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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, November 30, 2011

Three kinds of impossible...

Over on the Coyote Commission Blog, Kyle Ancowitz (my long-time collaborator and one of the artistic directors of Blue Coyote Theater Group) writes a post about "three kinds of impossible" things in plays.


"As a producer, I'll admit that I often read plays with a wary eye towards impossible ideas.  By impossible, I mean ideas that are either simply unstageable with our budget or that contribute needlessly to downtown theater’s reputation for being pretentious and/or incomprehensible. Come to think of it, let’s say there are three categories of impossible:
  • BORING AND IMPOSSIBLE: Car chases. Climactic gunfights. Enormous country-style breakfasts.
  • INTRIGUING BUT IMPOSSIBLE: Thermonuclear explosions.  Singing alien plants.  Journeys to the Heaviside Layer.
  • TOTALLY BANANAS AND IMPOSSIBLE: Characters vomiting mythological creatures. Giant thumbs that bleed abstraction. Talking Jewish lobsters.

Does my resistance to unconventional ideas such as these represent a failure of imagination?  Or am I just doing my job?  I want to explore this idea with our commission playwrights:  Won’t you please tell us about a time when your "challenging" and "unconventional" experiment never made it to the stage because some director or producer shut you down?  What happened next?  And who was right?"


joshcon80 said...

I'm a producer and a playwright, so I think I might have some insight here. Kyle is both right and wrong.

He's right to be wary. The hip playwriting MFAs have ushered impossible stage directions in, and they are often used by lazy playwrights. "This is what I want to happen so just figure it out."

That said, I'm a playwright who uses "impossible" stage directions sometimes. BUT- and this is a big but- I would never, ever write something that I didn't have an idea how I'd stage. So when I write, "Linda falls and falls and falls into a machine where gears and cogs rip her limb from limb" I know exactly how I would stage it if a producer asked me.

But, yeah, I roll my eyes in playwriting groups when somebody reads a play that's actually a screenplay. That shit is annoying.

Freeman said...

Good distinction between "being wary of" and having a general resistance to something. I do find the trend towards flippant stage directions is a bit too precious for my taste - there times when I find it literally condescending to the reader/potential producer to read "Use your imagination!" or other such reminders/encouragements. Not to mention the "They become trees, then birds, then cards, then mummies" type of thing.

Then again, does anyone want to encourage playwrights to write with an eye on the budget? Is that, really, where their minds should be?

joshcon80 said...

I've also written stage directions where I said, basically, "It'd be nice if this could happen," with an eye toward budget.

In The Sluts of Sutton Drive there's a stage direction that says something like, "We hear a motorcycle parking outside and then Will enters, but if budget allows it would be hilarious if Will could enter ON the motorcycle."

Freeman said...

It sounds like having been a producer informs your stage directions.

I always say too little in stage directions myself. Because nothing happens in my plays. It's sort of my thing.

RLewis said...

"impossible ideas" are a big part of what makes theater so great to be part of. I'm not sure if they say as much about the playwright as they do about the director's lack of creativity.