Tag Archives: Bruce Norris

The Playwright’s Voice and/or Intentions…

by Robin Byrd

The collaboration part of theater should not to come at the expense of the playwright’s voice and/or intentions. Is that a true statement?

I have been thinking about this — how intent/vision plays a big part in the end results of play production. But, whose vision should win out – if there is such a thing as winning in this case. Should it be a battle to get the story you wrote told, should you have to pick which part you will let go for the sake of someone else’s vision? Getting it to the stage is a big deal, getting collaborators who see the play as you do is an even bigger deal. I think the collective vision should be the playwright’s vision, first and foremost, and all other visions should move that vision forward, not stifle it, change it, ignore it but add to the layers of it. Tied up in all that intent, is a playwright’s voice which is life…blood, the culmination of many journeys, a song whose rhythm is pain and joy, a sound flung up to heaven echoing back at us…

I wonder about these things. What if after all one’s striving over the perfect line, it is missed in delivery or rearranged or deemed non-important; I hope my intent as a playwright is not lost…and I hope collaborator choices bring something wonderful to the piece and do not take away from my intent or my voice. I hope they ask me questions… while I am a living playwright.  But, most of all, I hope that I speak up if and when I need to, whether or not it is expected or welcomed to make my intentions known.

Intent. What is the playwright’s intent? That question is asked in literary settings when studying fiction, non-fiction, poetry and drama; it is also asked in acting class during scene study. It is a question that I strive to answer in all my work. It is the thing that makes a story stay with you…

Some interesting articles I found about intentions:

Pulitzer Winner Bruce Norris Retracts Rights to German Troupe’s Clybourne Park Over “Blackface” Casting

Playwright Katori Hall Expresses Rage Over “Revisionist Casting” of Mountaintop With White Dr. Martin Luther King

Playwright David Mamet Halts Play over Gender-Bending Casting

Heated exchanges at La Jolla Playhouse over multicultural casting [Updated]

Mike Lew – Playwright on Casting Actors of Color

‘For Colored Girls’ Movie: Ntozake Shange’s ‘No Madea’ Rule


I think about these things because I want to make sure that all of my work is filled with my voice and my intent without confusion and I don’t want to have to worry about it once the piece takes wings.

So, Yes; it is true that the collaboration part of theater should not to come at the expense of the playwright’s voice and/or intentions…  What do you think?

Gimmick Plays

By Kitty Felde

I mentioned in an earlier posting that I’ve seen a lot of new “gimmick” plays lately. Our fellow LAFPI member Marissa was “wondering what you mean by ‘gimmick plays’ being the new hot trend these days” and asks what kinds of gimmicks are showing up onstage.

Great question.

First of all, I don’t mean to disparage the genre. It’s a concept as old as playwriting and the mantra of Hollywood. Another way of describing it would be a “hook.” In my own personal theatre dictionary, I’d describe a Gimmick Play as one that offers something else besides character, dialogue and plot to draw in an audience.

Here’s a few examples: Bruce Norris’ “Clybourne Park” is a two gimmick play. It’s a riff on Lorraine Hansberry’s “Raisin in the Sun” AND it offers the added bonus of having the cast from Act 1 play completely different characters in Act 2.

At the Humana Festival, there was another play with FOUR gimmicks: “Oh Guru Guru Guru, or why I don’t want to go to yoga class with you” (I suppose you could count the title as a sort of gimmick, too…) by Mallery Avidon. Gimmick one: a lecture. The first act is a lecture, complete with slide show, of the “author” explaining the premise. Very funny. Gimmick two: we go to the ashram in act two where audience members are invited to come onstage and sit on embroidered pillows to be enlightened. And then there’s gimmick three where we discover the ashram is just a film set for “Eat, Pray, Love” and act three is a conversation with Julia Roberts about how tough it is to be Julia Roberts.

“Clybourne Park” would have stood on its own feet without any gimmicks; “Guru” would not.

There was one FABULOUS gimmick play at Humana – tucked in with two real turkeys. Apparently the acting school in Louisville is learning how to fly ala Peter Pan or Spiderman or that Angel in Tony Kushner’s work. And there really aren’t a lot of other plays out there with flying actors. So Humana commissioned a trio of writers to come up with them. The real genius gimmick piece was by Lucas Hnath called “nightnight.” He used the gimmick of flying to show weightlessness in space, telling the story of a trio of astronauts on a mission. It was brilliant. You marveled at the cleverness of the gimmick itself: an astronaut sleeps in zero gravity, lying sort of sideways, suspended above our eyes, the launch itself had the actors straddle a wall twelve feet high, upside down. It was marvelous to watch. The director also created with perfect accuracy the mumblety dialogue of the NASA engineers in Mission Control, chattering about who knew what constantly. But the play itself was about the conflict between characters, their ambitions, their foibles, their actions.
It’s not a new concept. Shakespeare certainly wrote gimmick plays. “Twelfth Night” could be described as a cross dressing play; “Hamlet” as a ghost story. Again, though, it’s the writing that carries the play, not the gimmick.

And I suppose here’s my beef: a lot of theatres are choosing work for the gimmick, not the writing. It will certainly sell tickets. But will those theatre-goers return for more once the gimmick has been revealed?