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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.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Acts: Three, Two, One

I'm in the midst of writing a play in three acts. My last play was a one-act full-length (came in at about an hour and fifteen minutes) and the preceding it was three short acts. Most of the time, the act structure I choose is based on preference and contect. "The Death of King Arthur" was a five act play because is aped Shakespeare, for example. "The Americans" was a full-length one act because it was three characters speaking in monologue, and didn't sustain a broken up act structure.

That being said, I'm curious if the three act (or more) structure is really one that has much future on the stage. Audience are more and more used to watching a performance at an average of 90 minutes without a break. Theatre companies look for ways to appeal to the audiences of today, and a two-act structure seems to suit them fine: one intermission fuels concessions and chatter and bathroom breaks. Do two intermissions make for an unorthodox experience?

I'm curious what other writers and producers out there think about the choice of structure for a writer. Is it impolitic or naive to insist on a larger number of acts, even if it goes against the grain of what audiences are used to or what is best for the box office? Or should we simply follow our impulses as to what is "in the play" and let the chips fall where they may?

Open question. Comments are appreciated below, as always.


Joshua said...

Depends on the breadth and scope of the work, bro . . . I generally don't care for intermissions and most of my plays (so far) don't have them, just one. But some plays need the natural break, gives you a chance to end on thing and go onto the next, especially in epic works (like Kentucky Cycles or Angels In America) - I think you have to ask yourself, am I putting this intermission here because that's the classic format or because I really need a break here, due the the demands of the story.

Dan said...

My father-in-law actually prefers longer pieces. He feels like he's getting more bang for his buck. So there's one vote in favor of longer work.

To be even more unhelpful: I think everyone knows the story about the night that Ma Rainey's Black Bottom was first read at the O'Neill conference. People arrived at seven p.m. and got out at a quarter to one. But everyone agreed that they'd just witnessed the birth of something remarkable.

So if your characters and story can sustain multiple acts, then the only reason to concern yourself with the number of acts is a fear that short-sighted producers will reject you. That'sd simple to overcome: just become famous!

Excuse me...I must go become famous now...

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