form follows content?

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Recently, I participated in an ekphrastic exercise in support of another playwright’s new textbook on playwrighting.

Given the current mashups and rock operas based on classical plays – not to mention a report on page 19 of the July/August 2013 American Theatre – I’m guessing that a lot of playwrights use other artworks as inspiration.  So why were we there?

The exercise was meant to be in aid of a new way of playwrighting, of making new theatrical forms.  I’m still trying to figure out what’s wrong with the old ones.  Perhaps the question isn’t form, but content?  MFA programs are churning out technically good writers all over the place, and everybody else seems to think they have a play in them, whether or not they can write believable, much less useful, dialogue.  Society has evolved to a point where we not only crave but expect approbation like toddlers in toilet-training.  Yes, to extend a less-than-pleasant metaphor, what we playwrights excrete (and where and when and how) is important, it’s an indicator of our health and well-being or lack thereof.  But our poo is interesting only to our parents and possibly doctors, and our writing – no matter how well-formed – is the same.

The question is, is a work that makes you say, “Wow, that was good writing” enough to ask the time and attention of readers, producers, theater practitioners, audience?  Or, like any other classical art, does good writing constitute only the framework for the real work, that which includes expression of our innermost beings TO AN END?  Shouting, I know, but as it’s the crux of the matter (another sentence you can finish yourself).

I reiterate, if you make something gorgeous, hooray for you, hooray for your family and near-and-dear-others.  Just like the kid with the properly placed poo, it’s a time to celebrate.  It’s NOT a time to ask me to read it or mount it into a production or attend a performance.  If, however, you’ve expressed something that not only strikes a common chord, but also contributes to the evolution of society – be that society anywhere from hermitdom to nuclear family to humankind – then, you’re doing the job of work.  Entertainment?  Leave that for movie theaters and TV and podcasts and whathaveyou.  If you’re asking a team of folks to come together in realtime to utilize your blueprint – because that’s what a play IS, a blueprint and nothing more (and nothing less) – and another set of teams of people to not only show up but share air and energy not only with that first team, but also with your underlying work, then it had better be more than a beautifully formed piece of poo.

One more time.  If you have nothing much of your own to say, nothing to construct, to contribute, then why are you writing?

For further reading, check this out.

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