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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, March 02, 2010

Write It Yourself

Not to put too fine a point on it, but my response to posts like these is "Then, write your own plays." There's no use scolding artists when their experiments don't connect with you. They're going to experiment anyway. Those same experiments do connect with someone, I'll bet. Maybe not you all the time. Luckily, there are lots and lots of plays. Go read a different one.

Heck, maybe go read an older one. I don't know why anyone needs to write some new version of Death of a Salesman, for example. That play is already written. It reminds me of an interview I saw once with Bob Dylan. The interviewer asked him if he felt like he could write songs these days that were as important and defining as Blowin' In The Wind or The Times They Are A-Changin'. His answer?

"No. But I did it once."

If you don't see something to enjoy in the plays being written today, that doesn't mean you are excluded. It just means that today's playwrights don't speak to you. There are lots and lots of plays that will, or have, I'm sure. Be patient, read the things you love, and stop prescribing your taste to other people.

Plays aren't written to order. I read the frustration in posts like these, and I understand it. But there's only really one solution if you feel that a certain play that should exist that does not already. Write it.

22 comments:

silent nic@knight said...

The contemporary idiom here is "walk it like you talk it" or “practice what you preach.”

To be fair, Scott and Tom are teachers not playwrights. So at least part of their role is evangelism for a different species of theatre, asking for some new or alternative thinking from their students. What becomes grating or offensive is that they also tend to assume the whole theatre landscape as an extension their classroom, and their put-down of all Nylachi as unworthy.

I think George Bernard Shaw in Man and Superman first suggested the variant of the idiom we now apply to teachers: "He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches."

Freeman said...

See, my Mom is a teacher and I have tremendous respect for the profession. I don't think it's so much about teaching students as it is about demanding different behavior from peers and adults.

Scott Walters said...

Imagine asking for peers and adults to change behavior! How offensive! Oh, unless it is behavior that we don't like -- say, tea partiers or homophobes or anti-Semites, and then we're all about it. To say that you have no responsibility to consider anyone who doesn't share your demographic -- to essentially say "tough shit if you don't get what I'm saying" -- is classist. I am not saying -- I believe I said this explicitly elsewhere -- that Wallace shouldn't have written the play. What I am saying is: doesn't anybody care about the working class, about people who don't make their living interpreting things? Obviously not. Write your own plays. Got it. I'll tell the elderly couple that the next time they are desperately looking for some help.

silent nic@knight said...

Agreed, Matt. I also have tremendous respect for teachers. Loosely defined, I am a teacher myself, so are many of my peers in theatre.

In teaching we tend to prescribe to our students. Such prescribing doesn’t work very well in collaborations or even conversations in our adult relationships. Although, I guess some “master teachers” do okay.

I have noticed that the master teachers in theatre are getting younger and younger. Maybe someday we’ll be able to appoint them at birth like they do the Dalai Lamas.

Freeman said...

1. Anti-semites? Man, you love your bullshit hyperbole. I think I was talking about your criticism of the output creative people. I think that's clear.

2. Yup. You got it. Write your own play. Did I stutter? That does not = "no one cares about the working class." That = if you don't see what you want in the world of theatre, go make it. It's not anyone else's job.

Freeman said...

correction: the output OF creative people.

Scott Walters said...

I see. So if we got a group of people together to, say, protest that cars are not safe enough, an auto company response of "hey, make your own car" would be a valid response, right? I'm sorry -- that's an analogy, and we don't seem to be able to deal with those.

Freeman said...

I just think it's not an apt analogy, Scott. You're talking about public safety and I'm talking about the arts.

I thought, you know, we were talking about the arts.

Scott Walters said...

We're talking about the public good, of which the arts are a part.

Freeman said...

That's where you and I always part company and I guess we always will. You view the arts (not being an artist) as a tool to serve certain members of the public. I see it as an act of expression, solely, whose public good or lack thereof is entirely up to the artist.

I put the artist at the center of this process. You place the public at the center. I cannot (as someone who actually makes things up) imagine placing the public good at the forefront of my mind when I write. It would be crippling.

As I've said over and over: writers are not community activists or community servants. You think differently. And that's that.

Scott Walters said...

That is an excellent summary indeed. Even civil. So why do you insist on engaging with my writing, given that you totally disagree with the underlying premises? Are you concerned that my ideas will develop traction? I don't attack you and your ideas, but you just can't seem to avoid doing so with me. Why is that?

macrogers said...

Scott, "write it yourself" has been your recommendation on many occasions. You have written numerous times about how the arts need to be freed from an artificially defined professional class and given back to the people. What follows are your words:

***
"I want people to tell their own stories, instead of relying on TV to tell them for them; I want them to sing their own songs together, instead of buying a CD; I want them to dance together, instead of watching dancers. And I want the ideology that says that you can only do an art if you can do it as well as the 'professionals' to stop. The number of people who blush and say, 'oh, I don't sing' is disturbing."
***

You spoke on your blog about how the couple who didn't understand the Wallace play may well have lived through some of the same circumstances presented in it. By the lights of your argument above, that couple could, in collaboration with one another, write a new play that serves as a corrective to Wallace's. They have the life experience, and the arts belong to everyone.

Why should the people who are writing plays now change what they're doing? The true battle, as I've understood from your writing in the past, is to exhort the rest of the people to rise up and write their own plays, informed by their innate authenticity and lived experience, and displace the artsy frauds.

You and Freeman have made the same argument, it seems to me. Arguing that the people who currently identify as playwrights should change what you perceive to be their attitudes and behavior weakens that fundamental argument.

Dennis Baker said...

@Silent "He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches."

Can we move past this phrase, as it is insulting, not true, and is used to put a gap between the artistic and academic. Artists teach AND do. Anna Deavere Smith is the first person that comes to mind. Listen to her interveiw on the American Theater Wing podcast to see how she balances both. You may disagree with Scott, and that is fine, but don't use an untrue idiom to do so.

silent nic@knight said...

Dennis,

This particular idiom could be classified as a proverb. Proverbs are short and pithy sayings that express some traditionally held truth. We can partially censor its use as we do with so many other politically incorrect sayings, but I doubt we can really “move past this phrase” any better than we can other traditionally held truths.

"He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches. He who cannot teach, becomes a cop."

Scott Walters said...

He who can't become a cop becomes an avant garde artist.

(Just about as true as the rest of it.)

(While we're at it, maybe we can validate some other proverbs: "no tickee, no washee," for instance, or "the only good Indian is a dead Indian.")

silent nic@knight said...

Scott, Dennis,

Please don't kill the messenger.

I am studying idiom and proverb here, not promoting one as being true.

Freeman said...

The internet is fun.

Scott Walters said...

Just a side note: the era of the "prescriptive" teacher is pretty close to ended. The authority of the teacher is pretty minimal. We can persuade, yes, and in our classroom we can reward certain things and punish others, but the days of Jean Brodie are definitely long past... Although my impression is that acting teachers still cling to that approach in a sort of "big, fiery Wizard of Oz pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" sort of way...

Joshua James said...

Sheesh.

Dennis Baker said...

Nick,

The phrase implies all that teach do not do, and that is not the case. There are many teaching artists and professors who teach and do. The doing informs the teaching and visa-a-versa. It is stereotypical, and stereotypical phrases hinder deeper dialogue.

Not shooting the messenger, just want to get to the deeper discussion than the phrase allows.

silent nic@knight said...

Dennis,

I wouldn’t know exactly what deeper discussions on this would entail.

We could pursue the debate of theory v. praxis. A rather dead horse I think, but it frames the idioms we have been discussing.

Alternately I could give my anecdotal knowledge of my theatre peers who also developed careers teaching theatre. All of them, to a person, went that route primarily for financial and validation reasons, not out some deep-seated desire to teach. I am sure many of them became good theatre teachers. But all of them, given the choice when they first began teaching, would have preferred to do the art rather than to teach the art.

I am sure the phrase rankles many because there are equal amounts of truth and untruth in it. And as you say, it stereotypes.

Dennis Baker said...

Nick,

I admit, when reading your first post, I thought you were taking a certain POV with the quote, which you later clarified.

That being said, as much as you can share stories of people you know that went into teaching for money and validation (I too know some), I can share stories about teachers who do so as part of their artistry.

I think the benefit comes in sharing the details (not the stereotypical lines) of both situations and how we can re-focus the discussion to the idea that it is possible to teach and to create art.

This comment thread may be in the beginnings of going way off track from the original post, sorry Matt.