Thursday, November 05, 2009

What Type of Play Are You Writing? Part 4

Continuing to think about the types of plays we see on our stages.

Up to now, I think I am have been talking about generally recognizable types of plays and the comments have already included some excellent questions.

After laying out the categories of Actual People - Actual World, Boundary Breaker and Monologue, it is time to present the most difficult category.

5. Experimental


Some playwrights aren't satisfied to simply play with conventions and twist reality a bit. Some artists want to twist, re-define, or, in some cases, destroy the very idea of a "play."

Richard Foreman, Samuel Beckett, Young Jean Lee, Robert Wilson and many more have contributed to this genre. Some have remained in this realm for their entire careers.

This is a very slippery category. Ian Thal, in a comment on my post about Boundary Breaker plays, brought up the point that what are boundaries to one generation might not be boundaries to another. Similarly, what was experimental to one generation, may not be to another.

Here we also start reaching the blurred border between play and theatrical event or play and poetry. This is a ruthless no man's land where audiences, critics and artists watch with skepticism from the far foothills of either side, while bold, or crazy, adventurers try to chart a course through the middle.

What plays fall into this category? I'll admit, it is tough to say, but I know it when I read it, (to steal a phrase.)

There is usually no conventional structure to grab onto into the experimental play - I start to feel, more and more, that I am simply at the mercy of the playwright. When reading the text I find that my interest intensifies even though I am somewhat at sea, but a persistent thought keeps turning over in my mind: "I think I need to see this to get what is going on here." This is not really confusion as much as intrigue.

These types of plays that should never be subjected to the typical playwriting group or reading. Playwrights venturing in this direction desperately need fellow travellers - collaborators, patrons, mentors. I have trouble, for instance, imagining a young playwright creating a Richard Foreman-style play and submitting it for consideration at many of the "development" programs in our regional theaters.

An important thing to note: Many playwrights who work primarily in the Actual World -Actual People and Boundary Breaker genres will, from time to time, poach from the Experimental camp. This is why we will sometimes oberve a strange movement piece with found text inserted into a rather realistic play. Which is a good place to proceed to some new thoughts.

Tomorrow: When Types Collide!

1 comment:

Ian Thal said...

Ironically, this is where I began-- and up until a few years ago was my primary output!