Wendy Wasserstein On Playwriting II

November 30, 2011

Adapted from: The Art of Theater No. 13

The Paris Review, Interviewed by Laurie Winer

My mother was walking down the street and she ran into the receptionist from the June Taylor School of Dance, where I went as a child. The receptionist asked, How’s Wendy? My mother said, Well, I don’t know. She’s not going to law school, she’s not dating a lawyer; now she’s writing plays. She’s cuckoo.

I thought writing a full-length play was something I didn’t want to do and didn’t know how to do. It seemed old fogyish. But I was on a committee to evaluate the Yale School of Drama, and there was this young woman, a directing student, who told me that what she wanted to do was explode text. I thought of Miss Julie exploding over the Yale School of Drama saying, There goes The Sea Gull! I thought, Well, before you explode it you should know how to do it. I thought, I would just like to try to do this. If in fact playwriting is like stained glass, if it becomes more and more this obscure craft, then it would be interesting to know how to do that craft.

When you write in an episodic mode, you know that the scene will be over. The hardest part, what’s really boring, is getting people on and off the stage. You can’t just bring the lights down and bring them up again. Someone has to say, I’m leaving now . . . . That’s very hard to do. I always think structurally. But for The Sisters Rosensweig it was very hard going. In that play there are four scenes in the first act and three in the second. I should have combined the first two scenes.

I was very sad when The Sisters Rosensweig opened the first time. People like Merv and Gorgeous are fun to write; they’re nice to have in your apartment. They’re really good company. So when you discover those people, they’re talking and you’re not talking anymore. I remember the day I wrote the line for Gorgeous about Benjamin Disraeli being a Jewish philanthropist: I started laughing because I thought, That’s Gorgeous, there you go. The character, not my sister. If you stay with the actual people in your real life, it won’t work. It’s too constraining.

I learn things from watching and listening to people. I’m not much of a reader; I’m slightly dyslexic. Take Merv—he is someone I knew when I was eight years old . . . I remember going to someone’s bar mitzvah in Brooklyn with my mother and young niece. And you know when they take the Torah out? My mother said to Samantha, Quick, kiss the Torah before the rabbi takes it out for cookies and lunch. It was such a crazy image to me.

My plays start with a feeling. The Sisters Rosensweig started when I was living in London writing The Heidi Chronicles. I thought about Americans abroad, and somebody said to me, You’re terribly Jewish, just like my brother-in-law. It was that same feeling I had at Mount Holyoke, a little bit uncomfortable with myself. Like wherever I went I was always wearing a tiara with chinchilla.

I always think of new plays when I’m finishing one . . . . This is a darker play than The Sisters Rosensweig. My plays tend to skip a generation; this one is closer to The Heidi Chronicles, though it is also darker than that play.

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. (This is the second of a three-part post adapted from the Wendy Wasserstein interview in Paris Review. Part three will post next Wednesday.)

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Today’s Gag

November 28, 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 CartoonStock.com by clicking the sidebar link.

Copyright © 2011 Jim Sizemore.

Hip Shots

November 25, 2011

On The Bus II

By Whydham Standing

(Click images for larger versions.)

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 Fridays.

Copyright © 2011 Whyndham Standing.

Wendy Wasserstein On Playwriting

November 23, 2011

Adapted from: The Art of Theater No. 13

The Paris Review, Interviewed by Laurie Winer

The problem with writing plays is that everyone has an opinion. And you don’t want those opinions. What would my mother say: Oh, it’s nice Wendy, and I notice the mother is dead? I really didn’t want any of them to see it until the opening, but my sister Sandy kept saying she wanted to come, so finally I said, You can come but you can’t call me tomorrow and make any comments, because if you call me and don’t say anything, I’ll know you think it’s bad. So no comment, either way. She saw it and sent me flowers the next day. They came with a note that said, No Commitment. I realized that either the florist had made this Freudian slip or he was the florist to some Upper West Side bachelor who regularly sends out “no commitment” flowers.

When I was in second grade, I made up a play that I was in; I told my mother that I was in this play and the lie got larger and larger. Finally, arbitrarily, I said my play is on tomorrow, and she got me a velvet dress and made my hair in ringlets, and off I went to school. And she came to school and there was no play. She covered for me and said, I must be confused; it must be another one of my children. Then she came home and told me I was a fibber. She must have yelled at me because to this day I have trouble with fibbing

When I see the play, I feel I’m seeing a Broadway play in 1958, or what I wish those plays had been. I remember going to them and thinking, I really like this but where are the girls? The Sisters Rosensweig  is like those plays—the curtain goes up and there’s one set, and the play is well-made, you know, beginning, middle, and end. It takes place over a weekend, the stars get applause, the stars get exit applause, they each tell their stories, it arcs in the second act, all of that. It was much harder to write than any of my other plays.

In a way, The Sisters Rosensweig seems a combination of Isn’t It Romantic and Uncommon Women. But those other plays are episodic and this was a deliberate decision not to be episodic. Also, I decided not to write another play about my generation. Even though it has autobiographical materials, the focus of the play is not me. I wanted to do all those things and also evoke a fondness for plays that I love, including Chekhov.

A friend of mine was dating a rabbi, so I went to speak at his temple. We were talking about Jewish women and self-image, and I said that I never thought of myself as undesirable or unattractive, frankly, until I turned twelve and began watching these movies in which none of the men ever fell in love with anybody who looked remotely like me. No one was ever Jewish, no one was hardly ever brunette. I never thought of that before, but in retrospect it really makes me angry.

Women who are a bit older can believe in something and also see it ironically. And younger women who once thought that to be a feminist you had to be antimarriage, have no sense of humor, and have hairy legs, are changing . . . . Feminism has affected me more in my writing than in a specifically political way. Sitting down to write a play that has three parts for women over forty, I think, is political.

For a woman to be heroic she doesn’t have to save the planet. My work is often thought of as lightweight commercial comedy, and I have always thought, No, you don’t understand: this is in fact a political act. The Sisters Rosensweig had the largest advance in Broadway history, therefore nobody is going to turn down a play on Broadway because a woman wrote it or because it’s about women.

It’s interesting that the two most successful straight plays the year Sisters Rosensweig came out were mine and Tony Kushner’s Angels in America—a play about three women over forty and an epic about a gay fantasia. Even five years before, that wouldn’t have happened.

My plays are my art and not just self-revelation. Creating a well-made play means you have to round the edges so they fit into the form. Also, the plays are deliberately comedic. Humor masks a lot of anger, and it’s a means of breaking up others’ pretenses and of not being pretentious yourself.

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. (This is the first of a three-part post adapted from the Wendy Wasserstein interview in Paris Review. Part two will post next Wednesday.)


Today’s Gag

November 21, 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 CartoonStock.com by clicking the sidebar link.

Copyright © 2011 Jim Sizemore.

Hip Shots

November 18, 2011

Occupy Baltimore

By Whydham Standing

(Click images for larger versions.)

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 Fridays.

Copyright © 2011 Whyndham Standing.

Speedball Artist Set No. 5

November 16, 2011

This brief story takes place in the mid-1950s. A girl, age 10 or 11, whose mother teaches piano, gets a huge crush on her mother’s beautiful thirteen-year-old student. While waiting for her piano lesson, the older girl entertains her young admirer by drawing wonderful  cartoon “pin-ups” of nude women. To make these mesmerizing sketches of the female form, the teenager employs tools from her “Speedball Artist Set No. 5,”  which comes in a compact 3.5″  x  7″ red, white and blue cardboard box, with lid copy that reads, in part, “Pocket Size for Students and Professional Artists.” Noting all this, our clever younger heroine also falls in love with the lettering and sketching kit. She arranges to get an identical one for her birthday only days later. (Click images to enlarge them.)

The Speedball kit includes a folded 6″ x 4″ four page Principles of Pen Drawing brochure jammed-packed with useful information for the beginner or the professional artist. So one can easily understand why, aside from the array of intriguing pen holders and pen points —not to mention the shapely female form of the small bottle of waterproof black India ink — the young girl finds it all just too, too attractive to resist.

Cover 1 and 4

Pages 2 and 3

For easier reading, I’ve retyped the drawing tips.

Figure A — Here is an unusually interesting sky technique which distinguishes the artist’s work. The drifting lines and absence of harsh cloud outlines gives a true feeling of atmospheric perspective. Hunt 104 and 102 pens were used.

Figure B — Here the artist demonstrates his knowledge of line, freely conceived, bold and open. Study of this example of bold outline can teach us to realize, as each line is crisply drawn, what its precise value in the total finished pen drawing will be. Hunt 102 and 108 pens were used.

Figure C — Cross-Hatching. Note how sparingly cross-hatching is used. In its application texture and tonal values produce the shape and feel of canvas. The highlights and direction and length of the single lines should be carefully studied to get the relaxed portion of the sails. This is a good demonstration of the quality of line, its combination, or contrasting of line values, and directions as serving the additional function of expressing texture and color. Hunt 102, 107, and 108 pens were used.

Figure D — The Structure of Background. The simplified vertical lines with a minimum of cross-hatching which characterizes the background. The mast itself is treated with strong cross-hatching which moves it forward in proper relation to the background. Hunt 102 and 107 pens were used.

Figure E — Modeling and strong highlights dominate this portion of our study. Note the highlighting of the ropes and the curving side of the barkatine, the heavy blacks in the deep shadows at ship’s bottom. Hunt 102 and 108 pens were used.

Figure F — Here we have an effective combination of stipple both light and heavy, with corresponding undefined and decisive lines to give us the feeling of ground around the wharf. Hunt 102, 107, and 108 pens were used. (Copy writer Earl Horter was an illustrator/painter 1881-1940.)

The young girl, sad to say, eventually gives up trying to master hand lettering — she now says that practicing the strokes proved to be just too, too boring. However, she loves the feel of  the crowquill drawing pens from the kit and, with time, becomes skilled at sketching natural scenes in pen and ink. (And, happily for me, she gives up her girly crushes and substitutes boy crushes instead.)