April 28, 2009

Richard Nelson's speech

Read it here. (H/t Isaac at Parabasis.)

The whole thing is worth reading, but here are some gems:

  • The profession of playwright, the role of the playwright in today’s American theater . . . is under serious attack. Some who attack are simply greedy, some ignorant, some can’t understand why theater isn’t TV or film. But perhaps the greatest threat to the playwright in today’ s theater comes from . . . those who want ‘to help.’

  • . . . I am not saying that a playwright should avoid and ignore comments and reactions to his work . . . But I am saying that our mindset toward playwrights should be this: 1) the playwright knows what he is doing, 2) perhaps the play as presented is as it should be. So that the onus for change is not on the playwright but on others, on the theater . . . How to improve a play should be the domain of the writer, with the theater supplying potential tools, a reading say, or a workshop with clearly delineated goals. These are tools that should evolve out of a need, as opposed to being a given.

  • . . . I have watched actors and directors approach classical plays that have massive contradictions and address those plays not as works to be fixed, but rather to be solved. So I am arguing for a theater where the mindset is not to fix new plays, but to solve them.

  • Rules for writing plays. My god. One hears young playwrights being told what a play ‘must do,’ or ‘how a play works.’ One hears writers being told that a character’s ‘journey’ isn’t clear enough, or that the writer needs to determine a character’s ‘motivation.’ One hears how a play has to ‘build’ in a certain way, or how ‘the conflict’ isn’t strong enough. These are terms that seem to suggest a deep understanding of what a play is and how it is put together, but in fact they tell us very little. Perhaps a particular play might be helped by one of these suggestions, but they (and other ‘rules’) are too generally prescribed . . . The playwright doesn’t write out of ‘motivations’ but rather out of truth and reality, out of people and story and worlds he or she wishes or needs to create for us.

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