Tag Archives: LMDA

Panem et Circenses

By Tiffany Antone

I’ve let all of my professional memberships lapse this year.  It’s not because the value I place on them has lessened, it’s because I’m absolutely living-off-my-credit-cards broke.

Every time I get a Dramatists Guild newsletter, or an LMDA listserve digest, I feel guilty.  And sad.  I consider tacking their membership dues onto my “I’ll never pay it off anyway” Mastercard, and then get even more depressed because the last thing I need to do is collect interest on membership dues in addition to all the interest I’m already collecting on gas, food, and toilet paper.

I’ve been thinking a lot about money lately.  I’ve been thinking a lot about whether the Universe is testing me or if I’m only perpetuating my personal crisis by trying to find meaning here in the “What am I doing wrong?” zone of under/un-employment.

And maybe this week’s Black Friday Bludgeon-a-thon tipped me over into even drabber waters, because I really can’t help but be so focused on the deepening divide in this country between the “Haves” and “Have-Nots”.

We are not so far from a Hunger Games world as we think.

Which has me thinking: While there are certainly movies and plays being made that address today’s big issues, why aren’t there more  being produced that tap into today’s economic and social crises?  I admit, living in AZ – and now TX (yeehaw!) – has me at a disadvantage; I do not have my finger on the pulse of American theater.  (I’ve had to let my TCG membership go as well – I miss you American Theater Magazine!)   But I continue to read books and plays like a fiend and I consider my $5 movie matinees a forgivable splurge.  I also spend (too much) time online, trying to stay abreast of theatrical conversations and to feed my artistic self with updates about what is happening.

I try to stay up to date on what people are writing about and what audiences are gobbling up.

And I’d like to see more stories about the struggles going on in the trenches.

I read The Hunger Games series shortly after it came out.  No, I take that back… I devoured that series shortly after it came out.  I listened to friends talk about how the author didn’t “demonstrate the best craft,” and rolled my eyes, because they were eating the books up almost as fast as I was.

You see, the story is gripping.  The characters are compelling.  And the issues at play in the series are indeed very relevant, because – thematically speaking – we already live in a panem et circenses era.

Therefore, Hunger Games Fever is stoked not only by the story’s entertainment factors, but by our own class issues, hang-ups, and battles as well.  And it’s a HUGE box office success which means the story is reaching people.  There are many films, plays, and books that never enjoy the kind of commercial success the Hunger Games has achieved – so I’m not arguing that we need to make commercialism our goal!  But what I am suggesting is that audiences, while still wanting to be “entertained”, are also starved for relevance… and that IS a worthwhile goal.

We playwrights need to ask ourselves, thematically, what’s going to move today‘s audience?  To make people laugh harder, gasp louder, and think more fully?  To create the kinds of worlds and characters that compel an audience to act?

I don’t want to pacify an audience.

I don’t want to be part of the circus.

I want to break the circus down and get people up on their feet!

But that’s a big wish.  Even the project I’m referencing – The Hunger Games – which had a profound effect on my busy little mind, is still “just” a book.  “Just” a movie… I don’t see people refusing to buy up bits of tabloid what-not written about Jennifer Lawrence because – as is dramatized in the story – they now see that PR is all just illusion aimed to distract us from the pain behind the “circus” of life.

Still… I’m also probably not the only person making such a connection either.

We writers are all throwing stories into the ring, hoping one will catch the eye of the Ring Leader so that he/she will present it to the audience in grand fashion.  (Unless we become Ring Leaders ourselves…)  Isn’t every story just a part of the circus until someone receives it as more than?

I might be stretching the analogy a little thin…

All I know is, I’m out here on the perimeter looking in – as many writers and artists are – observing this spinning world from my own little nook, trying to say something worthwhile.  It’s a tough place to be sometimes, what with also living on planet Earth and locked in near constant financial aerobics in order to stay afloat.  I don’t always have the perfect words.  Sometimes it takes me months to get a scene “Just right”.  But people ask me what kind of plays I write, and I realize that the one thing my works all have in common is that they always tackle something bigger than myself.

Whether my intent is to make my audience laugh or cry, I always want them to leave the theater thinking.  I don’t want to distract them from the ugliness that is around them – I want to point at it, analyze it, laugh and scream at it…

There are a lot artists out there trying to achieve the same thing: to awaken the audience.

I just didn’t realize how important that “awakening” was until my life became less about “Which new boots am I going to buy with this week’s wages?” and more about “How am I going to eat this week?”

And, unfortunately, until I can stop answering that grocery question with my Mastercard, it looks like I’ll have to continue putting off paying all those membership dues.

But I’ll still be here – applying for jobs like motherf***er, trying to write stories that really move people, and hoping that enough someone-elses want to hear what I have to say that those stories I’m throwing into the ring start sticking.


Dramaturgy and the Playwright

I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about this week – Christmas is here, the semester is nearly over, and the possibilities seemed (frighteningly) endless; Should I lament the mountain of submissions that’s been haunting my desk?  Talk about what it feels like to send out job after job after job application as I pray for a professorship teaching playwriting and acting somewhere green (but snowy at all the right times too) allt he while trying to keep up with the algebra class on campus so I can continue to TRY to tutor these kids on absolute values?  Should I talk about my new play?  My new blog that is thrilling me but keeping me up late (www.LosAngelesFAIL.com)?  WHAT SHOULD I WRITE ABOUT?!

Then I woke up to a four-pronged debate happening on the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas listserve.


And I thought, this is going to be an interesting Monday.

Basically (and I haven’t the permissions of those contributing to the debate, or else I’d repost their comments here) the discussion began with someone sharing a post by a dramaturg lamenting the process of dramaturging a show being directed by the playwright him/herself.  (Woof, did you get all that?  Because, I ran that sentence all the way to the finish line!)  I imagine that in such a case as this, even the best intentioned playwright could be a bit unyielding to a dramaturg’s best intentions – (after all,  there’s certainly the chance for a more balanced discussion with three at the table instead of just two) but the firestorm of discussion it stirred showed me that there is quite a lot of contention amongst two of a play’s (very important) team-players…

Because, as with many things put together through community/committee effort, so many voices are sure to have different opinions on just how the idea at hand is to be realized.

Some interesting points made (on both sides):

  • A script ain’t a Play until others (actors, designers, directors, etc) get involved – the argument stresses that you can write a script, but you can’t predict the Play .  And until it’s “played” it’s just words/ideas on a page.

Hmmmmm….. How do you writers feel about that?  Doesn’t it seem just a wee bit pretentious to assume that a playwright can’t fully understand his/her own work enough to be able to “predict” what it will look like and therefore be allowed to expect that the thing will be treated with some form of reverential realization before getting dressed down by an outside “opinionator” (now, that’s a fun new word!) –  Does such a theory indicate the theorizer believes him/herself a necessary component to “helping” the playwright’s “script” become a Play?  And until it’s a Play, is it just, merely, some thoughtful scribble on a page requiring help?

This discussion point alone saw many comments… One of the best (and most balanced) arguments I read stated that “dramaturgy is a function, not just a title, and nobody has a monopoly on insight” (credited to John Guare in regards to a note he once received, and applied, from an usher)  Isn’t it healthier for the working relationship at large if ALL involved are approaching the play with this mindset?  Rather than approaching the play as a thing that needs to be beat into shape by these new involvees (dramaturge/director/etc.)?

  • A text isn’t ever really fixed… This argument was made a few times in regards to plays “evolving” over time from production to production.  The caveat being that “new/emerging plays” (vs. those by dead playwrights) need to be aware of this “ever evolving” theatrical condition (and presumably, more open to dramaturgical responses) than those “dead” plays, long proven to work (Williams, Miller, etc.) or old enough to allow for as much “evolution” as the public will allow.

Does approaching a script as a constant “work in progress” help/hasten the development process, or does this attitude in fact, get in the way of fleshing out what the writer has written?  Jessica Kubzansky, a talented writer/direct and mentor of much esteem, has oft said “Commit to everything, but marry nothing” when working with new plays.  I LOVE this mentality!  For how can you possibly know whether a thing works, if you don’t first try it out – and try it honestly, sincerely, and to the best of your abilities?  It is only then that the “team” producing a script, and the playwright him/herself can truly decide whether the thing works.  But to approach a script thinking “It’s only words, and it’s going to have to evolve to suit those producing it” is a little too close to Hollywood practicum for my tastes…

And this was right about the time that copyright got thrown in the mix… And also about the time that someone piped in with a flippant remark that

  • Copyright is an American invention and European playwrights expect their work will be meddled with. (obviously, you can discern my opinions on this… the commentator himself did not use the term “meddle”)

Look, I’ve had this discussion before – (who hasn’t?)- when I was at the Kennedy Center Page to Stage Festival with one of my plays, I got to speak on a panel with other playwrights, dramaturgs, directors, actors, and development people.  Someone asked how we felt about letting directors have their way with our work, and the discussion suddenly got a bit frosty.  The argument was made that Shakespeare gets re-vamped/reworked all the time, and my reponse was “Yes, but how many of those ‘revamps’ are ever any good?”  The last thing I need is some cocky director looking at my text as his/her own blank canvas… I don’t write that way.  Some might (Thank you, Charles Mee and others, who write in such open and bold manner as to invite collaborators to “play” with your text.) but, until I write a script and include the author’s notes “Do with this text as ye will” – I’d like those directing or producing the thing to honor my intentions.  After all, why produce the thing if you just want to change it all around?  (I do actually write for designers and directors to have a lot of interpretational freedoms in most of my plays – because I see the benefit to varied productions on those scripts… but I include those encouragements in my author’s notes… and they’re prescribed freedoms within the context/world of the play.)

Ultimately, my response to this argument is that we have copyright and licensing laws to protect the text, and I’m THANKFUL for this “American” process!  I am thankful that we, as playwrights, can write with the expectation that our intentions should be honored and that we can also chose to eschew those protections if we see fit.

In any case… I’m not going to sit here and exclaim that the text as I first excitedly print off is the same that will be left on opening (or closing) night… but I am going to declare that until I’ve worked with actors and directors and maybe even a dramaturg or two, the script deserves to be flexed on its own merit.  It needs to be tested, discussed, tried, and re-worked… and I will do the work/revisions based on my interpretations of those readings/run-throughs/and discussions.

For, if a dramaturg wants to write a play, they should, in fact, take up the pen and paper.

If they want to dramaturg a play, they should approach it as a lover of words and “inspector” of moments/theme/consistency… they should approach the script AND the playwright with respect. (and in my experience, most good dramaturges do just this)

If it’s tearing apart and remodeling a person is into, then I think they should consider a career change… Hollyweird is always looking for new development personnel to “Fix” and “Mangle” screenplays… And the pay is way better too 😉