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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.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

How to Write a Play

For those interested, here is a simple step-by-step process. It will give you, pretty much, my career.

1. Get something to write with.

Pencils are ok, but can break. Many people use computers. Old typewriters work, but not if you live in a rental. The neighbors complain.

2. Think of your favorite story then outline the plot.

For example, Harry Potter, Hamlet, Little Red Riding Hood or Lysistrata.

3. Replace names of old characters with names of friends and family. Change details to match your era.

Write this all down in a notebook so you know who is supposed to represent who. (Example: Priam = My Dad, Leonard. Trojan War = Iraq War.)

4. Decide how you want to sell the play.

Then, decide on the Act Structure. If you do not want to sell it, write it in five acts, and so on down. Ten minutes sell well, but you can't fit as much into them. Most writers choose the middle ground. Go for many two acts. That's not too tough. One act at ninety minutes is more popular these days. Seriously, whatever works for you. I mean...how successful can you really be anyway?

5. Replace words of one story with your own words.

For example:

Lystistrata says:

"We must refrain from the male altogether.... Nay, why do you turn your backs on me? Where are you going? So, you bite your lips, and shake your heads, eh? Why these pale, sad looks? why these tears? Come, will you do it-yes or no? Do you hesitate?"

Elizabeth Connon (my mother's maiden name) says:

"All I said was don't let them get you on your backs, and you get all up in my grill. You aren't worthy to call yourself women! Control yourselves and end this war in Iraq!"

6. Do this for a while.

Like Mad Libs, only it's art. The longer it takes, the more work you appear to have done. So take your time.

7. Give your play a catchy title.

Put verbs before nouns until you hit it. Examples include Bedding the Beast, Kicking Uncle Swifty, Snorting Heaven, Tearing the Tears, Popping Cherry Blossoms. The combinations are endless.

8. Read over what you've done. HATE it.

Don't like it. If you do like it, you are failing to understand the nature of this world and your tiny, insignificant place in it.

9. Show your play to others.

Explain to them that this play isn't finished, that it's a rough draft, that you think it needs work, that you're hoping the influences aren't too apparent, that you're feeling confident, but would really like their advice.

10. Repeat this process with people who have increasing amounts of money.

Do not improve the play, but change it. This is development.

11. Mail the play to a lot of people.

12. Explain, in detail, to all who would listen, that the reason you aren't produced more often is that you don't have an agent/grant/degree from a good school/connections/rich Father.

13. Enjoy the illegal or legal drug of your choice.

Simple enough? I thought so.

8 comments:

nytheatre mike said...

Actually, not bad advice at all, Mr. Freeman. I think I'm going to go write a play now.

David Johnston said...

Do you have a camera in my apartment?

jeffisawesome said...

I believe that there is a complementary set of rules for Writing an Experimental Play

1. Find two or more things that you like – one of them should be Kafka or Godard.

2. Cut these things into tiny pieces.

3. Put them together in such a way that everyone will still recognize enough of the original pieces to think that you are smart, but disjointed enough that no one will actually LIKE them.

4. Create a title that involves parentheses, i.e. (w)reckoning, or (wreck)oning, or wre(ckon)ing. (Needless to say, no caps.)

5. Throw in some nudity.

6. Perform it in a bar, or a warehouse, or under the BQE - NOT in a theatre.

7. Enjoy the illegal or legal drug of your choice.

With six fewer steps than your own process, Matt, a writer can expect to get drunk/stone/smacked-out much more quickly.

Freeman said...

Jeff -

Well sure. If you're comfortable with nudity. Which most writers, quite rightly, aren't.

david d. said...

Well, now that you have finally figured out the formula, I will expect this is the year that we get the Christmas play we've been waiting years for.

jeffisawesome said...

Dear god, Matt! The nudity is for the ACTOR. The writer can do anything he wants to the ACTOR, because he's the WRITER. If asked to justify it, all he needs to say is, "That's how it's supposed to be." Simple!

Freeman said...

Wait? The writer isn't naked?

I've been going about this experimental thing all wrong.

Adam said...

Finally, an easy step by step manual. I do think you missed the part about railing against reviews and/or crying in the theater bathroom.