Chapter 4 – Image Maker: The Playwright A play in a book is only the shadow of a play and not even a clear shadow of it. . . . [It] is hardly more than an architect’s blueprint of a house not yet built or built and destroyed. —Tennessee Williams
Chapter Summary • The playwright envisions the play’s world, its people, words environment, objects, relationships, emotions, attitudes, and events: • Playwright = “play builder” • Playwriting is a creative act that enlarges our understanding of human experience. • Playwriting enriches our appreciation of life.
The Play and the Audience • Experience of watching a play divided: • Emotional involvement • Aesthetic detachment • Empathy for characters draws us into world of play. • Awareness that it’s a play keeps us at a distance. • Catharsis: • A cleansing or purging of strong emotions. • Empathy for fictional characters inspires emotions such as pity and fear, but at a comfortable distance.
The Play and the Audience • Most playwrights encourage empathy in audience for characters: • An exception: Bertolt Brecht • Alienation effect (Verfemdung) • Distance encourages judgments about social and economic issues in play
The Play: “A Blueprint for a House Not Yet Built” • Playwright: • Writes a play to express some aspect of human experience • Shapes a personal vision into an organized, meaningful whole • Script: • Blueprint for a specific dramatic experience • Play attains finished form only in performance.
The Playwright’s Beginnings • Modes of playwriting: • Start with idea, dream, and/or image, then work out an action to express it • Start with character or real person then develop action around him or her • Start with a situation, then let it unfold • No two playwrights use the same approach
The Playwright’s Beginnings • Examples: • Bertolt Brecht: • Started with outline, then summarized social and political ideas before building a story based on the outline • Sam Shepard: • Handwrites draft, then works out revisions in theatre before writing final draft
The Playwright’s Role: Production • Once script is written, playwright takes a backseat to director, designers, actors, producers. • Exceptions: • Playwrights who direct (e.g., David Mamet) • Playwrights who act/produce (e.g., Shakespeare) • Playwright may contribute to production through script revisions.
The Playwright’s Tools • Playwright’s “toolbox”: • Plot: What happens in a play • Character: The people in a play • Language: What the characters say (dialogue) • Conflict: • Clash of personal, moral, or social forces • Plot works toward resolution of central conflict
The Playwright’s Tools • Plot and performability: • Powerful and sustained dramatic impact • Compression: • Play unfolds faster than real time. • Economy: • Whatever does not contribute to the overall effect is omitted. • Intensity: • Emotional intensity holds audience’s attention.
The Playwright’s Tools • Characters must be: • Believable • Multifaceted • Complex My chief aim in playwriting is the creation of character. . . . [My] plays have been an effort to explore the beauty and meaning in the confusion of living. —Tennessee Williams
The Playwright’s Tools • Dialogue: • Must be speakable • Must contain potential for gesture and meaning
The Playwright’s Industry • Literary agencies: • International Creative Management (ICM) • William Morris Agency • Essential connections: • Agent • Producer • Director
New American Writing: Alternative Voices • Late 1980s saw emergence of playwrights representing underrepresented minorities: • Gay and lesbian • African American • Latino/a
New American Writing: Alternative Voices • Gay and lesbian writing: • Mart Crowley, Boys in the Band • Introduced sexual orientation as acceptable subject • Important works: • Bent, Martin Sherman • The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer • Angels in America, Tony Kushner • How I Learned to Drive, Paula Vogel
New American Writing: Alternative Voices • African American writing: • Early works: • Mulatto, Langston Hughes (1930) • A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry (1959) • Important works: • Slave Ship, Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) • Ma Raney’s Black Bottom, August Wilson • The America Play, Suzan-Lori Parks • for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, Ntozake Shange
New American Writing: Alternative Voices • Asian American writing: • Early works pushed back against stereotypes • Important works: • Sisters Matsumoto, Philip Kan Gotanda • L.A. Stories, Han Ong • Stop Kiss, Diana Son • M. Butterfly, David Henry Hwang
New American Writing: Alternative Voices • U.S. Latino/a writing: • North American Spanish-speaking theatre in existence since late 1500s • Modern era: Luis Valdez and El Teatro Campesino (The Farm Workers’ Theatre) • Important works: • Anna in the Tropics, Nilo Cruz • The Conduct of Life, María Irene Fornés • The Floating Island Plays, Eduardo Machado • Roosters, Milcha Sanchez-Scott
Core Concepts • When theatrical process starts with script, playwright is most essential artist in a production • Playwright builds the world of the play: • Events • Characters • Meaning • Playwright hands finished script to director, actors, designers