Beth Henley On Playwriting

Adapted from: Act I: the Pulitzer, Act II: Broadway

By Robert Berkvist, The New York Times, October 25, 1981

I hate the feeling that the play has to be seen as really great, instead of just an enjoyable evening in the theater.

If a play is set in the South, it can be kind of eccentric and people will accept it. The language can be more poetic, too.

I guess (“Crimes of the Heart”) is not an easy play for people to pick up the tone of — to know whether it’s funny or sad.

The feelings are kind of autobiographical, the business of how sisters relate, or bear grudges — things like that. But none of the events depicted in the play ever happened to my family, although some of them were things I had heard of.

Not to denigrate my play or anything, but all this acclaim is just the way the cards happened to fall. Theater is such a business now that it’s got nothing to with art or good work. My kind of writing happens to be salable these days. I’m sure there are a lot of talented people out there who aren’t writing plays but working in factories while they wait for someone to “discover” their stuff.

The theater makes it pretty hard for a writer. People can be real mean about your plays. I don’t blame some writers for turning to Hollywood for money and praise.

I didn’t like the feeling of being at everyone’s mercy, so I decided to do something creative. Of course, everyone in Los Angeles is working on a screenplay, so what I did wasn’t bizarre at all. But no one at the studios would read my screenplay because I didn’t have an agent, so I thought I would write a stage play that might at least get performed in a small theater somewhere. That’s when I wrote “Crimes of the Heart.”

Women’s problems are people’s problems. There are certain subjects I mightn’t get into, simply because I don’t have the necessary knowledge, but I don’t think my being a woman limits my concerns.

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.

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