Posts Tagged ‘playwriting’

Playwriting and the Pet Peeves of Others

November 12, 2014

There’s an incredibly useful article over at the Playwrights Center website (not Playwrights’ Center of San Francisco, the group I’m involved with, but the national one in Minneapolis), Tips From Artistic Directors. In that article, there are a lot of positive tips: send your best work, follow guidelines, and many more.

Two ADs chose to include their pet peeves. Among these were opening monologues and phone calls. They suggested only using opening monologues if absolutely necessary and keeping phone calls to two or three lines. I’m assuming – I could be wrong – the ADs are referring to those phone calls where we only hear one side of the conversation.

One of my works contains two long one-sided phone calls and several have opening monologues. Do I:

1. Remove them immediately?
2. Make them better?
3. Not send them to these particular ADs?

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Sex on Stage

October 4, 2013

I’ve made a post on my other blog, The Lark’s Nest, about sex on stage. Explicit content/NSFW.

Having fucked up shit vs. saying fucked up shit

April 21, 2013

(Some of my plays include strong language. I don’t normally put it in my blog. I’m making an exception here.)

This is something I wrestle with in my plays. It would be very safe for me as a white male, albeit queer, playwright, to write only white male characters. On the other hand, if I write female characters and characters of color – which I want to do to ensure there are roles for such actors and because I want to comment on our world and not a tiny subset of it – I have to try to get it right.

The Ars Marginal post by RVCBard is an outstanding analysis of what it means to actually try. The distinction of whether the fucked-upped-ness is that of the writer or the world of the characters is critical.

Ars Marginal

One of the things that always seems to trip people up when it comes to analyzing marginalized identities in stories is the difference between a story that has fucked up shit in it versus a story that says fucked up shit.

This is a very important distinction that everybody analyzing narrative media needs to understand.

So I’m going to help a muthafucka out right quick.

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Playwright, sheath thy checklist

March 12, 2013

When playwrights go to theatre, we presumably go to enjoy ourselves. We may be thrilled, bored, surprised, offended, delighted, so many possible reactions. When playwrights are called on to give feedback on other playwrights’ work, we suddenly become scientists, detectives, housekeepers. Scientist, detective, and housekeeper are honorable professions. Nevertheless, I believe the practice of bringing these outlooks into feedback sessions has become dysfunctional, even harmful in the age of contemporary theatre.

Spoiler alert: This post may briefly give away important plot points, surprises, and endings to 4000 Miles; The Ashes; Circle Mirror Transformation; Clybourne Park; Honey Brown Eyes; In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play; The Internationalist; The Lily’s Revenge; and Se Llama Cristina.

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Color-aware, -blind or none of the above?

January 8, 2013

In the January/February 2013 issue of Theatre Bay Area, Melissa Hillman, artistic director of the kick-ass Impact Theatre in Berkeley, writes about color-blind and/or non-traditional casting. This blog post is not so much a response to that article, “In the Land of the ‘Color Blind'”, as my continuation of the discussion. And continue it must.

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The world is now 31 plays, erm, richer?

August 28, 2012

Not sure whether I can really call it richer, although it was fun. I was actually shooting for “So bad it’s good.” Some of them are probably “So bad it’s bad,” but such is the life of first drafts.

Yes, I wrote 31 short plays!  28 riffs on Shakespeare as performed by pandas and other animals, all set in Edinburgh Zoo (home of pandas Sunshine and Sweetie) and the Wolong Nature Preserve (home of the panda kindergarten), plus three framing plays.

Continue reading The world is now 31 plays, erm, richer?

On eavesdropping for dialog

February 6, 2012

I eavesdrop like crazy. I don’t care what people are saying, but I care very much how they say it. I don’t consciously put it into my dialog, but the process seems to work. Actors often compliment me on my dialog. (If only plot and character were that easy.)

Stage directions: threat or menace?

December 3, 2011

In an interview with the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative, Steven Epperson, Literary Manager for Impact Theatre talks about things that turn him off when reading a play. One of those things is too many stage directions. Among other things, he says “Having line after line after line after line of stage directions interrupts the flow and rhythm that I’m trying to discern from a playwright’s writing.” Further down, in the comments, he suggests as an exercise removing all stage directions except entrances and exits.

I consider myself somewhat spare in stage directions to begin with. Nevertheless, I tried Steven’s suggestion in a few places in one of my plays. What I discovered is that having too many stage directions can also interfere with my editing process.

Spoiler alert: If you’re doing blind reading for a competition that had a Nov. 30 deadline, you might not want to continue reading.

Continue reading Stage directions: threat or menace?

Rinse and Don’t Repeat

March 19, 2011

One of the most important things a playwright needs to learn during the development process is how to filter feedback aka “notes.”

Some notes I take more seriously than others. Recently, I read part of a current work-in-progress, My Visit to America, an alternate history, at Fogcon I, a new local (to the San Francisco Bay Area) convention with a focus on speculative fiction literature. My goal was to find out whether the alternate history aspect was satisfying to speculative fiction fans. I got that, but what else I got was something that had been missed in earlier feedback from other sources.

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Never say “no” to a note

January 22, 2011

When engaging in public feedback sessions after a reading of my plays or scenes, I follow a nearly invariant rule: never respond to a note other than to say “thank you” or to write it down (and yes, I really do write it down, not my shopping list). I’ve only broken it when I’ve felt someone has said something insulting (see my post on Warning! Lecture Ahead), and even then I would do well rise above it and follow my usual rule.

But when I’m discussing it with somebody one-on-one, I will sometimes break the rule and tell them why I’m not doing x. I suspect that is still a mistake. Because sometimes comments need to percolate.

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What a difference a direction makes

May 8, 2010

My fourth full-length play My Visit to America (MVTA) is in revision. (My third play, The Beginning of Grammar, is also in revision, but it is not the subject of this post.) Last month, I took the opening nine pages — about 10 minutes — of Act II of MVTA to my playwriting group’s scene night to be read by actors. The comments were mostly negative. This week, I took the revised scene to the same group to be read. This time the comments were mostly positive, and people who were at both readings agreed the new version was a major improvement over the previous version.

Here’s the interesting part. I only changed one line of dialog, by having one character interrupt another’s expository sentence. But I don’t think that explains the improved comments. I think it was the other thing I changed: a stage direction.

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December 24, 2009

Despite it taking much work and having long gestation periods, I work almost entirely in full-length works of 70 minutes (70 is the new 90) to 2 hours. While I’ve written three 10-minute plays – one of which was produced by the Playwrights’ Center of San Francisco – I don’t find them fulfilling to write and am unlikely to write more.

I also don’t find 10-minute plays fulfilling to watch.

Continue reading Next!

Politeness in dialog

December 22, 2009

In The Economist is an article on politeness in English (subscription apparently now required) and in other languages around the globe.  This is – well not quite timely; I’ve been working on the first draft of this play for over three years – of interest to me in the alternate history play I’ve been working on, My Visit to America. In that play, set in a very different present from our own, the language – which might be English or perhaps the play has been translated into English – retains three politeness levels.

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Write what you don’t know

December 20, 2009

After my dismissal of Chekov’s law, the next phrase I’d love to see disappear from playwriting feedback sessions is Write What You Know. I put that in all caps because if you’ve ever heard this at a feedback session you know it is delivered as a lecture from on high – you can hear the caps – not as a reasoned comment on the playwright’s play that they have brought to the feedback session.

But even if feedback sessions were a place for lectures on craft, Write What You Know would not belong there, because Write What You Know doesn’t even belong in a lecture on craft, except to dispel the notion that there is anything to be gained by following it.

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Erasing history

December 19, 2009

Most theatres have Web sites.  Most theatre Web sites have the (understandable) goal of getting potential audiences to those theatres to see their work, potential donors to donate money, potential actors and directors to associate with the theatre, and in general to educate the public about their reason for existence.

The theatres may or may not be interested in getting playwrights to submit plays to them. Yet, it is the desire of (most) playwrights to submit plays to theatres in hopes of getting a production. Unfortunately, many theatres omit some very basic information for playwrights from their Web site:

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Repeal Chekov’s Law

December 18, 2009

You know the law, the one that says (approximately) if you introduce a gun in the first act then it has to go off by the third. Get rid of it. Now!

There are big problems with it:

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