Got news that one of my plays will be done at Brown University this summer. I’ll be in attendance, as the saying goes – hopefully to have much fun and answer zillions of questions. Questions are always good – as they help one to define things to oneself.
About a year ago, when I had gone to University Wisconsin Oshkosh, and had the privilige of getting to talk with students – on matters ranging from Drama through to political science. I came back, all fired up – having discovered how brilliant it felt to try to create the same passion that I have for writing, in others.
To this end I created a ‘In a Perfect World – Here is the Course that I would Try to Teach.’
I thought it might be interesting, and help to convey a glimpse of my approach to Theatre, and writing in general.
How would you respond to a course detailed as follows:
Learn How to Make Elephants Fall Out of Cupboards
I think theater ought to be theatrical … you know, shuffling the pack
in different ways so that it’s — there’s always some kind of ambush
involved in the experience. You’re being ambushed by an unexpected word,
or by an elephant falling out of the cupboard, whatever it is.
The overall objective is to help students create theatre that doesn’t suck.
“I can sum up none of my plays. I can describe none of them, except to say:
That is what happened. That is what they said. That is what they did.”
While looking at a few key playwrights work, mainly Pinter’s ‘The Birthday Party’,
Dennis Potter’s ‘Brimstone and Treacle” and ‘The Singing Detective” among others,
the primary focus is about constant writing, and constant ongoing discussion of
students work, in order to get students used to the ability to create imaginative
This course isn’t about ‘how to make the perfect one-act or three act play –
and it certainly isn’t about passively studying other playwrights or thematic
structures, in order to ‘duplicate’ their styles.
This is a course from the perspective of a non-academic working playwright,
who wants students to have the courage to find their own voice, get used to
creating their own theatrical worlds, inhabited by their own characters,
and tell their own unique stories along the way – and achieve creative satisfaction.
“A bad act done will fester and create in its own way. It’s not only goodness
that creates. Bad things create. They have their own yeast. ”
The course is about practical construction of genuinely interesting stories
for theatre, and interesting characters, and creating drama and conflict
and seeing how they play out.
This course does NOT work on the idea that ‘good work’ or ‘quality work’
means teaching how to create material that must be geared towards
commercial success, or be acceptable to corporate entertainment industries.
“You have to assert something about yourself in order to be yourself.”
Theatre is an art form, a creative craft. Therefore, what matters to me,
is the strength of the unique vision of the individual student, combined
with their increasing ability to create and sustain interesting theatrical stories.
And while there are courses which will teach students the techniques to
automatically churn out generic script material that don’t push boundaries
in any real way – this course isn’t one of them.
As I believe that good Theatrical stories should be indistinguishable from
the dialog and storylines of high (and sometimes low) quality Film, there
will also be continual showings and discussion of a wide range of world cinema –
examining the storylines and unpredictable conceptual approaches of many
of the rarely seen cutting edge ‘genre-blurring’ films from parts of Asia
– as well as European cinema, past and present.
In addition, as British playwright Dennis Potter chose to write primarily for television,
there will be a number of his works shown and discussed, in order to demonstrate
what is conceptually possible for the potential playwright, to create, within the
borders and constrictions of mainstream media.
As this is not a passive course, a constant requirement for students, will be to
produce a minimum of two pages of a dialog scene for each class – on a theme that
will be provided, as well as a weekly requirement to produce a 5 page script,
as well as a monthly 10 page ‘play’.
This may appear excessive, but the object is to train students into ‘doing the work’
and teaching them the personal discipline of putting words on paper.
Every student submission, both short and long, will be reviewed and comments given,
and the most interesting work, will be acted out – in order to get students
trained into the differences between their own internal voice, when creating
dialog, and the voices of others, when speaking their words
– and that’s as far as I got. Naturally, this was interrupted by my urge to get writing.
Which I did.
In the last year – to give an idea of how my approach works – and keep in mind that I
consider this to be woefully insufficient, I’ve written:
3 full length plays, 2 ten minute plays, and an 800 page novel.
I hope to do better in 2009.