beginning in the 1960s in which only the simplest design, structure, forms etc are used often repetitiously, and the artist’s individuality is minimized.
Minimalism has been around for awhile, so I’m not inventing anything new. When I think about minimalism in theatre, I think about no or simple set, few props, simple costumes. Basically, I see minimalism as theatre without the fluff. As someone who grew up watching Opera and those big Broadway musicals, I now am interested in just taking it down to the essentials.
I have many motivations for turning to minimalism. First, it’s cheap to produce, and I am tired of tracking down props for readings and workshops. Yes, I know it shouldn’t be my responsibility as playwright, but it is my responsibility as playwright. Second, when working with very little on the page, I force myself to find clarity. I don’t have any illusions to hide behind. Third, aesthetically, I’ve always liked clean lines in painting and architecture. Even though the play can have its messes, the simplicity of actors on a stage focuses my attention. Finally, it’s hard. I always seem to do things the hard way. I am finding that writing things minimally requires a lot discipline and intellectual rigor. Because the actors have nothing on stage with them, I gotta give them something to play.
Why did I start doing minimalism? Lately, I’ve been writing a lot of short plays for evenings of short plays. As an audience member, I have found that such evenings lose their momentum when furniture has to be carried on and off. Transitions are just as important as the tiny dramatic events that take place. However, if the short play has no furniture, it can start right after the last one.
After writing some shorts, I decided to write minimally in longer pieces. I have found that the writing process has become much more interesting. Because I am not weighed down by stuff, I can fly on the page. I like that.
So that’s just a brief summary of how I’ve been writing during the last few months. If you want to try your hand at minimalism, take a scene you wrote which you consider a failure and take everything out of it. Take it down to the actors speaking the words. Now, you are halfway there. Next, think visually and physically. Using physically, how can you visually show the point you are trying to make? What is the point you are trying to make? How can you show a scene that might take two pages in a half a page? How can you balance an elephant on the tip of a pin? How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?