Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Rebeck - The Plot Quickens

Theresa Rebeck, in the Los Angeles Times, defends structure, story and plot...

I was hosting a session at the Lark, a New York developmental theater that helps playwrights build plays in a workshop setting, and one of the writers presented a beautifully written complete mess of a play. After many people, including myself, praised the grace of the writing, I admitted that I found the play incoherent. The writer nodded and laughed, delighted at my response. "I just wanted to stay away from anything that resembled a plot," she explained.

"Oh, well, plot," I said.


I think it goes without saying that young would-be playwrights in developmental workshops should be so lucky as to write plays as good as "Waiting for Godot," "Uncle Vanya" or "King Lear," none of which would have existed without a decent plot. Obviously a theatrical masterpiece needs more than a plot; many television shows are nothing but plot, and it is doubtful that they will stand the test of time. But I also don't think that making fun of plot, or acting like we're all somehow "above" structure is such a good idea.

Is this really a problem? Yes. I seem to be constantly confronted by theater professionals who are more or less annoyed by the prospect of structure.


Scott Walters said...

Hear! Hear! My regard for Rebeck just soared.

Art said...

I wish she were more specific though.

She seems to be a almost deliberately vague about exactly the type of plotless plays she is talking about. Perhaps not wanting to call out any particular playwright.

As I mentioned on Isaac's site, I think sometimes people use various, fluid and sometimes interchangeable definitions of plot, structure and story.

Ian Thal said...

I recently had a listserv exchange with another, albeit more experienced, playwright, and he seemed to take offense that I refered to my "five-act play," taking issue with the fact that it indeed had five acts. I never understood what his issue was other than "no one does five-acts anymore" and that "some people are intimidated by the concept of five-acts."

Without reading my work, my interlocuter kept demanding that I rejigger it into a two act or a one act with five scenes and
outrightly refused to accept that the five acts were not a mere affectation, but the structure of the play as it emerged over a course of rewrites.
Does this disdain for structure by some playwrights bleed into an actual hostility?