Friday, December 16, 2011

Regarding the Impossible or It's All in the Specifics

My first play, The Goatwoman of Corvis County, was produced in 2008. I was a complete basketcase weirdo during the whole thing. It was excruciating for me, and probably pretty challenging for everybody else. As we neared opening, I was no longer sleeping, reduced to choking down food, and above all, I had lost all perspective. Here was this thing that had only existed for me, that was now up and walking around, with lots of other people involved. Amazing people! And they were all working really hard. On the very first play I had ever written.

Don’t get me wrong. It was also thrilling. But I couldn’t quite tell where my voice as a playwright fit in the rehearsal process. This was a large source of anxiety for me. The director and I had worked out the basic boundaries but, what things did I let go of and what things did I fight for? So I began to learn, albeit very ungracefully, how to get a grip amidst all the other voices present during production, and fight for how the story gets told on the stage.

There are many ingredients for great theater, how it all comes together, the stars aligning, etc.  But I think the most important aspect of making great theater is the specificity of the storytelling. Bad theater is vague theater. I’m not referring to purposeful ambiguities or questions posed by a play that go left unanswered. I mean muddy intention and action – a lack of specificity on how the story moves from point A to point B. Since my job in rehearsal is the script, it’s the specifics I fight to draw out, which are laid into the play very carefully. If there ends up being a hole in the writing, which there always is (you know, but only very tiny holes...), I fix it.

So, in regards to the question posed by Kyle on fighting for the impossible… If a theater doesn't think my play is a good fit for their season, there’s nothing I can do about that. No fight there. But if I’m fortunate enough to have a theater produce my play as a world premiere or as a "still new" play, I fight for the specifics.

 ***A note about the word “fight”. This makes everything sound very antagonistic! Like it's come to blows or something! While there have certainly been tense moments, my production experiences as a playwright have been amazing and collaborative.  Most of the time, the fight is only between my ears.

- Christine Whitley

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