Saturday, March 11, 2017

Inspiration and Anti-Inspiration

I guess this is a bit of a grab-bag of a post.

I go to theatre (a bit obsessively?) for many reasons, but lately it has been to get inspiration, confirming that my ideas are potentially just as interesting as what else has made it on stage.  (This is not at all the same as saying I am borrowing specific ideas from other playwrights.)  Sometimes it is just as useful to come across a play where something doesn't work and try to learn from that as well.

I saw Hart House's production of Morris Panych's 7 Stories on Thurs.  While there was a lot that was quite amusing about the production, I also felt it tried to squeeze too much into a 90-minute one-act play (and the fake ending was annoying).  I guess in general, this is the new thing -- the 90 minute one-act play.  Many playwrights are feeling that the audience would prefer a more compact play, and it is also a bit less difficult coming up with two clear endings for a 2 act play.  And certainly I often do prefer one act plays.  But 90 minutes (or even a bit longer in the case of Radiant Vermin or quite a bit longer in the case of Aunt Lemon and Dan) can be just a bit too much.  In this case, I think trimming back to 75 minutes would have really served the play well.  I'll see if I feel the same way about The Humans, which is also supposed to be a 90 minute or so production.

Anyway, I will definitely try to keep that in mind and for Final Exam, I am definitely looking at bringing it in at around 60 to 70 minutes.  At one point, I had thought perhaps Straying South could have been compressed to 90 minutes, and that is still theoretically possible, but it has quite a few scene changes, and, honestly, if it is 90 or 100 minutes, it might be less exhausting for the audience in two acts with an intermission.  But that is not something I need to worry about today...

I definitely liked Posner's Stupid F**king Bird and Life Sucks.  But there is a lot of swearing in both.  I wasn't offended by it, but I would say that it shows a certain lack of imagination.  Swearing can certainly be a bit of a crutch.  I would agree with the stand-up comics who say it has gotten so easy to "play blue" and that keeping an act clean is actually a bit more challenging.

I'm not going to say I will always completely avoid swearing in the dialogue in my plays, but I will pay attention to it and keep it to a minimum.  I'd kind of like to be able to take my children to my plays if they are ever produced.  And since two of my plays are about high school students (and might just theoretically be performed by high schoolers one day), that would make things a lot easier.  In the case of Final Exam, there is an authority figure in the room who serves to check all swearing (though a couple of times some of the students come close).  It's a little less clear why no swearing would be the norm in The Study Group, but this is a group of upper middle class people supposedly drawn together to study for the ACT.  When necessary, I'll probably have them engage in near swears like frick or smeg (though I guess the setting is just a year or two ahead of Season 1 of Red Dwarf*).  Perhaps the most amusing situation (to me) is in Lester's Last Testament where the main character is completely profane, but he has a born-again Christian working in his barber shop, and she keeps cutting him off and not letting him swear in front of her.

I suppose the next issue isn't really a mistake precisely, but it has been a bit depressing how the economics of theatre have caused casts to contract pretty dramatically, except for certain musicals.  I remember there have even been some calls for scripts where the maximum number of actors involved is 4.  This seems a bit too prescriptive to me, since 5 or 6 offers quite a few more possibilities in terms of triangles and dyads forming and reforming over the course of the play.  And then you often want an extra person coming in and out (could be a messenger or a waiter or just a late-arriving guest).  Then you have to balance the fact that with 6 or particularly 7+ actors, you are not going to be able to balance the lines.  I'm certainly finding that with both Final Exam and The Study Group, and I've just accepted that some parts will be much smaller (whether the actors will is a totally different issue).  I actually found an excuse to get rid of 2 of the actors in The Study Group for a fairly large chunk of the play, just because the dynamics got too difficult.  One generally wouldn't expect a crowd of 7 to always be focused on one person speaking (and I've never liked plays that have overlapping dialogue**).  I think I've just about got in down in Final Exam, but that is a lot easier with one teacher, who is naturally the focal point, and 5 students.  I'm trying to increase the tensions between some of the students, though it would be unnatural to have too much out and out conflict in a classroom while the teacher was there.

I'm sure I can think of other things I have seen lately that inspired me or inspired me not to follow in their example (for instance the extensive offstage dialogue in the play John was annoying), but I think this is enough to make my point for the time being.  I actually have quite a bit of writing that I want to get done over the weekend, so I should probably get back to that. Ciao.

* I don't know that any of them would have been watching PBS or even if the Michigan PBS stations carried it in 1989 or 1990.  I was completely unaware of Red Dwarf until 2001 or so when I caught it on PBS in New York, though I had learned about Blackadder around 1994. 

** I didn't care for it very much in Kushner's Intelligent Homosexual, and it turns out it is used in The Humans as well (so I'll need to make sure I am not too far back when it comes to Canadian Stage).  I don't want to use this technique (aside from maybe a word here or there that overlaps), though I might not go as far as to call it a mistake.

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