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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.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Some thoughts on the Rebeck and structure

Theresa Rebeck continues to stand up for her own brand of orthodoxy in a comment called CAN CRAFT AND CREATIVITY LIVE ON THE SAME STAGE?

You might recall this isn't a new subject for her.

Upstaged chimed in here.

To throw in my two cents:

I think we need to toss out the word "experimental" when we mean "not structured like Ibsen." How many "experimental" plays have we all seen at this point that seem to draw for the same playbook? Why do we continue to pretend that most of the "experimental work" we see isn't the same sort of work that's been around for decades? Close your eyes and imagine an "experimental" play. Do you see four actors in white, standing in front of a rear projected image, moving in unison, speaking in odd patterns? You do? Me too.

I also find it just plain bizarre that someone should bother to stand up for conventional structure. For example, let's look at the last 10 years of winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

2009 - Ruined
2008 - August: Osage County
2007 - Rabbit Hole
2006 - No Award! (Not given to Durang, Rapp or Rolin Jones)
2005 - Doubt
2004 - I am my own Wife
2003 - Anna in the Tropics
2002 - TopDog/Underdog
2001 - Proof
2000 - Dinner with Friends
1999 - Wit

I don't see how convention is being shown the door. What exactly, in the list above, is so incredibly experimental? Maybe Topdog/Underdog. But Proof? August: Osage County? Doubt? Wit? Rabbit Hole? We're not exactly turning up our noses to conventionally structured plays in favor of these kooky kids with their nutso ideas. I mean, sure, Sarah Ruhl asked everyone to speak in the language of stones or something, but other than that... what shows on major stages are spitting in the eye of long held traditions? Jack Goes Boating? Back Back Back? Something by Richard Greenburg? 100 Saints You Should Know? Mauritius? The Scene?

For that matter, if you want structure, it's not like you have to go far to find it. Turn on the TV. You will find structure, perfect beautiful structure, for miles and miles. Characters. Conflicts. Structures. Forms. Perfect act breaks. We are all born and raised on structure, we bathe in it from when we're little kids. I'm sure it's annoying to be conventional and be treated as conventional...but sometimes the majority has to push back against a rowdy minority I guess. Just to remind everywhere who's in charge.

And no, I'm not against structure as a concept, or smart plotting, or characters. I just don't see what, frankly, all the complaining is about. Structure, order, neatness: they're doing just fine. They really, really are.

The only thing that I really don't honestly buy is this part of Rebeck's statement:

"Recently, John Eisner asked me how, as a playwright, I reconciled my passion for structure and historically more traditional elements of craft with fidelity to the inchoate and poetic essence of the creative impulse.

I was honestly startled by the question. John is smart and reasonable and he spends a lot of time thinking about theater and theater artists and questions of how theater can remain a lively and important element of the American culture. So when he wondered how I reconciled craft and creativity I had to take it seriously even though the question kind of made my head want to explode. It has always seemed to me that the instigating impulse is something messy and internal and that a playwright’s job is to take that messy internal moment and build it into a stronger and more complex and dynamic version of itself so that it can sustain itself, on a stage, with actors, in the light of day. It’s like being a gardener: You have a seed; you add water and dirt and light, and you have a plant. You have an idea, you add structure, and you have a play. That’s not reconciling a conflict, that’s art."

What a shock! Someone asked her, in 2009, if it's hard to shoehorn those poetic impulses into a structure as old as the hills. Doesn't everyone know what "art" is? To take something messy and human and build a little cage around it, so everyone can get a better look at it! Startled, she was, by such a question. Startled!


Alison Croggon said...

Heh heh. It's kind of like how some men howl that women are taking over the world with their big bad feminist man-hating hairy legs when one woman finally makes it into a boardroom.

I don't understand the fuss either. Among other things, it assumes that thinking about structure can't be creative. And that there's only one kind of structure.

Unknown said...

I like the PP list Matt - it does suggest there's a lot of sound and fury over....nothing. Hmm.