Thanks to Martin Denton for linking to this blog on the nytheatre i. Not sure if this needs to be restated, but Martin is one of the founders of the Off-Off Broadway feast in the modern era, and one of the few places where an organized discussion goes on about New York theatre as a whole.
Had an e-mail chat with my pal Kyle and was reminded of an important fact of playwrighting: do stuff. Seems simple, no?
Fact is, as I'm adding to the initial motivations of some of the ancillary characters, it occurred to me that they shouldn't be ancillary. Characters for "color" or to serve simply as foils are often just failures of craft.
Also, the more specific the motivation, the more involving the play becomes. I had a few characters straddled with motivations like "She is envious" (which isn't a motivation at all) and "He wants to save her soul" which is deadly dull and broad. It's more interesting to watch someone try to get a cookie he or she can't have than watch someone save a soul.
I'm not saying that things that are immaterial aren't important in plays, I'm of the mind that those things find their way onto the stage without so much expression. It's best to incorporate broader themes into specific actions than it is the ascribe broad themes AS actions.
A playwrighting teacher might say: "But Matthew, Action is different from Motivation." That's why I never took a playwrighting class. Who likes to chatter about definitions? Leave that to the theorists.
I used to date a girl who was an academic through and through and she told me that I was hostile towards academia. She might be right. Probably just envious of people that can decipher Descartes. Nonetheless, theory is valuable to those who are analyzing artwork; making it is a different matter. The minute theory gets in the way of your craft, throw it out. It wasn't made FOR artists, it was made for those who like to read about art. I can be useful like any tool, but it's just one more wrench in the toolbox. (And here, I cease this ugly metaphor...)
Most theory is assigned after the fact anyhow. The term "Theatre of the Absurd" was coined by Martin Esslin, in his book of the same name, to categorize some artists who were working independently of one another. Ionesco and Beckett and Albee, for example, were all called "Absurdists." But let's face it: Ioneseco is a screaming banshee of lunacy, a priest of nonsense. Beckett is the only writer that I can think of that was able to make a mess of language sound like silence. And Albee is their American grandchild. His best play, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" isn't absurd at all. It's startlingly hyper-real.
Almost all my plays are incredibly derivative: I make no bones about it. The Death of King Arthur is Shakespeare-lite, written by a 24 year old, just following the rules and applying them to an old story. After that came plays that are derivative of Albee, and like him, wish they were Beckett. But hey, at least I'm shooting as high as I can. Hopefully, in the midst of it, is my voice. And I'm sure that's what Beckett said about Dante and James Joyce.
Or at least, I hope so.
- Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.