Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Play’s the Thing


I feel like I need a creative shot in the ass, so I signed up for the Rhinelander School of the Arts this summer.

SOA is a week long program where people of all ages and backgrounds come together in the piney, lake bejewelled northwoods of Wisconsin to immerse themselves in the arts. Painting, sculpture, theatre, writing. You name it. It’s the arts lover's idea of orgasmic overload.

As I browsed the course catalogue, I came across an introductory playwriting class. I vacillated between playwriting and a course on writing a novel that seemed like a much better fit. But something about playwriting resonated and I couldn’t let the idea go. I’ve been a fan of the theatre for almost thirty years. When I was in high school, I worked in a professional theatre as a dresser. I still go to plays every chance I get—I have tickets to see five plays in the next four months. But I’d never thought of writing a play myself.

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. What better creative challenge than to try to write a cohesive story with multi-dimensional characters than by doing it with a different set of tools. Forget my poetic imagery, my artfully described settings, my viewpoint character’s internal dialogue. I won’t even have much in the way of stage direction (That’s the director’s job, not the playwright’s) Plot, character and dialogue—that’s all I’ll have real control of. The rest is in the hands of set designers, directors, costumers and actors.

I spent this past weekend thinking. Early yesterday morning, I sat outside wrapped in a granny square afghan and drank coffee, my notebook open in front of me. I hadn’t slept well the night before, a refrain echoing in my head most of the night. Casualties and consequences. Casualties and consequences. Over and over, the words linked together, like a chain of events, dominoes falling, lock tumblers clicking into place. From the way it hung in there, claws dug into in my brain, I knew I was onto something. Yesterday morning, before I finished my coffee and the sun had burned the dew from the grass, I’d sketched out the barest of storylines. I closed my notebook, satisfied with what I’d done. I was ready to let my idea ripen.

Like a ghost in the attic, it’s still rattling around, trying to get my attention. So today, I hunted up my copy of Egri’s The Art of Dramatic Writing. (My writing teacher, Gail, recommended this to me as a must-read on motivation and character.) I have no doubt, as I read it, more components will fall into place. And two wonderful nights watching Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness! under the stars at American Players Theatre in mid-June will no doubt inspire me more. I’ll be watching with the eye of a literary coroner—taking the pieces apart and examining how they work. Come July 20, I should be bursting with the need to write this thing.

The machinations of the creative brain never fail to amaze me. One thing links to another, spreading scope, drawing connections, weaving a web that catches art. It started with the desire to try something new. To invest one week in late July and see what I might come up with. Already I’m learning something and here it is just May. I’m inspired before I even go.


Stephen said...

That sounds like fun. I hope you let me see some of your scripts when you're done. Also, I'm interested to see on what you learn in this class. Keep me informed.

Greta said...

Yep, I think it will be a great experience. I'm also taking a course on literary subtext. Academic and pedantic--just my bag.

I'll definitely share my script with you, Stephen, as well as highlights of stuff I learn. I plan to post insights gleaned from the class here.