June 20, 2008

Transparent creation

The Advantage of Secrecy
Devilvet responded to a post at Rat Sass with a question:
Does the concealment of process give the artist an advantage? And if so is that advantage sustainable in world devoid of private space?
To which I answer: I don't know. Or rather, I can't speak to any one else's experience with this, only my own.

For me, the secrecy surrounding my writing can feel like an advantage, but that's because I'm by nature a private person. However, if I'm honest with myself, I've often become very productive once I know who I'm writing for and what their particular concerns are. I remember working on my first play (sadly, never produced), and the main actor responded that one of the lines I wrote felt awkward and unnatural to say. I immediately replaced the line with a simple gesture.

Then again, I was rewriting, not creating from scratch.

Although I can go deeper when I'm by myself, I'm also my own worst critic, and I can stymie my own process by continually second-guessing myself. Writing, for me, is often a letting-go rather than a making-happen. But, when I know who my audience is, when I know who the performers will be, I quickly get over it and get done. For whatever reason, it never works when I strictly do it for myself. It does work when I get a little outside pressure. Or at least some outside perspective to drag me outside my head.

Isn't the Script Supposed to Come before the Production?
I suppose this puts me in a bind when it comes to production because most companies want the script complete first, and I tend to work better - rather, work period - once I know about the actors. For instance, I was pretty much stalled in writing my new play until my friend in Shanghai told me he'd be interested staging it for the performance group he belongs to there. As soon as he told me a little about the actors, I quickly overcame my anxieties about writing and finished the scene (more or less as I originally imagined it, not as a "rewrite").

Strangely enough, I think that in the past, a lot of playwrights worked like this (Shakespeare springs to mind). The only places that come close to this are playwright-oriented places (like 7-On Playwrights in Sydney and 13 Playwrights in New York) are geared toward this model, but from what I've seen, the results tend to be anything but the things people say they're tired of seeing and performing.

Go figure.


  1. Have you ever tried working in the marathon playwriting festival format? Like a 24-hour project or similar? Basically, the playwrights are given 12 hours (or some other prescribed amount of time) to write a play for a specific group of actors, and usually some other piece of inspiration they're handed on the spot - might be a word, a prop, a picture, a sound cue, whatever. Then they hand it over to the director and actors to rehearse it in the same amount of time, and in 24 hours you have an evening of world premiere one-acts. I have done a few of these as an actor, and I know from my perspective, it is a helpful exercise because I don't have the time to second-guess myself. I just have to make my choices and go, and it's incredibly collaborative - everybody in your group: playwright, director, actors, has to feel able to trust everybody else. I wonder if the exercise would work similarly well for playwrights, or if it's a totally different experience.

  2. I dunno. I think I could do it, but it all depends on the entire context.

  3. For sure when we worked on The Rose Knight, the essence was there since the beginning, without any actors or anything. But when it started coming together, the script gained a whole new kind of life as you adapted it to our troupe.
    The activity you describe, Laura, sounds absolutely fabulous, and I would love to try it! Shawn, I'm sure you could pull it off, so try your best to make your way into one of these once you're in NYC.