About Me

My photo
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.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The New Play

Slated for a June production with this crew, I'm still finishing up my new play "The Most Wonderful Love." And as this medium is a lot about opinion and process and a look into the world of the theatrical (and, for me, a chance to just say things in a public forum that I couldn't otherwise) I think I'll take another few moments to talk about where I am in my process, what the pitfalls have been, what the solutions have been, who has helped, what's still frustrating me, and what I see for this script. Hopefully, others will find it in some way inspiring or useful for their own creative process.

This play was never intended to be what it is. I'd had a bit of a dry spell and so I decided to write down just a few characters talking, and throw in some arbitrary "bag of tricks" plot devices, just to get myself writing. It was about a 15 page beginning of nothing, just characters in a farce. Mother and Father (that's their names) are having breakfast. They talk. They say weird, funny things. They have a daughter named Lill, who is a homeschooled arch-conservative with an absurd and impossible disease. Hilarious. There was a bit about a mysterious letter and a red dress. That's about it. I threw in the plot devices as placeholder, to give me something to write about.

The glorious thing about tried and true plot devices is that they come from a tradition that is undeniably effective. False ones, arbitrary ones, they still work, at least to get things moving. A mysterious letter sparks instantly questions like "Who received it?" "Who sent it?" "What does it say?" The stuff of narrative, clunky, for certain, but all narrative is construction, anyhow. "The red dress" is another, because if it's significant, you have both the color and form to deal with. "Why red?" "Why a dress?" "Who is wearing it and where are they wearing it to?" "Is it an old dress, or a new dress?" See? Instant drama.

One of the most engaging things about the alchemy of playwrighting is that it's a mixture of overplanning, happenstance and symbols. Since no one knows (unless you make it clear, like I am) what is abirtrary and what is coming from some deep meaning for the writer, readers and onlookers, for the most part, give you the benefit of the doubt. They want to believe that these things have a meaning that will add up to something and you, as the writer, want the same thing. It could be said that nothing is entirely abirtrary, for example. What you choose seemingly without forethought is often informed by something else you've experienced or taken note of. I always loved the use of color as instant meaning in the story of Bluebeard, and that's probably why I threw in the red dress.

Now, months (almost a year?) after that first 15 or so page ditty came out of my scrappy Dell laptop with the old ashes from when I smoked still caked under the keys, I've got an 150 page, three act comedy, with about 12 or so characters, that I'm trying to cut down to size, make sense of, give meaning to, and believe in.

I love the play, for its humor and it's characters and it's central images, but I'm still baffled by it. I am, to this day, struggling to decide what it is about. I think I've come to some conclusion about it; that it's about what marriage is, and what it used to be, and how that meaning has changed, but all that is not in the draft expressly yet. That's intention. And intention is only as useful as what it produces.

Often, you'll hear about artists' statements (I've talked about this with Foreman, and its prevalent in contemporary art) and I'm not a believer in it personally. The play's meaning and success lies only between the production and the observers. So in a sense, all the writing I do is an attempt to navigate that space. The space between what the audience will experience and what I want them to see. That navigation is frought with issues that are unique to art...because making overt messages is viewed as a sort of incompetence. You don't want to be didactic or to make the "messages" so clear that they are written on a chalk board. On the other hand, you do not what to be lost in a maze of your own meaning entirely, leaving the audience to its own devices. It is an attempt to communicate, like all art, but one that places barriers between making direct contact. They say "show, don't tell." What many people often overlook is that this is a much more tricky tightrope walk than three little words can encapsulate.

In the midst of this issue (how to say it without saying it, how to have meaning while leaving the audience their own percpetions) is the idea that I do, in fact, like the humor of the play. A great deal. And the play can't be divorced from that humor. So as I'm sitting here, reworking scenes and trying to negotiate plot points and ambiguities, I'm attempting to make sure that how things are said match the style of the play, the truth of each characters voice, while making sure that the play contains things like coherence and a line from the start to the finish.

Of course, I also need to know when to throw things that are traditional away entirely. And that is it's own little trick.

One thing I'll say, is that I'm enjoying the sort of broad style of the play, how the characters let loose, say some dreadfully funny things and are all remarkably fucked up and sad and hilarious. At least to me. If I didn't think so, I probably wouldn't bother to write it. Wonderful not to be an elected official or journalist: I'm absolutely allowed my bias.

The more technical things can be easily constructed as a list of notes you might find after a staged reading with a talkback:

  • Act II needs to be shorter
  • Too much time spent with characters that aren't intrinsic to the plot
  • How does [character x] know about [plot point y] if [character z] didn't tell her?
  • When does this realization happen?
  • This beat seems clunky and needs to be reworded.
  • Should this character enter before or after another character?
  • Do we need two songs in Act III?
  • Who gets to write the music for the songs?
  • Should I write that they "get a glass of water?" Running tap water onstage is a bitch.
  • Define the motivations of Jessica, or Lill, or Father Comeuppance
  • This monologue is funny, and it's my favorite thing in the play...but do we really need it?
Well, I think that's maybe 1/20th of the list.

Never did take a playwrighting class. I think every day is one.

Here endeth my little internal monologue, at least for the evening. I'll be writing about this process, in more detail and specificity, through the coming weeks.


Zay Amsbury said...

Is it wrong that I love this kind of post a great deal much more than the latest NYTW update?

This is the kind of thing that makes me feel like there's an online theatre community.

Joshua said...


it's not wrong . . . like many folks, conflict makes you upset and uncomfortable, probably, you like your drama on the stage and page, not in real life.

so it's not wrong. neither is it wrong that there are folks who think that it's a fight that should and needs to be fought.


I've never had a playwrighting class, either, but the best dramaturgical advice I've ever read came from King . . . he said that the second draft should be the first draft minus ten percent.

He was talking about novels, but I think it works for everything.

He also quotes Strunks "Elements of Style" which the basic theme is "omit unnecessary words" and that's one ruler I use on every project.

Good luck!

devore said...

I think Faulkner said it best:

"Kill your children."

Its liberating to cut the fat. And in my experience, what I need to cut is usually my favorite stuff. The flourishes, or bizarre image, or that line, that loud, flowery, bleak line that I know, JUST KNOW, has to stay because it's the thematic cornerstone of the entire thing and without it, I HAVE NOT MADE A POINT, THE HOUSE COMES CRASHING DOWN.

And then, like an Olympic Jenga Champ, I remove it, and the play still stands strong.

Rarely does it collapse.

You made many great points about the process. Although, I think it's time everyone admits that a playwright's real job is sitting in his underwear talking to himself. Or is that just me?

One issue I liked that you touched on was the need for "thesis" in a play vs. "drama."

I have no idea how to articulate how I see the world, or the world I want to see or am afraid to see in anything other than a play. I'm a terrible essayist, and while I enjoy blogging drunk and angry, I'm not even particularly good at that.

Life can't be described in a mission statement. I don't think art can, or should, do that either.

david d. said...

I think it was Matt Trumbull that said:

"Bullshit, bullshit... MY LINE... bullshit, bullshit, bullshit... MY LINE..."

and, during the development process, "Who do I get to kiss in this one?"

I'm sure that has been useful over the years, too.

However it may have started, it is already a great play with some killer lines and ideas. I am looking forward to reading the next draft.

kirabug said...

So, uh, Matt, who drinks glasses of water these days anyway? Shouldn't they just grab a bottle of water out of the fridge like the rest of us do? (Heck, half the time I drink 'em right out of the case - but then I've never been fond of very cold water.)

I really enjoyed this post. :)

P'tit Boo said...

Thank you so much for sharing your process !
Great post !
You're wrestling with things that all playwrights wrestle with and congratulations on having the courage to write a 12 people play without bias on productions and such things...

Joshua and Zay...
I don't think we can compare posts . there is a need for this *and* a need for info about the NYTW...
It's all important and it's all a part of the conversation.

And one is depressing. And the other is not.
But why should pleasure be privileged ?

And it 's not wrong of course ....

Zay Amsbury said...


Conflict doesn't make me upset and uncomfortable. I like it -- as long as it has an object it's working towards. In any relationship, conflict's grist for the mill.