Playwrights It’s a dirty job,but someone’s gotta do it!
Playwrights• “wright” = Maker• Started out non-professional – For the Greeks, the writers were doing their civic duty, honoring the gods during their festivals – Medieval plays were largely anonymous, often identified by the town where they were performed (The York Cycle, for example) – Many non-Western plays (Sanskrit, Kabuki, etc.) were also anonymous
Playwrights• Theatre and playwriting became professionalized in the Renaissance and into the Neoclassical period As theatre moved away from the role it played with the church – educating the people – it moved toward entertainment. And people were willing to pay to be entertained! So professional companies started sprouting up. They were usually sponsored by some nobleman who would help them pay their expenses and protect them from intervention by the authorities. Since then, playwriting has become a well established and respected profession!
How Do They Work?• Some write alone• Some write with partners• Some write as a collective
What do they write?• Straight plays – Plays that are spoken dialogue without singing are referred to as “straight plays” and the people who write them are called playwrights.• Musicals – Plays that include songs are called “musicals” and we call the people who write the music “composers,” the people who write the lyrics “lyricists” and the people who write the spoken portion of the script “librettists.”
Where do they start?• Beginning to end Like with any art form, there is no• End to beginning one way to write a play. Some people will write straight through• Piece by piece from the beginning to the end, some people work backwards,• Thematically some people skip around. Some have a strong idea of the theme,• Characters first and they let the story grow from there. Some start with the• Outline characters. Some have an outline while others write more free-form.• Etc… However they do it, they are putting together events to create a plot of some kind.
Sometimes you just have to write…• “I just started writing a line of dialogue and had no idea who was talking…Someone says something to someone else, and they talk, and at some point I say, ‘Well, who is this?’ and I give him a name. But I have no idea what the story line of the play is. It’s a process of discovery.” - August Wilson, multiple Pulitzer Prize winning playwright We’re reading Fences by August Wilson this unit. Take a look at some of his thoughts on writing.
Play Development Cycle The first draft of what a playwright writes will• First Draft probably go through several stages of revision before the final product that is produced and• Reading (Table) published. First is the table read, when actors sit around a table and read the play aloud for• Next Draft the first time. This usually gives the playwright a lot of ideas for revisions. Then there might• Staged Reading be a staged reading, with actors still reading from scripts, but this time they’re up on their• Next Draft feet. This leads to another revision and then possibly a workshop production, which is• Workshop closer to a full production. The actors might memorize their lines and there would be some• Next Draft minor set and costume pieces. This could go on in a loop of workshops and revisions for a while before finally being ready for a full public• Full Production production.
Stage Directions Depending on the playwright and the type of play, the stage directions supplied by the playwright could be very realistic like this:• The exterior of a two-story corner building on a street in New Orleans which is named Elysian Fields and runs between the L&N tracks and the river. The section is poor but, unlike corresponding sections in other American cities, it has a raffish charm. The houses are mostly white frame, weathered grey, with rickety outside stairs and galleries and quaintly ornamented gables. This building consists of two flats, upstairs and down. Faded white stairs ascend to the entrances of both. It is the first dark of an evening early in May. The sky that shows around the dim white building is a peculiarly tender blue, almost a turquoise, which invests the scene with a kind of lyricism and gracefully attenuates the atmosphere of decay. You can almost feel the warm breath of the brown river beyond the river warehouses This gives the director and with their faint redolences of bananas and coffee […] (A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams) designers some very specific information to work with in building the world of the play.
Stage Directions Or they could be more stylized and open to interpretation like this:• Beggars are begging, thieves thieving, whores whoring. A ballad singer sings a Moritat. (Threepenny Opera, Brecht and Weill) Or they could be completely abstract, leaving lots of room for the director’s and designers’ imagination like this:• A great hole. In the middle of nowhere. The hole is an exact replica of the Great Hole of History. (The America Play, Suzan Lori-Parks)Then, it’s up to the director and designers to decide what to do with the directions they have been given by the playwright.
How do you know about a character?– Stage Directions • “Two men come around the corner, Stanley Kowalski and Mitch. They are about twenty-eight or thirty years old, roughly dressed in blue denim work clothes. Stanley carries his bowling jacket and a red-stained package from a butcher’s.” (A Streetcar Named Desire)– What the character says about themselves • “They didn’t fire me cause I wasn’t no good. They fired me cause they was cutting back. Me getting dismissed didn’t have no reflection on my performance. And I was a damn good Honest Abe considering.” (Top Dog/Underdog)– What other people say about the character • “Gordon could be quiet… He must have respected you. He was quiet with women he respected. Otherwise he had a very loud laugh. Haw, haw, haw! You could hear him a mile away.” (Dead Man’s Cell Phone)– What the character DOES • “I ain’t worried about them firing me. They gonna fir me ‘cause I asked a question? That’s all I did. I went to Mr. Rand and asked him, “Why? Why you got the white mens driving and the colored lifting?” Told him, “What’s the matter, don’t I count? You think only white fellows got sense enough to drive a truck. Hell, anybody can drive a truck.” He told me, “Take it to the union.” Well, hell, that’s what I done!” (Fences)
What do you need to know?As part of his discussion about tragedy, Aristotle also talked about the things we need to know about characters • Physical/Biological Characteristics – What does the character look like? Is he tall or short? Handsome or ugly? • Social: What is the character’s job, economic class, family and how do these affect his community relationship? • Psychological: What are the character’s likes, dislikes, desires, fears, motivations, etc.? • Moral: What is a character willing to do to get what they want? (This one can be tougher, because characters don’t always talk about their morals in a straightforward way. Often you have to look at what they DO to discover their moral beliefs.
Put it all together…• Konstantin Stanislavsky – Given CircumstancesKonstantin Stanislavski was a very smart manwho we’ll be talking about a lot more in later units. But for now, we’ll stick with this very important term that he coined: Given Circumstances. This was his term for all the information that the playwright provides about the world of the play. Anything the playwright tells us about the location, the society, the characters, etc. would all be considered part of the given circumstances.
Playwrights to Know• William Shakespeare – 1564-1616 – One of the most important writers in Western literature – Performed as part of a company called The Lord Chamberlain’s men (remember those rich sponsors), which later became The King’s Men – Performed at The Globe Theatre – In addition to being a playwright, he was also an actor – Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, The Winter’s Tale, etc…
Playwrights to Know• Aphra Behn – 1640-1689 – First known professional female playwright (yes, this means that she was making money as a playwright) – The Rover, The Emperor of the Moon
Playwrights to Know• Bertolt Brecht – 1898-1956 – German Marxist playwright known for his social commentary – Verfremdungseffekt (Alienation effect) – Brecht believed that his audiences should not get lost in the world of the play, he wanted them to stay detached so that they could think critically about the ideas he was presenting. – Mother Courage and Her Children, The Threepenny Opera, Galileo
Playwrights to Know• Tennessee Williams – 1911-1983 – American playwright who wrote a lot about the South, famous for his use of imagery – Summer and Smoke, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Glass Menagerie
Playwrights to Know• Arthur Miller – 1915-2005 – Pulitzer Prize winner – Married to Marilyn Monroe for a while – Blacklisted by the House Un-American Affairs Committee during the Red Scare – Death of a Salesman, All My Sons, The Crucible
Playwrights to Know• Neil Simon – 1927- – Prolific comic playwright and screenwriter – The Odd Couple, Barefoot in the Park, Brighton Beach Memoirs
Playwrights to Know• Lorraine Hansberry – 1930-1965 – First African American Female playwright to have a play produced on Broadway – A Raisin in the Sun, The Drinking Gourd
Playwrights to Know• August Wilson – 1945-2005 – Wrote a cycle of ten plays - one for each decade of the 20th century - about the black experience in America – Won TWO Pulitzers – Fences, The Piano Lesson, Gem of the Ocean
Playwrights to Know• Suzan-Lori Parks – 1963- – First African-American female playwright to win a Pulitzer Prize for Drama – Top Dog/Underdog, Venus, The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World
Playwrights to Know• Sarah Ruhl – 1974- – Two time Pulitzer nominee – I’m going to write my dissertation about her (part of it, anyway)! – The Clean House, Dead Man’s Cell Phone, In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play