Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Devil and the Deep Rue Sea

First post of the New Year – huzzah! I hope everyone had a good 2009 or that y’all are at least looking forward to the opportunities of 2010. I find myself a might reflective.

As I sit to work on writing a play, I am struck by the role of the playwright (and, yes, I’m procrastinating). It seems to me, to be completely reductive of all of theatre history; a play has either been considered the Bible or a cookbook, metaphorically speaking.

If you think a play is the Bible, then the playwright is God and the play is the word of God. In short, perfection not to be trifled with. For some time (and in some circles today) the prevailing notion was that the most perfect production of Shakespeare was the one you imagined as you sat quietly reading his plays at home (most popular reads of the 19th century? The Bible, followed by the works of Mr. Billy Shakes). It’s not terribly surprising that we want our playwrights to be gods – we want our doctors, our political leaders, even our parents to be gods too. Of course, they aren’t gods – at all - and to insist they are puts a tremendous amount of pressure on a mere mortal. In case of the playwright, this expectation assumes your play must be perfect right out of the gate. If it’s not, the faithful might question your glory, and refuse to worship. Ok, the metaphor is stretching a little, but I think you get the idea. Theatres – especially in our fair city – are loathe to try an audience’s faith with anything untested. So, new plays aren’t done, new playwrights aren’t developed, and modern American theatre falls to ruins like the Temple at Delphi. It’s a theatre blog, I’m allowed to be dramatic.

However, if you think a play more akin to a cookbook or a recipe, then you acknowledge it is not the finished product. You don’t read a recipe and say, “yum, delicious! I am full and fulfilled.” If a play is a recipe, it means you need other ingredients, you need time to make it, and then, when it’s made, you need people to share it with before you (and they) can say “yum, delicious” or “needs salt.” A recipe allows for a new and unique experience each time you cook – the ability to add a little more basil or take out the dairy for your lactose-intolerant friends. Perhaps most importantly, a recipe allows you to fuck it up, cause you can always try again. Playwrights need to be able to take risks, and fail. They, of course, also need to learn from their mistakes – you can get away with mixing up the sugar and salt once. More than once and you might just suck at cooking.

Take playwrights out of the temple. Let’s meet them in the kitchen.