I've been on a real kick with Japanese theater. Don't know why, but it appeals to me in a way American theater doesn't. At the very least, it's given me some way to refer to other styles when I talk about the play I'm doing, which is experimental to say the least. With the works I've looked at lately, I've gained more confidence in the uniqueness of what I'm doing and how I'm approaching my current piece.
There's something about the totally obvious theatricality of Japanese theater that makes me engage with it. I want my audience to have this same experience (more on this later). Somehow, being invited not to take the work literally did something to my brain. It sort of told my rational mind to shut the fuck up and concentrate on what's really going on instead of getting sidetracked by ephemera such as lights, sets, and costumes. Not that those aren't important, but they have no need to be completely plausible or logically consistent. In fact, too much consistency in the externals sometimes detracts from my enjoyment of the story, as if perhaps I was distracted from the deeper truths within it.
The main issue I'm having - and I wonder if Noh theater artists have the same problem - is how to translate the substance of the piece from my head to the page. When I envision the transformations and interactions going on in the story of the play I'm working on, they work very well. I can even imagine the stage, the lighting, even the audience. But how do I get that across on the page in a way that opens potential collaborators to its possibilities? You have no idea how frustrating it is when I say that this-or-that changes into such-and-such, only to have people go, "Do you mean for this to be on a projector?" and look at their blank or disbelieving faces when I say, "No."
Part of it, I think, is a preoccupation with naturalism, even in works that are clearly fantasy. There's a certain lack of engagement with the imagination, as if imagination is something that happens to you rather than something you bring with you wherever you go. Somehow, even with the clear invitation to leave behind our everyday notions of reality, we need to be consumed with an illusion.
Another thing I'm not always sure I know how to answer is, "What's your play about?" I may have mentioned this before, but I don't really write plays for plot or character. I write to create worlds (as in types of realities) for my audience to experience. If I had to pin it down, my enjoyment of a piece hinges heavily on the world it creates. Character, plot, setting, and so forth reflect that world - or rather, are manifestations of it - but they aren't things in and of themselves. It doesn't have to be overtly fantastical, either. Think Spike Lee (especially his early stuff like School Daze) or Quentin Tarantino (particularly Pulp Fiction). Even at their most seemingly realistic, there are hints of a different world, usually reflected through how characters speak and interact.
But the question remains: How do I write in such a way as to help people - especially performers and crew members - make that leap?