Athol Fugard On Playwriting

October 31, 2012

Paris Review, The Art of Theater No. 8

Interviewed by Lloyd Richards

By eighteen, by the time I went to university, I knew that somehow my life was going to be about putting words on paper. Originally I thought I was going to write the great South African novel, then poetry, and only when I was twenty-four or five did the thought of theater come into my head. That obviously relates to my meeting my wife Sheila, who, when I met her, was an out-of-work actress.

I can’t think of a single one of my plays that does not represent a coincidence between an external and an internal event. Something outside of me, outside even my own life, something I read in a newspaper or witness on the street, something I see or hear, fascinates me. I see it for its dramatic potential. That external event affords me the opportunity to deal with what has been building up inside me. For example, the writing of The Bloodknot. I remember the genesis of that, even though it happened twenty-five years ago. I am singularly prone to that most human of all diseases—guilt. I’ve had my fair measure of it. But the image that generated The Bloodknot had absolutely nothing to do with the racial situation in South Africa. The seminal moment was my returning home late one night and going into the room where my brother was sleeping. My brother is a white man like myself. I looked down at him, and saw in that sleeping body and face, all his pain. Life had been very hard on him, and it was just written on his flesh. It was a scalding moment for me. I was absolutely overcome by my sense of what time had done to what I remembered as a proud and powerful body. I saw the pain: that is the seminal image in The Bloodknot.

I was trying to examine . . . . the existential guilt that I feel when another person suffers, is victimized, and I can do nothing about it. South Africa afforded me the most perfect device for examining this guilt without going into the area of the absurd as Ionesco did by giving a man a rhinoceros’s horn.

I got to know an Afrikaner in Port Elizabeth who had been committed to the struggle for decency and dignity and human rights, but who was suddenly suspected of being a police informer. His name was Piet. Piet’s story gave me a chance to deal with the fact that you cannot simply dispose of the Afrikaner as the villain in the South African situation. If that’s the only sense you have of the Afrikaner in South Africa at this moment, your thinking is too naive, and you are never really going to understand what is happening in that country. You’ll never understand how we landed in the present situation or what’s going to come out of it. The terrible and challenging thing about the Afrikaner is his complexity: he is not just bad; there’s good as well. The case of Piet Bezuidenhout occurred at a time when I was ready to put an Afrikaner—not a hero, but a survivor—up on the stage. That was my internal provocation.

If you’d like to read what people such as Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, Joyce Carol Oates and other famous — and not so famous — playwrights have to say about the art and craft of writing for the stage, type “On Playwriting” into the small sidebar window and tap the “Search” button.

Part II of this Athol Fugard series will post next Wednesday.

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Today’s Gag

October 29, 2012

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 and jantoo.com by clicking the sidebar links.

Copyright © 2012 Jim Sizemore.

Hip Shots

October 26, 2012

Flag Change X

By Jim Sizemore

(Click images for larger views.)

The “Hip Shots” series of 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 may be arranged as a post. If you’d like additional tips for using the technique, or to submit your own images, drop a question or note in the “Leave a Comment” section, below. This feature will appear most Fridays.

Copyright © 2012 Jim Sizemore.

Neil Simon On Playwriting XVII

October 24, 2012

Adapted From Paris Review, The Art of Theater No. 10

Interviewed by James Lipton

I’m an uptight man who’s been married to three liberated women. Joan was the first liberated woman I ever met and the most unconventional. She introduced me to more ways of looking at life than I’d ever dreamed of. She was more adventuresome than I’d ever been . . . . Marsha was the same way. She was a feminist and had me marching in parades with a flag, yelling for women’s rights . . . .  Diane is an environmentalist, an ecologist, and also a fighter for the rights of women. Go over all the plays. With the exception of The Odd Couple and The Sunshine Boys, you’ll find that the women are not only stronger but more interesting characters than the men.

I never feel threatened by women. I have enormous respect for them. I would also usually rather be with them than with men. I’m not much of a male bonder. I have male friends, obviously. I belong to tennis clubs. But in a social situation, I’d generally rather talk to a woman because it’s like a play—you’re getting the opposite point of view. You talk to a man, you’re getting your own point of view. It becomes redundant. But when you’re with a woman, that’s when the sparks fly, that’s when it’s most interesting.

I think I’ve been influenced by films, which have been influenced by television and commercials. Today you can see a one-minute commercial with about forty setups in it. There’s a need to pace things differently because the audience’s attention span has grown shorter. Biloxi Blues was the first major example of that because I had fourteen set changes. What also helped speed things along was that I started writing plays with larger casts, so there were many more entrances and exits . . . . I am influenced by new technologies and techniques, but that doesn’t mean I’m following the fashions. It just means that I’m moving to another phase in my career—I’m becoming less literal and more abstract.

I don’t go back to see my plays again, because they belong to someone else—to the actors and the audience. That process happens in a series of events. First, you finish writing the play and everyone reads it. Then you go into rehearsal. Day by day, it slowly becomes the director’s and the actors’. They’re still asking me questions. I’m still participating. I’m still the father of these children. They get onstage and soon the play is finished . . . .  After the play opens, I’m almost embarrassed to go backstage, because it’s the place that belongs to the director and the actors . . . .  It’s a very, very sad feeling for me. What happens eventually—it may sound cold—is that I disown them. I have no interest in seeing the plays again . . . . So, you give it up and go on to the next play.

Every time I write a play it’s the beginning of a new life for me . . . . I’m enjoying these days of writing, even though I see that the sun is setting.

If you’d like to read what people such as Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, Joyce Carol Oates and other famous — and not so famous — playwrights have to say about the art and craft of writing for the stage, type “On Playwriting” into the small sidebar window and tap the “Search” button.

This is the last installment of the Neil Simon series.


Today’s Gag

October 22, 2012

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 and jantoo.com by clicking the sidebar links.

Copyright © 2012 Jim Sizemore.

Hip Shots

October 19, 2012

Clouds VI

By Jim Sizemore

(Click images for larger views.)

The “Hip Shots” series of 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 may be arranged as a post. If you’d like additional tips for using the technique, or to submit your own images, drop a question or note in the “Leave a Comment” section, below. This feature will appear most Fridays.

Copyright © 2012 Jim Sizemore.

									

Neil Simon On Playwriting XVI

October 17, 2012

Adapted From Paris Review, The Art of Theater No. 10

Interviewed by James Lipton

I’d call myself a great audience. I’m appreciative of good work, no matter what its form—comedy, drama, musical. I saw Amadeus four times. A Streetcar Named Desire I could see over and over. When I’m in England I go to some of the most esoteric English plays, plays that never even come over here, and I’m just amazed at them. I’ve recently caught up with the works of Joe Orton. I love Tom Stoppard’s plays Jumpers and Travesties, and I admire the work of Peter Schaffer. If it’s good theater, yes, I’m the best audience. I’m out there screaming.

I like the fact that one can touch on subjects one wouldn’t have dealt with in years gone by. The things that Lenny Bruce got arrested for you can find on any cable station today. Television situation comedy doesn’t seem as funny to me as what Chaplin and Buster Keaton did without words. There are a few good comedians, but by and large I don’t think comedy is a lot better today.

I think to say fuck once in an entire play is much more shocking than to say it sixty times. Four of the last five plays I’ve written took place in the thirties and forties, when profanity wasn’t used on stage—or in the home. The fifth play, Rumors, is contemporary and it’s filled with profanity. But I don’t need profanity. I love language and I’d rather find more interesting ways to use it than take the easy way out.

I don’t find television comedy very funny—because it’s hardly ever about anything important. I think the weightier comedy is, the funnier it is. To me, Chaplin’s films are masterpieces. Remember him running after a truck with the red warning flag that has fallen off it?

I think Mel Brooks is one of the funniest people in the world, but when he makes a picture like Spaceballs, he’s telling us, This is foolishness. No one is in danger, so the audience knows it’s too inconsequential to laugh at. But when he does a picture like High Anxiety or Young Frankenstein there’s something at stake. He’s taken a frightening idea and twisted it, so we’re able to laugh at it.

As surely as two plus two is four, the things you write in the play must add up to some kind of logical figure. In Broadway Bound, when Stan is teaching Eugene the craft of comedy, Eugene says, “It’s just a comedy sketch. Does it have to be so logical? We’re not drawing the plans for the Suez Canal,” and Stan says, “Yes we are. It’s not funny if it’s not believable.”

If you’d like to read what people such as Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, Joyce Carol Oates and other famous — and not so famous — playwrights have to say about the art and craft of writing for the stage, type “On Playwriting” into the small sidebar window and tap the “Search” button.

The final installment of this Neil Simon series will post next Wednesday.