Friday, July 2, 2010

Teaching Playwrighting

I got a gig teaching playwriting in the Fall, which is comforting (I need the work!) and terrifying (I've never done it before!) and exciting (because I love doing things that scare me a little).

I've been teaching for over 10 years now, at various places (Emerson, Suffolk, BoCo, gigs here and there) but never playwrighting straight on (though Solo Performance at Suffolk and Emerson and my Acting Emphasis at BoCo all deal with the creation of text, it is always in that symbiotic relation to the actor/author/performer. So it's different. The new class will be playwrights, but not necessarily actors.) It's a strange subject to think about teaching, and I'm enjoying the ruminations on the many methods to approach it.

Like most things I've taught, it will not be an academic course, per se, in the sense that there won't be a lot of tests and reports and stuff like that, at least not as far as I see it. I would want the focus to be on writing, of course.

And yet I think we will be reading quite a bit of (short) plays and talking about them. But reading plays and writing them are very different. And for me, I usually get inspired to write a play by reading or seeing or experiencing something else that isn't a play. Seeing a beautiful painting or photograph or image or reading a poem or a news article or a grocery list or a cookbook or a label on some sort of meat product or shampoo bottle. Watching the wind move a branch, or staring at a stain on a rug, or finding something that someone has lost, or overhearing a scrap of a conversation on the subway between bickering lovers. Feeling something very specific and trying to capture that experience.

That's not to say that it's not useful to read plays as well. Yet I like to watch plays more. So perhaps that might be part of the class.

In doing some research/preparation, I re-discovered John Lahr's intro to The Paris Review Interviews' "Playwrights at Work" buried among all my other piles of stuff. I had forgotten about it, but it was such a pleasure to read the opening paragraph again:

"We need stories; but, as the twenty-first century begins, most of the stories we're told on television and in film are corporate creations, calculated to pick the pockets of the public. The theater's charm and its power is that it is the last bastion of the individual voice, where the secrets of the psyche and the sins of the society can be explored in community with others."

Yes. I needed that!

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