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.


Today’s Gag

October 29, 2012
Copyright © 2012 Jim Sizemore.

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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
Copyright © 2012 Jim Sizemore.

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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.


Today’s Gag

October 15, 2012
Copyright © 2012 Jim Sizemore.

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One-Minute Memoir

October 12, 2012

Catwoman Vs. Antwoman

By Susan Middaugh

In her movie, Catwoman, Halle Berry looks Amazonian fabulous. Her performance is a working endorsement of kick boxing, tight-fitting leather pants and halter tops.The story line supports the idea that felines are not only her friends, but they also possess magical powers to transform Halle’s timid character into a powerful woman.

My experience as Antwoman was different. Unlike Halle’s feline friend, Midnight, who rescues her from drowning, the small brown ants in my kitchen and bathroom may only be described as pests.

Alone and in groups, the ants crawled across my counters, floor and dining room table. Crawl suggests subservience. These ants were bold. If I sprayed them, many stopped dead in their tracks, but others returned another day. Some have traveled down my arm and up my leg. I felt invaded.

My sister, Tricia, would probably say it was my fault. You could eat off Tricia’s floors. Housekeeping is further down my list of priorities. Once a week is fine, sometimes every two. The occasional dish in the sink, a quick swipe of a sponge tends to be my MO.  When I asked Scott, my neighbor, a single dad raising three daughters, if he had ants at his house, he said yes, but they went away after he cleaned up the kitchen after every meal. Oh, I thought. Personal responsibility. If he could do it… A change of habits was in order. Out came the bleach, ammonia, and another can of Raid to spray the back door and yard. Not exactly a 12-step program, but I felt I was making progress. The house was cleaner, but the invasion continued. Where were my weapons of mass destruction?

In Catwoman, Halle fights with her feet. She jumps over rooftops, slides down drain pipes and generally kicks butt. Halle also uses a whip with dramatic effect.To get rid of ants, it’s best to use your fingers to squish the critters one by one, a defensive technique when they stroll across the bathroom sink. After awhile, though, this method had limited effect. The body count was piling up. It was embarrassing to see stacks of what looked like raisins in the corners of my kitchen and on the bathroom shelves. I could sweep them away with a broom, but the ants had cousins.

It was time for desperate measures. I went to the public library, then to a local  hardware store in Paradise, a section of Catonsville, Maryland, for my new weapon of choice: boric acid. Halle would have snipped the container with her sharp nails. But I used a scissor and started sprinkling the white powder on the floor of the kitchen, on a ledge above the sink, and in the bathroom. It seems to be working.

I’d like to say Halle was my inspiration to get tough with these intruders. But it was really the ant that hiked across my toothbrush.

Copyright © 2012 Susan Middaugh.

Susan Middaugh is a self-employed business writer in Baltimore who also writes the occasional personal essay. Her essays have appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Baltimore Sun and on the website New-Works.org. Susan is also a playwright with short and full length works produced in the United States, Canada and England. The One Act Play Depot in Canada has published her short play, Such Good Neighbors. Several of her personal essays have appeared on this blog. To find them, simply type her name in the little search window, or check out the archives in the sidebar, beginning in April of 2009. Also in the sidebar under the Blogroll, Business and Writing labels, there are links to Susan’s website, Have Pen Will Travel.

Doodlemeister is looking for short memory pieces up to 500 words, on any subject, in any style — as long as it happened to you. Whatever the subject, we have a bias for the lighthearted tone. If need be, we’ll help you to edit and/or cut your piece. If you’d like to submit a story, please contact us at jimscartoons@aol.com 


Neil Simon On Playwriting XV

October 10, 2012

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

Interviewed by James Lipton

Walter Kerr gave me one of the best pieces of criticism I’ve ever had. In the first line of his review of The Star-Spangled Girl, he said, “Neil Simon didn’t have an idea for a play this year, but he wrote it anyway.” That was exactly what had happened.

A week prior to the opening of the play you know if it’s going to work or not .  . . . (T)he opening night of Little Me, Bob Fosse and I were standing in the back of the theater. The producers had allowed a black-tie audience to come from a dinner to the theater. They’d eaten, they’d had drinks, they all knew each other—that’s the worst audience you can get. About three-quarters of the way through the first act, a man got up, so drunk he could hardly walk, and staggered up the aisle looking for the men’s room. As he passed Bob and me he said, This is the worst piece of crap I’ve seen since My Fair Lady! Go figure out what that means.

Billy Wilder, whom I respect enormously, once confided in me that drama’s a lot easier than comedy. He found some of the brilliant dramas he wrote, like Sunset Boulevard, much easier to write than the comedies. Comedies are relentless, especially a farce like Some Like It Hot. Rumors was the most difficult play I ever wrote because not only did every moment of that play have to further the story, complicate it and keep the characters in motion—literal motion, swinging in and out of doors— but the audience had to laugh at every attempt at humor. You don’t have five minutes where two people can sit on a sofa and just say, What am I doing with my life, Jack? Am I crazy? Why don’t I get out of this? You can do that in a drama. You can’t do it in a farce.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I went to the theater a lot. There was always a Tennessee Williams play to see or a great English play. It was such an education. I learned more from bad plays than from good ones. Good plays are a mystery. You don’t know what it is that the playwright did right. More often than not you see where a work fails. One of the things I found interesting was that a lot of comedy came from drunks on the stage. If a character was drunk he was funny. I thought, Wouldn’t it be great to write characters that are as funny as drunks but are not drunk. In other words, bring out the outrageousness of them and the only way you can do that is to put them in such a tight corner that they have to say what’s really on their minds. That’s where the humor comes from.

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 XVI of the Neil Simon series will post next Wednesday.