Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Day 81: Plans Change - or How to Write a Play

Remember that roadmap I was so excited about on Monday?  Well, guess what.

Out the window.

Plans change.  My current playwriting teacher (Stuart Spencer) said that could be the title of a book about playwriting: Plans Change (or How to Write a Play).  It seems to be kind of the number one rule, nothing you start out with hardly ever stays the same. 

It's a good thing, though.  Spence was pointing out that the scene I brought in on Monday night might be more dramatically effective if I set it six months further down the road -- that if instead of being the first time Angie had to bring Frank to the doctor from a fall, it was the tenth time.  If this was the final straw, the day everyone had to face the fact that Frank had to go to the nursing home.  Everything Spence said made so much sense, and I saw how that would increase the dramatic tension of the scene, how it would "raise the stakes" as we like to say in playwright land.  But there was one little problem in my mind: if this is the moment they decide he has to go to the nursing home, and my first act was going to end with that, then my first act is only 39 pages.  That's too short.

Ah, but is it?  Spence went on to challenge the notion of acts and structure and expected length altogether.  He said acts are totally arbitrary, they are just a place where the audience goes to the bathroom.  Tennessee Williams didn't indicate an act break in either Streetcar Named Desire or Glass Menagerie - productions generally add an intermission but the drama doesn't need one.  Fortunately, these days there is a lot of leeway in what audiences will accept for a length of a play -- from an 80-minute one-act with no intermission to a 3+ hour three-act with two.  Spence said to just write to the end of the story -- the play will be as long as it needs to be.  I may end up with 72 pages and decide to flesh parts out to something longer, or I may end up with 150 pages and have to trim it way down.  But those are all problems and decisions for further down the line.  Maybe in my third trimester, but certainly not my first. 

I am actually very relieved by this.  I have been unfettered from the chains of "should" that were restraining my creativity -- the play should be so long, it should do this or that.  I feel like I can start writing in earnest now, and just let it flow.  I can hardly wait to dive in.  But first, I am going to feed my singing beast tonight by performing a couple of numbers with Opera on Tap at the Parkside Lounge (check out the link or my website for details if you're interested in coming!). 
blog comments powered by Disqus