John Guare On Playwriting IX

June 13, 2012

Adapted From Paris Review, The Art of Theater No. 9

Interviewed by Anne Cattaneo

I deal with reviews by not reading reviews, and that’s a truth. My wife reads them and gives me the gist of them so I know what the quality of my life will be the next year. Get that teaching job.

In the theater, the playwright holds the copyright—actually owns the play and only leases the right to its use for a specific length of time to the producer. In the movies, the producer holds the copyright. The writer is always only a hired hand. In the movies, the writer is paid up front. In the theater, the writer takes his or her chances.

I’ve been lucky. I’ve worked only with people I admired. When the producers of Atlantic City balked at my being on the set every day, Louis Malle gave the classic answer: If you have someone here for the hair, why not somebody for the words? Writing for the movies is like working on a musical. You have to recognize and accept the collaborative aspects before you start. You have to recognize what work the camera will do, what work you must not do. You underwrite a scene in the movies. The camera will pick up textures of reality that in a play would be the business of words.

Theater poetry is not just highfalutin language . . . . Theater poetry is response to the large event, events that force the poetry. It took me a very long time to realize the mythic size of Ibsen, to see that the mechanics of plot in an Ibsen play function the same way that fate does in Greek tragedy. Truth does not exist merely in the actor feeling the heat of the teacup. Behavioral naturalism belongs to television acting and movie acting. Theater acting should be closer to Cyrano de Bergerac or Falstaff or Edmund the Bastard. Or Ethel Merman. It’s about finding truth on the large scale with the recognition of the actor as performer. In real life we’re all such performers. Naturalism wants to reduce us. Naturalism always seems to be the most unnatural thing.

A novelist writes a manuscript, gives it to the agent or the editor, who sends it back and forth until the publisher accepts it, and one day the author finds the book in stores. But a play—a playwright has not only that wonderful, brutal period of solitude writing the play, but then the day comes when you’re ready to show your work to the theater’s equivalent of a publisher, the producer, and the theater’s equivalent of an editor, the director. You begin working with the designers who will provide the visual entry that introduces the audience to the world you’ve made. You start casting and choosing actors—a process much like the painter choosing the necessary tubes of paint and what consistency and what color they should be. Ahh! With a new shade an entire world opens up.

Each play is a part of the one long play that is a playwright’s life. I know the way each play came out of the previous play. People don’t have radical shifts of consciousness in the course of their lifetimes. I can look at a play I wrote at two a.m. in 1963 the night before I went into the Air Force—The Loveliest Afternoon of the Year—and say, Isn’t that funny. I’m still dealing with the issues in that play—identity, faith, the desperation it takes people to get through their lives, the lunatic order we try to put on the chaos of life and, technically, how to get the play out of the kitchen sink and hurl it into the Niagara Falls of life.

This is the last installment of the John Guare series. 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.

Hip Shots

November 18, 2011

Occupy Baltimore

By Whydham Standing

(Click images for larger versions.)

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 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.

Sam Shepard On Playwriting IV

May 25, 2011

Adapted from: The Magic Theater

By Michael Ver Meulen, Esquire, February, 1980

There’s a way of just improvising a play, as an actor would improvise a scene, and I’ve discovered how to do that. I have tons of stuff that I just haven’t shown ‘cause now the values have changed. Along the road, that improvisation has to come to terms with something and make it cognizant. And that something is not explainable. For instance, if we start juggling glasses we could juggle glasses and carry on and we could juggle glasses all day long, but then what, then what’s going on underneath?

There’s more to it than just getting off as an artist, because, you know, anybody can make a piece of art. It’s not hard. And anybody can have that piece of art admired by any number of people. But what happened between those other people and the artist? Is there really a sense of responsibility in the relationship between the thing that you make and the people who come in touch with it?

The picture is moving in the mind and being allowed to move more and more freely as you follow it. The following is the writing part. In other words, I’m taking notes in as much detail as possible on an event that’s happening somewhere inside me. The extent to which I can actually follow the picture and not intervene with my own two cents’ worth is where inspiration and craftsmanship hold their real meaning. If I find myself pushing the character in a certain direction, it’s almost always a sure sign that I’ve fallen back on technique and lost the real thread of the thing.

You can only face so much, and then you turn away. Writers are very adept at covering that up; they cover it up in all kinds of disguises. But when it comes right down to it, what you’re really listening to in a writer is that: his ability to face himself.

I certainly don’t want to depress the hell out of people, but I think you’ve got to go through the night to get to the day, and I haven’t gone all the way through the night yet.

Dealing with the media makes you believe that you have an importance beyond your actual importance. It leads to a lot of false assumptions about who you are.

It’s pretty hard to make a living as a playwright, I mean, in terms of the rising price of gasoline and all that shit.

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.

Dialogue Doodle

November 26, 2009

The following bit of dialogue was part of a conversation (political debate?) I overheard recently at a local diner. The brief fragment that I caught, while standing and waiting for my lunch buddy to show up, involved the recent publication of a very popular book by an unsuccessful candidate for high office. My friend arrived and we were seated several booths away from the young couple in question, but as we ate I could still hear their voices, now coming through as only a soft rumble. From the tone I surmised that the Young Woman continued to dominate, as she had in the snippet that I had earlier overheard. Here it is:

Young Man: What I can’t understand is why the press gives that jerk so much attention.

Young Woman: Well, let’s say that Katie Couric and all those other news hounds  had ignored her — how would you have known that she’s a jerk?

Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore.

Wild Things

October 19, 2009


“When you hide another story in a story, that’s

the story I am telling the children.”

—Maurice Sendak

YouTube video about being an

illustrator of children’s books.

Today’s Gag

October 10, 2009

Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore.



Today’s Gag

May 4, 2009
0905nudityblog2Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore.



Today’s Gag

April 5, 2009
0904thatblog2Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore.