Playwrights Notes Part I: A few comments about writing plays

About a year ago I got it into my head I wanted to write plays.  I had thought I wanted to write short stories, but it dawned on me one day that a play is a short story come to life.  I thought, “wow! how neat is that!”  I suppose I could say here that the real beauty of naivety is the economy of thought behind it.  Anyway you get the point.

It took me a long time to actually get started, because I had no idea how to actually write a play.  I found Jon Dorf’s Playwriting 101 site, which helped tremendously.  Thank you Jon! The first play took most of that year; the second one took about 3 weeks, and the third one took about an 2 hours. I should point out that the third play is only about 10 minutes, and has no setting to speak of (it’s a 3 character monologue).

Of course just knowing the format of the script, and the process, doesn’t mean you have a play.  You have to tell a story. So I studied the various playwriting methods, and figured out what works best for me.  Which by the way is pretty simple; first I write the story with no dialog, just the basic scenes, settings and actions.  I call these my “directors notes”.  Then I write the play with dialog according to the notes.  I went at it with commitment, enthusiasm and a belief that I could tell a good story.  And it turns out I have some aptitude for telling stories.

But I knew that in spite whatever nascent ability I had there would be lots of work getting a play on the stage.  So as I was writing I was also seeking out ways to market my plays.  I purchased a copy of the Dramatists Sourcebook, and I found various listings for local theaters (although not in the Sourcebook).  The book (and various websites) describe the process: write plays, then submit them to the theaters.  So I sent out copies of my first play to local theaters (my idea being that I would have a better chance with small, local theaters).

The best thing that came out the process of submitting plays so far was that I found the Playwrights Collaborative, a group of playwrights, actors, directors and theater enthusiasts that get together once a month at the Big Idea Theatre and participate in staged readings.     A staged reading is a way to try out a play without actually producing it; there are actors, but no setting to speak of,  and the actors are actually reading the play from script.  At the end of the reading the audience offers up feedback.  I think the process is extremely important.  I can speak from experience here,  because I was lucky enough to have my first play read last June.  I learned something about how the written script works, or does not work, when it is performed live.  A very important first step for me.  Thank you Gary Agid and everyone who attends and contributes!

I learned one other very important thing about playwriting.  It turns out, that for me, writing plays means getting inside the characters.  To do that, and to do it well, I have to be open to who those characters are, and how they feel.  In other words I am acting out all the parts in my head.  Now as I understand it, the art of acting is the art of being emotionally available. But to be emotionally available requires honesty about feelings.  The upshot of this is that for my characters to be real, I have to be honest about my own feelings.   I do not find this easy.

So there you have the core wisdom I have to offer:  you want to write plays, you better be honest about who you are, and what you are about.

Well that’s it for now.  Thanks for stopping by!

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