The Music Scene

October 2, 2014

Screaming Females performing at the Bowery BallroomMarissa Paternoster, prone, prodigiously shooting shards of skronk out to the audience (Baltimore City Paper 10/1/14)

I sent this note to the Music Editor at City Paper: “In the photo Ms. Paternoster is ‘supine’ (on her back). If she were ‘prone,’ as the caption has it, she’d be playing her guitar face-down on the floor. Difficult, to say the least . . .”

The only reason I know this is that many, many years’ ago, during army basic training, I qualified on the M-1 rifle range from the “prone” (belly down) position. But I’m ‘way out of touch in this modern music world. Can someone please tell me what the word “skronk” means?

Anton Chekhov on Playwriting

August 13, 2013

Adapted from Playwrights on Playwriting

Edited by Toby Cole

Chekov3Try to be original in your play and as clever as possible; but don’t be afraid to show yourself foolish; we must have freedom of thinking, and only he is an emancipated thinker who is not afraid to write foolish things. Don’t round things out, don’t polish — but be awkward and impudent. Brevity is the sister of talent.

The large number of revisions need not trouble you, for the more of a mosaic the work is, the better. The characters stand to gain by this. The play will be worthless if all the characters resemble you . . . . And who is interested in knowing my life or yours, my thoughts and your thoughts? Give people people, and not yourself.

Avoid “choice” diction. The language should be simple and forceful.

The first act may last as long as a whole hour, but the rest should not be more than twenty minutes each. The crux of the play is the third act, but it must not be so strong a climax as to kill the first act.

I like the “vaudeville.” It begins in a very original way . . . . In one-act things you must write nonsense — there lies their strength.

(T)here is an excessive hysteria in the language. (The character) must not use witticisms; but you make all of them fall into this habit; they keep playing on words, and that tires the attention a little; it is too flashy; the language of your characters is like a white silk dress on which the sun is always shining in full force and which it hurts the eyes to look at.

(I)t ought to be mentioned in the first or second act that she has attempted to poison herself; then, after that hint, the poisoning in the third act will not seem so startling and will be more in place. (He) talks too much; such characters ought to be shown bit by bit among others, for in any case such people are everywhere merely incidental — both in life and on the stage.

One usually dislikes a play while writing it, but afterward it grows on one. Let others judge and make decisions.

If you’d like to read what playwrights such as Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, Joyce Carol Oates and others 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.


John Guare On Playwriting II

April 25, 2012

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

Interviewed by Anne Cattaneo

In college I was editor of the literary magazine and wrote sensitive short stories overly inspired by Flaubert. Our English teacher actually knew Katherine Anne Porter; he showed her a short story I had written. She told him she would pay fifteen hundred dollars for the first sentence: “After Pinky vomited, Ingrid Aldamine sat up in bed.” She liked the rhythm. She didn’t mention anything about the rest. However, if I could write one sentence that an actual famous writer would comment on—wow! Those few crumbs were enough for me. But no more stories. I felt I was betraying a higher calling by writing mere short stories or novels. I believed plays to be on a higher and rarer plane. I still do. Novelists were only a couple of hundred years old. Playwrights were thousands of years old. If I was going to be a writer, it had to be plays.

In 1949, I was eleven. My pal, Bobby, and I read a story in Life magazine about two boys spending their summer vacation making a movie of Tom Sawyer. We had no camera but Bobby had a garage. I immediately wrote three plays. Between shanghaiing kids on the block and rounding up puppets, we got together a cast. We then called Life magazine to alert them to this great story. The Time/Life, operator said hello. We have this great story of two boys spending their summer vacation . . . Again, Time/Life, to whom do you wish to speak? No, you see, these two boys . . . Click!

We lowered our sights and called the local Long Island paper: Two boys are putting on plays and—wait! We’re giving all the proceeds to the orphans of Long Beach! Oh yeah? they said. On the last day of our performances, a big black car pulled up to Bobby’s garage. A photographer took our pictures; they published a story about an eleven-year-old playwright. For my twelfth birthday, my parents gave me a portable typewriter because I was a playwright; I still use it.

I’m the only person I know who benefited from the McCarthy period. In 1950 a play I read about, again in Life magazine (obviously my link to the world), opened on Broadway. It was called The Wisteria Trees. Joshua Logan had taken The Cherry Orchard and set it down South. What a good idea! It made me read The Cherry Orchard. What a great play! I knew about Tennessee Williams, again from a story in Life. I even saw the movie of A Streetcar Named Desire . . . . I started reading Chekhov’s plays and loved Three Sisters. I remembered what Joshua Logan had done with The Wisteria Trees. Hmmm. I typed out the first act of my play on my new official playwright’s typewriter—everytime those girls moaned for “Moscow,” I typed in “New Orleans,” hearing the aching, yearning voice of Kim Stanley, whom I knew from television in New York. That was playwriting. Neurotic, misunderstood Southerners trying to get to New Orleans.

It taught me about typing. I learned more about basic play structure poring over the original cast albums of shows . . . the brainstorm that the second song was usually the “want” song. And how in Guys and Dolls the need for a spot for the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York was technically no different than those three sisters yearning to get to Moscow. The need made the story. Creating the arc and completing it.

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 three of the John Guare series will post next Wednesday.


John Osborne On Playwriting

October 19, 2011

Adapted from: Playwrights On Playwriting

Edited by Toby Cole, Hill and Wang, New York, 1983

Part of my job is to try and keep people interested in their seats for about two and a half hours; it is a very difficult thing to do, and I am proud of having been even fairly successful at it.

They go to the theatre because the guvnor’s wife went on Monday night and said it was a jolly good show. I simply want to point out that my job has not been an easy one to learn, merely because I have had what looks like an easy success. I shall go on learning as long as there is a theatre standing in England, but I didn’t learn the job from the Daily Mail or the Spectator.

I want to make people feel, to give them lessons in feeling. They can think afterward.

Timing is an artistic problem. It is the prime theatrical problem. You can learn it, but it cannot be taught. It must be felt.

If you are any good at all at what you set out to do, you know whether it is good and rely on no one to tell you so.

It is not true to say that a play does not “come alive” until it is actually in performance. Of course it comes alive — to the man who has written it, just as those three symphonies must have come alive to Mozart . . .

At every performance of any of my plays, there are always some of these deluded pedants, sitting there impatiently, waiting for the plugs to come singing in during natural breaks in the action. If the texture is too complex, they complain that too much is going on for them to follow. There they sit, these fashionable turnips, the death’s head of imagination and feeling, longing for the interval and its over-projected drawls of ignorance. Like the B.B.C. critics, they either have no ear at all, or they can never listen to themselves.

All art is organized evasion. You respond to Lear or Max Miller — or you don’t. I can’t teach the paralyzed to move their limbs. Shakespeare didn’t describe symptons or offer explanations. Neither did Chekhov.

But there are other questions to be asked — how do people live inside (their) houses? What is their relationship with one another, and with their children, with their neighbors and the people across the street, or on the floor above? What are the things that are important to them, that make them care, give them hope and anxiety? What kind of language do they use to one another? What is the meaning of the work they do? Where does the pain lie? What are their expectations? What moves them, brings them together, makes them speak out? Where is the weakness, the loneliness? Where are the things that are unrealized? Where is the strength? Experiment means asking questions, and these are all the questions of socialism.

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.


Gertrude Stein On Playwriting

September 7, 2011

Adapted from: Something Between Voodoo and Bullfighting

The New York Times Book Review, May 24, 1987

When I write something that somebody else can see then it is a play for me.

(Performance) to make the looking have an element of moving.

 It begins well but then it begins to get funny and one must not be too funny.

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.


Edward Albee on Playwriting

July 27, 2011

Adapted from: Who’s Afraid of Edward Albee?

Joe Levine, Johns Hopkins Magazine, June, 1984

The action is the subject of the play. When people ask me what my plays are about, I say, “Well, it’s about what happens from the beginning to the end.” Symbolism, metaphor, and meaning are not my concern — they should be inevitable results of the action, not something that is put in or layered on . . . I said that to someone a long time ago, when I had been asked once too often why I chose the names George and Martha (as in Washington), and so now I hear it coming back at me. Well, it’s a perfectly sensible explanation, if you think about it, but the point is that I made the implications up afterward. I also discovered after I wrote the play that it examines humanism and totalitarianism, but I would have failed utterly if, during the course of a performance, someone in the audience nudged their buddy and whispered, “Hey, this play examines humanism and totalitarianism.”

People have such different vocabularies and rhythms. Particularly rhythm: Rhythm almost by itself is the basis for regionalism in speaking style. But if you cover the names of the characters in an O’Neill play, you can’t tell who’s talking.

You hear a play, even when you read it on the page.

Dialogue, like music, consists of sound and silence.

Subtext . . . is everything about the life of your character which is not revealed in the play — and you create it because God knows when you’ll need to use it .

All creative people are schizophrenic. We see ourselves doing things at the same time that we are actually doing them. If you’re making love, you back off and see it as a play. It can be kind of unnerving at first — you wonder, “Can I get back?” Well, you can. It’s a healthy kind of schizophrenia.

If you limit yourself to what you know you can do, you’ll never grow. The very best plays, apart from the exceedingly rare absolute masterpieces, are wonderful failures.

When you sit down to write, you’re writing the first play ever written by anyone. At that point, clear everything out of your head, be alone, and hear your own voice.

Know the competition from the beginning of history (and) steal shrewdly. If you steal well, they’ll say you were “influenced.” If you do it badly, they’ll call it plagiarism. But it should never really be plagiarism, because the natural playwright, by some process of alchemy, will synthesize his influence into his own voice.

Never trust anyone who tells you, “That’s too complex, simplify that.” Listen if they tell you it’s unclear. But if they say it’s too complex, then you’ve probably got something good, and you should fight to keep it. They’re just trying to make it safe and easy.

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.


Photo Quote

March 12, 2010
Once you really commence to see things, then
you really commence to feel things.”

Edward Steichen, 1879-1973