please, please don’t

Nowadays, seems like everyone is writing.  Encouragement for self-expression is at an all-time high, an offshoot of praising to the hilt whatever a child does, whether that thing shows talent or intelligence or proficiency.

And much of what I’ve been reading has been a fat waste of my time.

It’s sort of like my favorite Spencer Tracy story: Until I was in my 20s, I thought that the “Spencer Tracy is an actor’s actor” attitude was crap, and that everyone who subscribed to it was in a conspiracy of the elitist.  I never saw in Tracy’s work anything particularly interesting or compelling or advanced, just a guy saying lines, sometimes laughing, sometimes pissed off, but he was lionized by those “in the know.”

And then I saw Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.  I saw an actor so alive in the moment – ironically, he was actively dying at the time – that I was riveted.

That experience not only changed my perception, but also my abilities, it improved my acting and directing work a hundredfold.

But prior to that epiphany, not only didn’t I see his proficiency, I also sincerely doubted its existence.

Nowadays, everyone with a computer and script-formatting software styles themself a playwright.  Everyone thinks that their “play” should be produced or workshopped or at least read by actors in public.  The sheer volume of plays submitted to festivals and workshops and competitions has increased to the point that submitting a play is becoming a sneaky or expensive endeavor, so that those playwrights ultimately under consideration are either the wealthiest or the most tenacious, and while tenacity and wealth are both nice attributes, they have little to do with good or useful playwrighting.

So I’m taking aim and asking a few rhetorical questions that I hope folks will answer honestly before sending their submissions.

Why are you writing? (“Success” and “fame” are wrong answers.)

Why are you writing a playscript?  (“Bringing an issue to the public” is the wrong answer.)

Do you have any experience in the theater other than as audience/critic and if not, what makes you think you understand the elements that go into a theatrical work?  Why does what you’ve written BELONG ON A THEATRICAL STAGE?

Say you have a compelling story, interesting characters, marvelous surprises.  What about your play absolutely must be told in a theater, not a movie or poem or novel?  What demands the unique shorthand and team environment so that the story can be inspiring or transformational for the audience?

And what, about the way you’ve written it, actively involves the audience?

If the answer to any of these questions is, “I dunno,” remake that “play” into a short story or essay or whatever form the story demands to be told.


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