Monday, November 22, 2010

Playwrighting? Oh, the arrogance!

I guess playwrights are pretty entrenched in the spelling of those who practice the craft of writing scripts for the stage. Or at least, that’s what I gathered from the numerous websites I visited last summer in my quest to learn more about writing scripts for live theater.

I happened into this new avenue of fiction serendipitously. After nearly 45 years out from my last theater experience, I auditioned for a community theater production in northern Arizona. To my delight (and fear), the director picked me for a role. I was thrilled that I might still have some of that acting spark I displayed decades ago, but I had crushing fear that I would no longer be able to learn lines. I did learn my lines, entry and exit cues, and increased my vocabulary with stage craft terms like downstage, stage right, and proscenium.

However, I was cast as a 24 year-old nurse. I have seen 24 for four decades! Still, in community theater, who shows up for auditions is who gets cast. One of my writing group partners (also cast in a show—as a 20 year-old) and I realized there must be a niche for plays with older cast members. Relatively few of these plays are available to community theater groups in age-restricted areas. So, Annie Weissman ( and I decided we would write plays with older characters.

“How hard can it be?”, I wondered aloud to any and all who would listen to me blather on about my writing efforts. After all, I had several completed novels under my belt. Plays are a bunch shorter than a novel! Pshaw! Bring it on.

I had planned last summer to be the summer to finish, finally, a novel I had begun years ago. But, that didn’t happen. The play consumed my summer as surely as a whale dining on krill.

I read about scriptwriting. I learned proper play formatting, and that it is different from screenplay formatting. But the thing I learned best, the most humbling thing, was that writing a play is darned hard work. And I didn’t just dash it off in a week or two as I had thought, in my arrogance, I would.

In my novels, I have paragraphs explaining the setting or character motivation or revelations that lead to plot points. I have words, lots and lots of words.

In a play, other than the set design and some stage directions that a director may or may not attend to, all you have is dialogue. The dialogue carries the story. Dialogue can’t be paragraphs long. It has to sound like real people speak since Shakespearean soliloquies are out of fashion and the Greek chorus disappeared long before Shakespeare.

I am delighted that I learned so many new things while completing my play, Ghost in the Pines. And, now that the fourth draft is done, I am shopping it around to various community theater groups to see if I can get it produced. Whether or not it is ever performed, I think I learned a lot about writing dialogue that I can transfer to novel writing.

Additionally, I watch plays now to see how it was put together so that I can be a better playwright. What would the stage directions look like? Why is it important that the door open out? Oh, yes. The bug bit me. I am now working on three one-act linked plays based on my short story anthology, Land’s End.

These plays could come to a theater near you!

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