Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why Finish a Play?

Thomas Garvey talks about the recent emphasis on new plays by regional houses. He uses, as examples, several of the recent premieres we have seen in Boston.
Indeed, one begins to wonder if 'development' is ever intended to end
for these plays or their playwrights; after all, why should an author go the extra mile and really "finish" a play when he or she can score a fully-mounted production with what's essentially a second draft?


What we don't sense is craft. Sometimes we even sense an unconscious contempt for craft. For when it comes to the hallmarks of integration that should mark a finished play - the modulation of pace, the sense of rising action, the sublimation of symbol into situation and character, the natural music of dialogue - all these scripts have come up short. Indeed, some have even made great, knowing sport of the fact that they were really immense skits
without any of these attributes.

Pair it with this post from Rolando at Extracriticum on the ever expanding role of the "reading of new plays":

These days virtually 90% of such readings are not followed by any group or public conversation about the play that has just been heard. In olden days, the "talk-back" as it is called, was a fixture at such events. Not so today. In fact, in New York City, the "talk-back" has come to be viewed with mild derision, and a general consensus seems to have taken hold among Artistic Directors, Dramaturgs and Playwrights alike that the "talk-back" does more harm than good.


I think the "talk-back" has been jettisoned by most companies lately because many playwrights and directors have had to suffer through comments that were not helpful. I am sure this is true. I've experienced this first-hand. However, the elimination of the public forum for feedback has not stopped those with an ax to grind and with less-useful suggestions at all because those are precisely the people LEAST shy about making a B-line for a playwright after a reading and offering their thoughts one-on-one.

Personally, I learn a lot from intrusive feedback on my work. When someone tells me something like "Does this character really have to die?" I think it's my job to read between the lines. When I hear these kinds of "rewriting the play" comments, I ask myself: What is this comment coming out of? What is it in my play that is inspiring this person to rewrite it in this way?

1 comment:

Ian Thal said...

It seems to me that feedback of a certain quality, and in certain amounts, is valuable-- but it also requires that the playwright also have the good judgement of knowing which criticisms, questions, and suggestions, to accept and which to reject.

On the informal level, that sort of feedback has been very useful as a first time playwright. The trick is now to move on to the more formal process.