Monday night was the last meeting of my eight-week Advanced Playwriting workshop at South Coast Repertory. Like most good things it was over far too soon.
I haven’t attempted to write a play since my brief love affair with Beckett as an undergrad back in the 80s. That attempt at a degree didn’t take. Neither did my playwriting career. Though playwriting never completely fell off my radar (nothing ever does), I’ve been so intensely focused on screenwriting for the last ten years there’s been little room for anything else.
Fortunately for me, accomplished playwright, director, and fellow UCLA MFA scribe Cecilia Fannon teaches playwriting right in my back yard at SCR. Her students gush about her and now I can confirm — she really is that good.
So what have I learned from my little foray into playwriting?
Playwriting is hard. Like all other kinds of writing when you are just starting out, expect a steep learning curve and sore writing muscles after your first few workouts.
Playwriting is easy. Sometimes when I get into a groove, I just go. And there isn’t a worry about wrapping up a scene in two pages or keeping up a breakneck pace of the plot as in screenwriting.
I’m no expert. I constantly felt like I was playing catch-up in workshop critiques. My entire frame of reference for ten years has been movies. Now someone is talking to me about Pinter. Okay — I better find out what a pinter is.
I’m better at playwriting than I ever thought I would be. I have to say — it’s really nice to try something new and find out you’re pretty good at it. Maybe I got lucky with my first play. I probably couldn’t have written this well ten years ago. I’ve had a lot of practice writing tight, developing character, shaping story. Some of that translates.
Having a live audience laugh at your jokes and applaud at the end is highly addicting. After years of being picked apart in workshops, it’s supremely gratifying to hear people react in all the right places. Listening to my writer’s group gasp at the realization of the final twist in my play was something I’ll always treasure.
A live reading tells you more about your work than a typical workshop critique. There is some alchemical reaction between page, actor and audience I don’t quite understand yet, but I have to say — I had no idea what I had written until I heard it performed. It’s the difference between drawing a technical schematic of an atom bomb and actually setting one off.