by Robin Byrd
“Taking historical events and turning them into compelling stagecraft can be a huge risk but can also yield huge rewards. John Weidman, former DG president and librettist of Pacific Overtures, Assassin, and Road Show (all with scores by Stephen Sondheim), discusses the processes, pitfalls and challenges of writing about the real world in theatrical terms.” – Writing History
At the Dramatists Guild Conference, Having Our Say: Our History, Our Future, I sat in on a session titled “Writing History” with John Weidman. He told some wonderful stories, discussed “Road Show” and how and why he made the choices he did in writing it the way he did. Additionally, he discussed how he broke down the killers to their commonality in “Assassins” in order to write the piece.
He also gave pointers on what is appropriate when working with historical material:
1. You have an obligation to invent, stimulate, and push
2. You have an obligation not to misrepresent.
If you have to manipulate material so much that you are leaving your source material you want to look at that as a problem/flag alerting you to misrepresentation of the facts. Be careful of diluting actual action. Take a look at what you have to leave out and what you put in.
This session really put me at ease about tackling historical material as a writer.