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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.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The things you need to write a play

So you want to write a play. You love drama. You've read American Buffalo and Art and Happy Days and The Clean House. You know what a play should look like. You have a great idea for a terrific story with a quirky premise that employs magical realism and gritty real realism. You have a great title. You've even read a book about it. You know your unities.

But...that's all up in your head.

What do you need, what actual stuff, do you need to make this happen? Sure, you think ... a computer with a word processor. But your simple thinking on this subject is what separates you from a professional. Playwriting is an act that takes place in the real world, often over a course of weeks or months. You must be provisioned. You wouldn't play football with a soccer ball would you? Unless you were from Brazil.

So, for your benefit, I offer you the following inventory:

1. A computer with a word processor.

You need to write and store your work and this how to get it done. One might say "pen and paper" but one might also say "gold standard."

Preferably this computer should be a laptop, so you can bring it with you to a local coffee shop and make a show of having something to do with your Saturday afternoons. If this computer is an Apple Computer, that is even better. There is no advantage in word processing power, it's just fashionable and fashion is how we project confidence. I learned that from Project Runway.

Oh and for all you people who were born in the goddamn 90s, please at a bare minimum grant yourself a QWERTY keyboard.

2. A cup.

Do I care what is in the cup? I do not. Many will say "coffee" but ... who gives a shit really? Drinking while writing is a time-honored tradition, and it has largely replaced the pack of cigarettes that once fueled good work. If you want fruit juice, that's really your call, wimp.

Regardless of your choice between tea, water or whiskey, you will be drinking something and so you will need a container for it. To save others the burden of your filth, carry your own cup with you and wash it yourself, like a grown-up. A mug is the best choice, because it will largely cover up whatever you're drinking if you're a lush, or keep things warm if you are not.

The cup should have an Apple logo on it. That's fashionable.

For you people born in the goddamn 90s, there is no App that replaces the cup yet. Get a real cup.

3. Pants.

You cannot write well without pants. Sitting at a computer with only undergarments will inevitably lead to reading through pornographic websites and losing your literary mojo. Wearing a skirt to write is not restrictive enough. Restriction breeds creativity. Even the most comfortable pants will breed more creativity than a flowing skirt.

Sexist, you say? No one forced you to read this, so stuff it.

4. A rock.

Get a small, smooth stone and place it on the left side of your computer. Name the rock. Try putting the rock in your pocket. Take it out of your pocket. Put it on the right side of your computer. How does it compare to the left side? Do you feel less or more balanced when the small, smooth rock is on the right or left side? Hard to say? Repeat the process. Once this is determined, say the name of your rock aloud (example: "Rock.") The rock will not respond.

The play will finish itself.

5. A photograph of your Dad.

This is universal inspiration.

Your Dad isn't so sure that you've made good choices, even though he's always been there for you, supporting you financially and emotionally. Even if he's passed away, you can still tell that he's watching you and occasionally getting disappointed by you. Let that disappointment wash over you. Then, write dialogue that is, really, to him.

If your Dad was never overtly supportive, try imagining that deep down, it was because he was never able to achieve his own goals and sacrificed everything for his ungrateful, indulgent children. A sense that your parents blame you for their own unhappiness is like a video game power up for drama.

For advanced writers: If the picture begins to fail to inspire you, write the word "Future" on the photo in lipstick. Problem solved.

6. An empty manila folder.

Oh what will soon fill this folder?


7. Red Yeast Rice

A natural supplement that can help reduce cholesterol. People like you, people who want to write plays, have high cholesterol. Take it twice a day with meals. Make oatmeal a part of your breakfast too. This way, as you sit there writing, shiftless and pudgy, you can defend against heart disease and gall stones.

8. A totem

How else will you be able to tell the difference between The Dream and Reality? Don't let anyone else touch your totem. Also, don't make your totem something you can eat, like a sandwich, because you can really only use that once.

9. Balloons.

Always remember that writing a play is fun. Nothing tells us we're having fun like a mess o' colorful balloons. Before writing, make sure you have some helium filled balloons that will float gently and kindly above your screen at all times. You'll feel content, you'll smile, and you'll know that no matter the subject of your play ("the tyranny of the ignorant majority") or the state of your characters ("abject misery"), you're throwing a birthday party for your new Art.

10. A mirror

Listen, writing can be lonely. Especially writing plays, because when you're done, you still have to shop around what is essentially a blueprint for a live production to a bunch of people who, while ostensibly looking for new work, will look at your masterpiece as one more thing to add to their list of obligations. So... writing a play requires a boost. Look at yourself while you write. I know we're told to look inside ourselves, but instead, look at yourself in the gray light of your apartment, nakedly starring at the pimples and weird teeth and crooked nose that you inflict on everyone all the time. Smile at that thing you see. That's you, a playwright.

Despite your instinct towards revulsion, love that playwright. That playwright needs all the love you can spare.


You're welcome!


Ian Thal said...

I've been doing it wrong! Time to get a rock and some balloons!

Warfield said...

Wow. Just so you know, this will work for poets, too. Just one addition:

A good shirt.

Nothing warms the shoulders and attracts the muse more than something with sleeves, buttons and a collar. It doesn't necessarily have to be buttoned. In fact, it's best not to button it: You don't want anything to get in between your heart and the keys. And you will probably spill something on it anyway. You professional, you.

RVCBard said...

So this is why no one acknowledges my indisputable genius! In the future, everyone will know that all truly great playwriting comes from the use of stale jelly beans. I've just been born way ahead of my time.

joshcon80 said...

You're so right about pants. Writing in my undies inevitably leads to a visit to SeanCody.com.

I'd replace the cup with a bottle of wine though. Some of my best scenes- the spider in MilkMilklemonade, for instance- were written when I was blackout drunk. Hurray!

Freeman said...

Nice. I wrote the Lancelot / Guinevere love scene from The Death of King Arthur at Sissy McGinty's Pub in Queens while watching pro wrestling and drunk on beer.

I applaud your methods.

David Johnston said...

Your comments about pants confuse me. I've never written with pants on. It's all about the smelly, coffee-stained bathrobe.

stahlvision23 said...

I do agree with the lack of pants discussion. Remember how much better everything tastes when eating without them??