Fear leads to Hate.
Hate leads to Anger.
Anger leads to Writing Plays.
At first I wasn’t going to write about zombies. Zombies always seemed a bit, well, mindless, and I usually pride myself on writing intelligent comedy. (Usually.) And I had already tackled something like zombies in The Craving (which I will discuss later). So when a teacher wrote on my facebook page “If you wrote a comedy about the zombie apocalypse I would die of happiness,” I was inclined to let her continue her life and chalk up the fact that I had not written a zombie apocalypse comedy to one of life’s many disappointments.
But then I saw this: “Homeland security grants went to zombie invasion preparedness”
And then I got mad.
And then I could write the play.
Now it’s not as if my zombie play 10 Ways to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse is solely about the government’s wasteful expenditure on makeup (and it probably wasn’t that much money anyway), but the point is that comedy, particularly satire, works best when you’re good and angry. I’ve often heard that advice that you should write about “what makes you laugh or cry”, but I’ll also add that you can write about what makes you see red.
Another example. I recently did a talkback after a performance of one of newest plays, The Election. An audience member asked me what caused me to write the play. My answer? “Rage.” Who was I mad at? Let’s see: 1. Republicans. 2. Democrats. 3. Voters. 4. The Media. You know, basically everybody involved. And instead of simply stewing about that, it was not only cathartic, but it was honestly a joy to vent my spleen on the page instead of yelling at the television like normal. By creating a situation which allowed me to hold a mirror up to our behavior and point out its absurdities, I was able to not only write a play that was really funny and worked well, but it was a play that was saying something about our electoral system.
And yet another great thing about a play is that you can tackle all sides of the issue at once. So even though I was angry with the campaign financing system, the play isn’t all about that, and even though I was angry about media manipulation and sensationalism, it wasn’t all about that either. It was about all of those things.
Rage is a good emotion to write a play with, because it gets you up, gets you to the computer, and keeps kicking you in the backside until you finish. It’s a lot easier to write a play angry than to write a play while in love. Another good emotion to write a play from? Fear.
I wrote The Craving when I was in negotiations with a Hollywood Production company about one of my screenplays. Talking to actual movie people in Hollywood is something like finding yourself on the moon, looking around at how amazing everything is, and then actually realizing you forgot your spacesuit back on Earth. You’re probably going to implode in short order.
In order to deal with my unquenchable terror that my movie would be stolen, lobotomized, and I would essentially be left homeless and destitute, I wrote The Craving, which is about a screenwriter (me) who gets his love story taken and transformed into a zombie slasher flick. (See? The zombies were there for me all along!) In this case, I was taking my fear about how things would turn out and writing out a worst-case scenario. In some ways this was therapy. Things couldn’t possibly get this bad, could they? (They didn’t.)
I’ve only been using comedy and satire as examples here, but this works just as well for drama. David Lindsay-Abaire wrote the Pulitzer-winning Rabbit Hole about the thing he feared the most in the world – losing a child.
So if you’re out there trying to figure out what to write a play about, access your ugliest, most primal emotions. What terrifies you? What enrages you? What would cause you to go out into the street, pull up a chunk of concrete and toss it? If there’s something there that won’t let you sleep, you’ve got the genesis for a good idea.
-- Don Zolidis
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New York, NY -- In an epic theatrical match-up for the ages, number one seed Hamlet overcame a tough fight from Much Ado About Nothing's Beatrice in the first ever Playscripts Character Face Off. In the end, the scrappy Beatrice lacked Hamlet's melancholy and self-destructive stratagem and lost the bout between two of Shakespeare's most beloved characters with a score of 40 to 35.
"I was nervous, to be honest. Like, what if Joey the War Horse had won? He's a horse-- a puppet. Does that even count? " said Marketing Director, Lane Bernes. Joey, colloquially known as The Horse from War Horse, had a good run making it through four rounds before a one point defeat by Sister Aloysius (Doubt) in a buzzer beater.
While two of the Final Four were Shakespearean characters, the other finalists, Elphaba (Wicked) and Sister Aloysius come from plays written within the last decade. It is clear that Stephen Schwartz's role as a Playscripts, Inc. Advisory Board Member had no bearing on the outcome of this contest. In an emotional post-game interview, Beatrice said of her competition, "Sweet [Elphaba]. She is wronged, she is slandered, she is undone." Elphaba was green with frustration. "I tried to use a spell to block her wit, but the refs called me for magic in the key."
When pressed for comment, Sister Aloysius said, "I thought Hamlet was all talk. No one expected him to follow through. I'm not saying the refs had an Elizabethan bias, but I have doubts..."
One lucky theater lover, Glen N., is taking home a bag full of Playscripts goodies after scoring the highest number of points in the Playscripts Bracket competition.
Jean Valjean, not one for revenge, is hoping to make it to the Final Four in 2014.
In the spirit of March Madness we decided to create a bracket of our own. In the Playscripts Character Face Off we've pitted some of the most notable characters from theater history against one another to determine who is the favorite. Every day we'll post a match-up via a poll on our Facebook page, and the character with the most votes will move on to the next round. And just like the NCAA tournament, there can only be one champion.
To enter the contest, download a copy of our bracket in PDF form here or in Excel here. Fill it out and submit it via the form below. Please use your best penmanship as illegible entries will not be considered for the prize.
One entry per person, no purchase necessary. Please read the Official Rules here.
- March 20th - 24th (5:00PM EST) fill out and submit your bracket.
- March 25th- April 8th match-ups will be posted on Facebook for public voting.
- April 11th the winner is announced.
The Prize There will be one first prize winner. The prize will be a Playscripts themed gift bag stuffed with goodies.
“The difference between writers and non-writers is that writers write.”
This statement is so obscenely obvious that it gives new heft to the word “trite,” yet it is the single most important thing that I tell my occasional writing students. It serves as my first instruction at the start of the semester, and it’s the last pearl I let fall as the semester’s doors swing shut. Writers write. Period.
What that little bon mot doesn’t explain is how writers face down that most fearsome of everyday demons, the blank page. Solutions and advice abound, some of it flip, some of it considered and heartfelt. Consider novelist Peter DeVries: “I only write when I’m inspired, and I make sure I’m inspired every morning at nine a.m.” Raymond Chandler is similarly practical, (if more revolting): “Throw up into your typewriter every morning. Clean up every noon.”
For my part, whether I’m burrowing into my next play or skating across the prose of my latest story, I first give a quick nod to Igor Stravinsky. “Even when I do not feel like work,” wrote the composer, “I sit down to do it just the same. I cannot wait for inspiration, and inspiration at its best is a force brought into action by effort… Understanding is given only to those who make the effort.”
Well. If that won’t get the late Mr. DeVries up and out of bed by nine each morning, I don’t know what will. Aside from wondering what Stravinsky’s words might have sounded like in the original (presumably) Russian, I always find that statement both motivating and brilliantly concrete. Even the most baleful of blank pages stand not a chance against the might of truly active effort. All I have to do is sit down at my desk and get to work.
Of course, one puzzling question remains. On what should I work?
If that question seems entirely insurmountable, may I suggest a one-word solution? Here it is: research. That’s right, research. Call it homework of the self-assigned variety. A common misconception when facing a blank page is that you have to know exactly where you’re going and what you’re doing. Not true. Great art rarely sees its own outcome in advance. What you do need is sticktuitiveness (a word Stravinsky surely never employed––though I’m sure he would have had he known it) and a refusal to judge yourself based on your daily output.
Here’s a horrible, confessional fact: until today, I hadn’t written a useful word in over two weeks. Sure, I revised a few things, and I tinkered here and there, but I added nothing new. Started no new project. Writer friends of mine kept posting tidbits on Facebook about word counts and page counts, triumphant e-blasts about goals met and even surpassed. But I? I went nowhere.
I admit to being slightly jealous, but I was also quite satisfied, because I’ve spent those intervening weeks knee-deep in Renaissance history, learning everything I can find––or at least everything I can hold––about Rome circa 1452, and a certain papal bull called the Dum Diversas. Will the outcome of all this knowledge-feasting be a play, or will it be (as I now suspect) a novel? Who cares? I stand in the inner sanctum of pure inspiration. I’ve got plotlines positively swimming before my very eyes, and I have no less than sixteen wonderful characters fleshed out and waiting, breath bated, to leap into the limelight. As soon as I get a better feel for period food, period card games, and a proper floor plan of Pope Nicholas V’s Vatican (so I can see where exactly he employed his forty-five bee-busy copyists), I’ll be out of the gate so fast, a greyhound couldn’t catch me.
Or so I hope. Never actually tried to outrun a greyhound…
“But wait,” you say, “what should I research?”
That’s not a stumper (although it was, when I was younger): tackle whatever bugs you. Whatever challenges you. What keeps you up at night. Whatever might someday send you to therapy (or keeps you there now). Those are the only topics that will hold your attention anyway. You might as well meet them head-on.
One word of warning. At the outset, research can seem like wheel-spinning. If you really knuckle down and learn, it won’t seem that way for long, certainly not if you pursue it with the dogged determination of a restless journalist. Take copious notes. Follow blind alleys and unlikely leads. Actively seek unexpected connections and sudden, alarming resonances. Research really can turn anything into rich dramatic fodder.
Case in point: several years back, Ten Red Kings, soon to be published right here at Playscripts, Inc., got its proper start not when I first had the idea for the play, but upon sitting down with a friend who really knew on-line gaming. I spent a long evening at his apartment, watching and absorbing the culture of World of Warcraft. I could not have written the piece without this crucial research component. I could have imagined it, yes, but I would not have gotten it right.
Ten Red Kings is not the exception that proves Stravinsky’s rule, it is the rule. Page counts aren’t everything, and you can’t always beat a blank page simply by typing. (If you try, you’ll be doing a fantastic amount of deleting, and much sooner than you’d like.) What you can do is learn your next script by doing your homework. Take notes. And more notes! Know your stuff, and get it right. Don’t count on an editor to catch your errors later on. The fact is that in a busy world where everyone is already over-committed there is no safety net accuracy-wise other than your own fear of getting something wrong. (Robert Hughes: “Confidence is the prize given to the mediocre.”) So dig in. Summon the ghost of Stravinsky and sit down to work even when you feel lazy, vapid, and muzzy-headed. If actual words aren’t coming, switch gears and dive into research. Learn something new, and keep that up until inspiration slaps you hard across the face. When it does––and only when it does––get back to the script itself.
But no matter how you overcome the problem of getting started, and no matter how you choose to land the plane, always remember that you know a crucial secret that the blank page doesn’t.
You remember. That’s it.
Mark Rigney is the author of Deaf Side Story: Deaf Sharks, Hearing Jets and a Classic American Musical (Gallaudet University Press, 2003). His short fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and appears in venues such as The Best of the Bellevue Literary Review, Black Static, Realms of Fantasy, and Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet. A Most Unruly Gnome won the 2009 First Coast Novel Contest, and other writing projects have earned grants from the Indiana Arts Council and the Vogelstein Foundation. His plays have been performed in eighteen states plus Canada, in venues such as the Ark Theatre (Los Angeles, California), the Utah Shakespearean Festival (Cedar City, Utah), the Forest Roberts Theatre (Marquette, Michigan), and the Foothill Theatre Company (Nevada City, California). A recent full-length, Bears, won the 2012 Panowski Playwriting Contest, won a spot in the 2012 EMOS Ecodrama Festival (through Carnegie Mellon and the University of Oregon) and is making its New York debut in March (14- 30) at 59e59, courtesy of Sans A Productions. His website is www.markrigney.net.
Are you surprised that the story on This American Life resonated with so many people?
I am. I honestly thought that, at best, the story would just be an entertaining anecdote about a really crazy period in my life. So I’m definitely surprised that folks have been responding to it in such a powerful way. I’m especially grateful to This American Life for helping me turn this into a piece that was able to reach such a wide audience.
How did you start writing?
As a kid, I wrote comic books and short stories for fun, but I didn’t take up writing as a profession until my junior year at NYU. I was a drama major looking for a play to do with my friends, and, at the time, I didn’t feel there was a whole lot of contemporary material out there for African-American actors of my generation. That’s how I ended up writing my first play Prime Time.
What inspires you to write (plays)?
Lately my plays have centered on characters struggling with either political or existential crises. I’m also really interested in exploring paradoxes – especially how opposing groups and ideas actually rely on each other for self-definition.
Are you working on any plays now?
Yes! On February 21st the IAMA Theatre Company in Los Angeles is hosting a reading of my newest play Unbound. It takes place in the wake of the police raid on Occupy Los Angeles, and it follows two activists that try to take down the G.O.P.’s presidential frontrunner by creating a scandalous viral video. If you’re in the area and are interested in checking it out, visit my website at www.daryl-watson.com for details.
Just for fun, were you involved with theater in high school?
I was the Scarecrow in my high school’s production of The Wizard of Oz. Our closing night show was the most memorable. At the end, when Dorothy was saying goodbye to everyone before returning to Kansas, I hugged her, dipped her, and kissed her on the mouth (after getting her permission first, of course). The audience went nuts. After that, I was hooked on theater for life.
-- Daryl Watson
Daryl Watson is the author of Prime Time (Stella Adler Studios, Abingdon Theater and Lincoln Center Theater as part of the Audrey Skirball-Kenis Playwrights Program), Snap (Judges Panel Award and Audience Award Winner of the 2005 Battle of the Bards in New York City), The Blueberry Hill Accord, Idle Gods (Access Theater) and Enemies of the Peace (Stella Adler Studios). He was also a co-creator and writer for the Disney television series Johnny and the Sprites. Mr. Watson graduated with honors from New York University in 2002 with a B.F.A. in Drama and a second major in English and American Literature.
We are excited today to announce the winner of our Wilder Wilder Everywhere Video Contest, St. Lawrence NYSARC . We were thrilled with the diversity of innovative, engaging and unexpected videos that were submitted. St. Lawrence NYSARC found a truly creative way to bring Wilder’s work to their America.
What is the 50/50 award?
The 50/50 Applause Award was created to honor those theaters that produced women playwrights at least 50% of the time in their seasons. In this case, it was the 2011-2012 season.
From your perspective, why is this award needed?
It is not a secret that women playwrights are under-produced and it has been something that the theater community has been more actively trying to address in the past four years since Emily Glassberg Sands came out with her study Opening the Curtain on Playwright Gender. In the study, she analyzed data in the theater community from 1999-2009 and found that, in 2008, only 18% of the productions in the United States were by women playwrights. She also found that “only 11% of shows on Broadway over the past decade [1999-2009] were written exclusively by women”. As our organization is an international one, we also know that this issue is not limited to the United States. Last year, Lyn Gardner of the UK’s The Guardian stated “...of the 57 productions on in the West End and the fringe that might be considered plays (rather than musicals or physical work), only six are written by women”. In Canada, Rebecca Burton and Reina Green reported that 30-35% of the nation’s artistic directors were female in 2006. A 2012 Australia Council Report, Women in Theatre, concluded that while companies' seasons in 2012 suggested things were improving, between 2001 and 2011, "it appears that there has at best been no progress ... and there is evidence that the situation for women in creative leadership deteriorated". For example, among the bigger Australian theatre companies (known as the major performing arts group), female writers featured in 27 per cent of productions in 2004, but this figure plummeted to 17 per cent last year. Aside from the imbalance of theatrical expressions of women’s experience, there is a clear economic trajectory that starts with a production. A professional production is typically followed by script publication, book sales, further productions, royalty revenue for the playwright and other financial rewards like commissions, residences and travel opportunities.
What theaters were you most excited to see on the list- any surprises?
Actually, I was pleased to see that there was a great span of theaters that were both small and large. Playwrights Horizons is an off-Broadway house in New York and Cleveland Public Theatre is a similarly larger theater company. However, Little Colonel Theatre, Nora Theater and Symmetry Theatre are smaller. I was also pleased that the winners were spread out throughout the United States and not concentrated in one area.
What advantages are there for theaters that produce plays written by women?
There are a number of advantages: for one thing, it diversifies the stories that are being told. Women have different stories to tell or have a different voice with which to tell the stories. Producing different types of stories can also open a theater up to the possibility of new additional patrons. It could also diversify the artists that a theater works with. Finally, according to the Sands report, female-written shows on Broadway are 18% more profitable than male-written shows; it is entirely possible that theaters could see a similar reflection in their revenue from a female-written play.
Happy 25th Birthday to the ICWP! Any celebrations plans?
It’s hard to have a birthday party when we are scattered around the world as we are. However, the award is a big marker for us. Since we are anticipating starting the nomination period for the 2013 award in the spring, earlier than last year’s, we will be giving out two sets of awards this year (but for different seasons). We are coming out with our publication, Diverse Voices, a collection of writing by our members. We have also been collecting pod/vod casts of our members reading their work and we will be making that live this year either through our website or through other media (YouTube or iTunes).
-- Elana Gartner
Playwright Elana Gartner has been produced in New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Georgia. She has received recognition for her scripts by Little Fish Theatre, Eden Prairie Players, Stone Soup Theatre, Drury University, Repertorio Español, Fabrefaction Theater Company, Pen and Brush, and Open Book. Two monologues from Ms. Gartner’s plays Daughter and Because of Beth are due for publication in Contemporary Monologues for Young Women v.3 (Meriwether Publishing, Ltd.) in the Fall, 2013. Ms. Gartner founded the EMG Playwriting Workshop which has fostered a supportive community for playwrights since 2004 and is also a member of the playwriting group, Manhattan Oracles. She helped to edit a second edition of You Can Write A Play! by Milton E. Polsky and she is a current board member for the International Centre for Women Playwrights. Ms. Gartner is a graduate of Oberlin College with a degree in Creative Writing and is a member of Dramatists Guild.
Happy New Year blog readers! We wanted to start off 2013 by getting your opinion of our blog. This super short survey will help us create interesting and informative content in the new year. When you complete the survey you will receive a coupon for 20% off all book orders placed in January.
The Playscripts Team
We are so proud to announce that to support those impacted by Hurricane Sandy, we have created a line of Tongue Twister Totes , and will be donating 40% of proceeds to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.
These limited-edition canvas tote bags were designed by Gabriella Miyares and conceived by the Playscripts, Inc. staff, and (we think) make the perfect holiday gift for any theater lover. They are only available from November 26th to December 25th, or while supplies last.
"Make your bottom more appealing." That's not advice from the latest exercise guru, it's a line from my play Lovers, Lunatics, and Poets. The play is the direct result of a writing contest; and also of my long-standing love affair with the theatre. The contest was called Pitch 'N' Play, and was in two parts. In part one, people were asked to tweet a pitch, or idea, for a new play that was somehow connected to this line from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, "The course of true love never did run smooth." My winning pitch was: "Real life Puck messes with teens in high school prod of Midsummer Night's Dream." That pitch, along with two others, won the first part of the contest. In the second part, people wrote short plays based on any of the three winning pitches. I decided to write a play on my own pitch. And while it didn't win the grand prize, the very wise folks at Playscripts decided it was so good that they would publish it anyway. And as of last week, it is available to the general public to read, perform, quote from at parties, etc. It's perfect for high schools, actually. It's set entirely on the stage of a high school theatre, has a large cast, and, of course, it's hilarious.
I wrote the play quickly and drew on my own experience: a high school production of A Midsummer Night's Dream that my brother and sister were in when I was in 8th grade, and a production I was in at San Jose State University. Wow- I just realized that I saw my first production of that play over 30 years ago. How can that be? I can see it so clearly in my head. There's my brother in a bad toga playing Aegeus.
I remember going to rehearsals of the production my siblings were in at Blackford High School. I was the tag-along younger brother, watching all those cool older kids on stage, and being completely taken in by how fun it all looked. And every now and then, a little spark of magic would happen, and I'd catch my breath and wish I was up there, leaping about and speaking in verse. By the time that show opened, I was hooked. I wasn't any good yet, but I wanted to get up there and do some things, speak some lines, touch a little of the rough magic that seemed to course between and through all those actors on stage in the auditorium/lunch room that served as the theatre in our high school.
Years later, I was a junior in college at San Jose State University. I had done a few shows my first two years, gotten some small parts in some, and worked backstage in others. But then, the mafia was formed. The mafia- that's was the nickname given to a bunch of us at SJSU that year. Several of the drama majors- including my brother and sister- decided to do some of their own work at SJSU. One acts, student productions in the studio, that kind of thing. And I went along for the ride. I think it was solidified when we did a production of A Marowitz Hamlet at City Lights, the experimental theatre in San Jose. Somehow I got the role of Laertes. It was weird and wonderful and profound, and instrumental in my learning about theatre and all its possibilities. By the end of that show, I considered myself an actor. A member of the tribe. A lunatic. By the end of that one school year, I had worked on eleven full productions.
There are, I think, certain times in your life where you are happy and growing and full of that wonderful, fleeting feeling that for just a flicker, you're where you're supposed to be in the world, doing what you're supposed to be doing. This was one of those times. At the end of that year, I got cast as Snug the Joiner in the school's main stage production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. And I milked it for all it was worth. Snug, as written, is not the brightest of folks. I took his non-smarts and ran with it. I made Snug wide-eyed, innocent, and fun- a sort of big baby without a trace of irony in his bones. And people loved it. My fellow actors would laugh during rehearsals. Something was starting to happen when I got on stage. I didn't understand it exactly, but I dug it immensely.
The reason I bring up that production is that there was this one rehearsal that was so gloriously strange, it cemented forever my deep and abiding love for theatre. The show was directed by the great Richard Parks- one of the funniest, most talented, and terrifying people I have ever met. He was incredibly smart, knew the show inside and out, and could coax beautiful performances from a stone. But he also had a temper. One night, we were rehearsing the scene where Puck comes in and does some magic. There was going to be a sound effect of chimes (or something) when the "magic" happened, but we didn't have the sound effect yet. So Richard recorded his own voice, rising from low pitch to high while saying, "Doodle, doodle, doodle, doodle, doodle." His plan was to use this as a substitute sound effect so we could get used to hearing something. Sadly, he didn't tell anyone in the cast about this ahead of time.
Rehearsal was going along fine, and we got to the scene where the sound effect was supposed to happen, and suddenly, out of the speakers, came our fearless leader's voice. "Doodle, doodle, doodle, doodle, doodle." There was a pause, momentary confusion and then we all burst into laughter. There were at least ten of us on stage, and more backstage and in the audience waiting for their next scene and all of us were laughing. Except Richard. He was fuming. He screamed out, "What's so funny? We needed a sound effect, so I made this to use until a better one comes along." We got ourselves under control, and went back to running the scene. "Doodle, doodle, doodle, doodle, doodle." More laughter. This time, Richard ran onto the stage. "Stop laughing! Stop laughing right now!" Slowly, we got it together. We all said sorry, asked if we could please go back to rehearsing the scene, and looked as remorseful as we could. Richard strode back into the audience, and we started the scene from the top. "Doodle, doodle, doodle, doodle, doodle." As I remember it, we tried not to laugh. Faces contorted. Some people seemed to be giving birth. Then a strange, high pitched squeal broke out of one of us, and that was it. An explosion of laughter erupted from the entire cast. Richard turned a bright red, and screamed up to the stage manager (who ran the sound), "Play it again! Play it over and over! Play it ten times if you have to, so they can laugh their little ***** off and we can get back to work!" I'm not sure he meant for the stage manager to actually play it ten times in a row or not- but that's just what happened. I have never seen so many people laugh so hard for so long. We were keeled over, rolling on the ground, screaming.
It was a glorious night. And also instrumental in my becoming a writer, because a few days later, I wrote a short story about the rehearsal, in which Richard ran back in with a machine gun and shot us all in iambic pentameter. I remember reading it to the cast, and everyone laughed. A lot. And something about making people laugh from something I wrote was as satisfying as making people laugh by what I did on stage. Wheels were set in motion.
And so, here I am, years later, with a one-act about actors and theatre and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Life is good sometimes.
This post originally appeared on i, McAllister.