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Writing About Reading About Writing

This week I have read a slew of articles on Howlround about being a playwright. To spare long winded analysis I will now provide a long winded linkfest

Dramatis Personae, or One White Playwright’s Appeal For Confronting Privilege Onstage by MJ Halberstadt.

Too Young to Take Over, Too Old to Ignore by Alexa Derman

“Theatre Is a Great Equalizer”: Alzheimer’s, Humor, and Actors Who Stutter by Henrik Eger

Submitting Like A Man: What’s In A Name, Anyway? By Mya Kagan

Kill New Play Deniers by Ira Gamerman

Now that I have officially killed this post by linking way too many things in a row lets get to me.

I am a playwright, and to become a better playwright I have recently felt the need to read what other playwrights are saying about being playwrights. And what I have learned is that there is no better way to form an opinion than by reading a bunch of peoples opinions…. there also is no better way to make me start yelling at nearby people as well.. but that is for a different post.

So to roll through my opinion, lets start with what I can write as a playwright. And the answer is obvious. Fucking anything I want… right? Does that mean I should… GODDAMNIT NO!

The fact is, I can write plays that have wildly diverse casts of characters, but the experiences on stage that I can talk about are limited to those I experience in my personal life. Its not ok for me to write about what it is like to be a race, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc… that I am not. It is the difference between me creating equal representation on stage and me creating appropriation on stage.

So opinion number one: write whatever characters and stories you want, as long as they exist within the scope of your own experience. Create wildly diverse casts without stealing those wildly diverse peoples’ stories. I promise, it is not all that difficult to do.

Opinion number two: If you want to write a play that is outside the scope of your own experiences, it probably has to be divisional with people within that community, and mutually agreed upon to be needed.

Im going to jump into MJ Halberstadt’s article here where he quote Young Jean Lee saying

“I’ve found that the only way to make theatre that gets the audience thinking is when I feel uncomfortable making it.”

This is all fine and dandy, but Halberstadt left out the part where Young Jean Lee worked very closely with the people involved in the stories she felt uncomfortable telling when they were not her stories to tell. This is seen clearly in The Shipment which was created in a much more devised process than many pieces. She asked her actors about roles they may not be afforded because of their skin color, if the text was serving their story, and if their was text missing that needed to be added.

What is most important about this process was that it involved creating a piece with a group from the start. If writing outside experience, flying blind, making mistakes, and appropriating as you write along. I say this one from experience. The knowledge gained from this method is not worth the damage done to others. Period.

Now on to a lighter note, anyone can be a playwright. There is a stigma that you need an MFA, but that cannot stop you from submitting. In my limited experience submitting plays it has not mattered in the least. The only difference is experience, of which I certaintly I have less of than someone who has an MFA, but all that MFA means to me is more years in the field. When I am 30 and still don’t have my MFA because who can afford one of those bad boys, I imagine I will have enough experience that MFA will mean little to me besides the ability to teach and get better employment.

The fact is, I became a playwright to tell compelling stories. When my plays are not chosen, I will always believe it because it was the wrong play, submitted at the wrong time, submitted to the wrong place. I will never assume it has to do with my education. Too many playwrights wrote their first play without any education for me to believe that.

Now to end this rant (it has gotten there at this point) I AM SO PUMPED ABOUT SLAM (Submitting Like A Man). Fuck yeah, let’s see how that goes. I linked it so people can follow it. It plays very little roll in what I have written above. If you have read any of the linked articles, have things you think I should look at, or are the author(s) of any of the linked articles, let me know what’s on your minds. My opinion is constantly changing, and with Spring Break at my doorstep I may have a less cranky one soon.



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