Neil Simon On Playwriting II

August 31, 2011

Adapted from: The Craft of the Playwright

The New York Times, May 26, 1985

I like writing women very much. I have shared the confidences of women more than I have of men. Men are more close-mouthed about their real feelings, whereas women, if the situation is right, open up. It’s exotic for me to write about women, because they are so different.

But it always amazes me — when I get a director I like and who likes the play, he understands everything I mean, where the actor doesn’t. The reason I won’t direct a play is that I will watch what a director does and say, “I never thought of it quite that way.”

I have a number of directors that I work with frequently. I haven’t worked with Mike (Nichols) in a number of years, but I did do four plays with Mike, and I did four plays with Gene Saks and other people. You find someone that you have shorthand battles with — you know, you don’t have to have long discussions about it, because they know what you’re looking for. I don’t like to sit at rehearsals all day long, so I like to feel that I am being well represented.

I was going to say that as good a relationship as you can have with a director, and maybe even having had great success with him, it still depends on the play you’re doing. It’s like casting and acting.

I find that actors relate much more to the director than they do to me. I tend to sit back quietly and occasionally will throw in something to the director — less often to the actor. The actor is to me a peculiar person. I don’t mean that in a negative way. It’s one I don’t fully understand. They have a much different approach to the material. In the first place, most of the actors that I’ve worked with, they open the script, take the yellow pencil and go through all of their lines — which means to me that that’s what they think the play is about — the yellow lines, their part.

I just have to watch that process, and I see the director able to communicate to them in a way I can’t. I am much more direct in my attitude — if it were up to me, and they said, “How was that?” I would say, “Well, that just stunk. I thought it was really lousy.” I have to say that, because I say it to myself about my own work. It’s hard for me to be diplomatic and hands-off and know how to work with the actors. So I tend to shy away from them.

I’m naive and optimistic enough to think that plays will always be here despite the fact that it’s been a fairly grim season, and we’re losing more and more playwrights to films and to television — places where they’re guaranteed to make money. And the price of tickets makes it so difficult to put on certain kinds of plays that don’t promise to be a big smash hit.

Whenever I go to speak at a school, it’s rarely for the drama class. It’s always for a film class. There are so few drama classes that are interested in the theater. There’ll be about four kids in the group who are interested in plays, but most of them want to know about films. And they all want to direct — the cliché.

This is one in a series that will post  on Wednesdays. If you’d like to read more about what people like Sam Shepard, Harold Pinter, Joyce Carol Oates and other famous — and not so famous — playwrights have to say about the art and craft of writing and directing plays, type “On Playwriting” into the small sidebar window and tap the “Search” button.


Today’s Gag

August 29, 2011

To purchase reprint and/or other rights for this cartoon, buy a framed print, or have it reproduced on T-shirts, mugs, aprons, etc., visit my archives at the CartoonStock.com website by clicking the sidebar link.

Copyright © 2011 Jim Sizemore.

Hip Shots

August 26, 2011

Reflections

By Catherine Moore

(Click images for larger views.)

The “Hip Shots” series of Doodlemeister.com photographs will feature images that were grabbed “on the fly” with little or no regard for framing and focus. The object of the exercise is to create dynamic pictures, not perfect ones. With this ” shoot-from-the-hip” method, the more frames  exposed the better the chances are that you’ll come up with something interesting — a related series that can be arranged as a post. If you’d like additional tips for using the technique, or to submit your own pictures, drop a question or note in the “Leave a Comment” section, below. Meanwhile, click the “Hip Shots” tag above for many more examples. This feature will appear most Friday’s.

Copyright © 2011 Catherine Moore

Neil Simon On Playwriting

August 24, 2011

Adapted from: The Craft of the Playwright

The New York Times, May 26, 1985

I grew up in New York and worked in radio and in television for 10 years. Then I said, “If I don’t start to write a play and start to get out soon, I’ll be writing ‘My Three Sons’ for the rest of my life,” which I did not want to do.

There will never be any satisfaction for me unless I can write what I feel I want to say. And I wrote that first play (“Come Blow Your Horn”) — and it was a matter of life and death for me.

Mike Nichols and I were doing “Plaza Suite” in Boston many years ago, and the first act was too long — it wasn’t that it was too long, we were getting too many laughs in a scene that we thought was basically serious. So Mike and I started to cut out all of the laugh lines, and they started to laugh at other lines that they had never laughed at. They just wanted to laugh!

I’ll write a scene that is really funny, and then I try to switch it quickly, because I think that happens in life a lot. You know, in the middle of some wonderful moment you get a phone call with tragic news. There have been a few occasions in plays when I’ve done that, and the audience is really thrown by it. Sometimes it works, and sometimes they resent it. They feel that they’ve been taken or had a little bit.

My experience has been that if you write a situation well enough, the tension is so great that the audience will laugh whether you provide it or not. But many times when it’s either laugh or cry, a lot of them don’t want to cry. And they will pick out a moment — a line, a gesture, whatever it is — to laugh at. It becomes part of the play after a while. I expect it night after night — never having intended it in the beginning. There’s just so much that they can handle. You force the audience to deal with a great deal in the theater.

The thing I think most about when I’m writing is what goes on in the bedroom between the husband and wife. I don’t mean the obvious, but what they really say to each other.

I know when my unconscious is doing the writing, because when my conscious is doing it, it seems familiar to me when I see it later on. Let’s say I haven’t seen the play in eight weeks or something, and I go and watch it. I say, “I didn’t write that. That has nothing to do with me. That came out of somebody else.” I know that’s the unconscious writing. And that’s where the surprises come from. And that’s like mercury. You just grab that if you can; it’s really hard. I can’t pin it down, but I know it’s probably very important to my psyche — that bit of information. I say, “That’s what I’ve been keeping hidden.” It’s a dangerous game. If you don’t grab it, then you don’t have it anymore. But it’s also the most exhilarating. I can get up and go, “What? That was terrific! You just caught a great long fly ball.”

“Brighton Beach Memoirs” took nine years from the inception of the idea. I let it sit for six years. It just kept going in my mind. I would think about it, and six years later I wrote 35 pages. I said, “This is good, but I don’t know how to write the play.” I’d never written a play like that — sort of a tapestry, where everybody’s story is very important. I generally had written plays about two characters and the peripheral characters and how they are involved in it. And it took a long time — another three years. And then I sat down and went right through the play. But the unconscious is doing the work. It’s typing away.

I don’t know what it’s like not to write. I don’t do it every day of the year, and I do take time off, but I feel empty if I don’t have something to work on. The trick is not  to get caught up in something that’s not working just for the sake of working. But I feel very happy when I can say I’ve got an idea for something that I think is worth doing. And then I can leave it alone and not work at all — it can just do its own work there while I go to the beach or play some tennis.

This is one in a series that will post  on Wednesdays. If you’d like to read more about what people like Sam Shepard, Harold Pinter, Joyce Carol Oates and other famous — and not so famous — playwrights have to say about the art and craft of writing and directing plays, type “On Playwriting” into the small sidebar window and tap the “Search” button.


Today’s Gag

August 22, 2011

To purchase reprint and/or other rights for this cartoon, buy a framed print, or have it reproduced on T-shirts, mugs, aprons, etc., visit my archives at the CartoonStock.com website by clicking the sidebar link.

Copyright © 2011 Jim Sizemore.

Hip Shots

August 19, 2011

Grand Central

By Fiona Pepys

(Click images for larger views.)

The “Hip Shots” series of Doodlemeister.com photographs will feature images that were grabbed “on the fly” with little or no regard for framing and focus. The object of the exercise is to create dynamic pictures, not perfect ones. With this ” shoot-from-the-hip” method, the more frames  exposed the better the chances are that you’ll come up with something interesting — a related series that can be arranged as a post. If you’d like additional tips for using the technique, or to submit your own pictures, drop a question or note in the “Leave a Comment” section, below. Meanwhile, click the “Hip Shots” tag above for many more examples. This feature will appear most Friday’s.

Copyright © 2011 Fiona Pepys

David Rabe On Playwriting

August 17, 2011

Adapted from: The Craft of the Playwright

The New York Times, May 26, 1985

I grew up seeing movies, and there was a point where I consciously engaged the question of whether there was a larger opportunity to be free as a writer in the theater or in film. And without any experience in either, it struck me that the theater was more open. But I think now, as I’ve gone on, it’s deeper than that. I don’t know quite what the relationship is, but it’s very, very deep in me, the theater.

See, I think that in the real theatrical tradition that split (between comedy and drama) doesn’t exist as strongly as people think it does. It’s an invention of Aristotle rather than of dramatists. I mean, certainly in a lot of Shakespeare’s tragedies, there are very funny, lively moments.

I’m not a big fan of Aristotle. I think he really did everybody a lot of harm. He interposed himself between the creative act and the the thing itself. The whole formula Aristotle devised serves censorship more than it serves creativity. It serves inhibition, and it stops more writers than it guides . . . I mean, there’s no such thing as an Aristotelian tragedy; he never wrote one. He defines something he didn’t do.

My impulse has been to try to put as much variety of emotion as possible into a play. You know, like a carnival or a roller-coaster ride. To me, the more one play can hold, the better.

The laughs I get are the ones I’m hoping for, for the most part. It’s making the turn without getting resentment from the audience that’s the hard part. If you’ve overdone the comedy part, they just want to keep laughing.

“Hurlyburly” is very tricky for me to talk about, because the turn is abrupter than I think it has to be. The play is long, but it was longer, and there was ground for the turns that is not present.

In the beginning — with “Pavlo Hummel” — I wrote until I had a draft, and I didn’t go to anything else. Once I had a draft, then I started writing “Sticks and Bones.” When I had a draft of that, I went back to the other one. But as time has gone on, I’ve come to put them away more or do a note or a few lines or a page and then come back and maybe work an intense period of time. “Hurleyburly” was like that. I had a note for about six years. It was literally three or four lines. And then I got kicked into starting it, and when I started it, I stayed on it for about three or four months to write the first draft. “Streamers” was built the other way. I wrote a 25-page sort of one-act play. It was actually the first thing I wrote when I got out of the Army. It was sort of the movement of the first act of of the play, only much shorter and without the sergeants. And then that was that, and I put it away. Then, about three or four years later, I rewrote it. It was about 50 pages, and it took about three or four days. And then I’d put it away again. I never thought about it a bit — I just didn’t do anything to it. Anyway it took a total of seven years from the beginning. Suddenly I sat down and in about three or four days rewrote the whole play. And it was a full-length play now. I don’t know how I knew — there’s no way to measure that.

I go through a thing in plays where the play shocks me. I don’t think I’ve ever written anything where there wasn’t a moment when I said, “Oh, I don’t want to write this,” or “Is that me?” Where’s it coming from? I  think my conscious mind is not as intelligent as my unconscious. My conscious mind is very much interested in controlling everything and making it more orderly — making it orderly in a familiar way. Then the unconscious can come up with something original. The only way I can do anything that’s worthwhile is by not getting too far ahead of myself. When I first started writing, if I didn’t know what the next sentence was, I couldn’t allow myself to write the first sentence, so you never got started. But the truth is, you have to say so what, so if you make a mistake you throw it out. It’s just paper.

I think keeping at it, on some level, is no more different from getting started. It’s the feeling that that’s what you’re going to do and have to do. I see a play as a psyche sort of thrashing in the world. And each audience member should identify with the main character and follow it through, man or woman. I mean, if I go see “Medea,” I’d better identify with Medea. I have to write whatever shows up, that’s the way it is.

I find that, in the early part of rehearsal, I’m very quiet, and as time goes on I have more and more to say. If an actor does something I don’t understand . . . then I’m very upset. On the other hand, there are the times when they do a thing that’s so wonderful, that I never dreamed of. And that’s true of directors, too, that suddenly they bring something you just never thought of.

I have the feeling that the theater, since the late 1800’s, has been overridden by the idea of a form called “realism,” which I think has truly run its course.

I think the time has come when people will understand that “the well-made” play was developed out of other ideas, out of Darwin and Newton. I mean, the well-made play is an idea based on how Newton said the universe worked — like a big clock. It said theater was a pictorial, scientific, objective form, so it invented the fourth wall. And it invented realistic behavior. If you had a real elephant on stage, then that was great. It was trying, I think, to be movies.

Until theater can offer an audience something that film can’t it’s going to struggle. It’s robbed itself of some of its major devices. The things that it has to offer are heightened language and soliloquies and that contact with the audience that the “fourth wall” makes unacceptable. It has somehow to reclaim this stuff, I believe.

This is one in a series that will post  on Wednesdays. If you’d like to read more about what people like Sam Shepard, Harold Pinter, Joyce Carol Oates and other famous — and not so famous — playwrights have to say about the art and craft of writing and directing plays, type “On Playwriting” into the small sidebar window and tap the “Search” button.