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1000 Playwright Interviews The first interview I posted was on June 3, 2009.  It was Jimmy Comtois.  I decided I would start interview...

Sep 24, 2007

in an email from Johnna Adams: Working on my new plays, but getting the distinct feeling that they will all be noted in my biographies as "minor works." I think about stuff like this. i wonder what I'm leaving behind and if any of it will have lasting power. I also wonder if one knows when one is writing something great. My friend Larry says yes but I'm not so sure. I never quite get the response i expect. What do you think?


August said...

I think its less a question of how a play is received by other people, which always surprises me, but rather how close or far I've come to fully incarnating the original impulse; how much of the demon or angel had been caught and how much has slipped away. Sometimes, I feel like I catch the whole thing, but the thing that's caught is so unruly it appears to others as if the play 'needs work'. And other times, when I've caught less of it, that lesser catch is simpler and smoother and so people go 'ah yes, it's finished!' Not sure if that makes any sense at all...
Also, if Johnna's Angel Eaters is a minor work, the major stuff is going to be pretty mind blowing.

Adam said...

cool, man. I'm not sure I fully agree. I think the initial impulse is the driving force for the first draft but may not make for a great play. it all depends what you do with the critical forces after. (unless you write a perfect first draft. I don't)

really enjoyed your piece last night.

Johnna Adams said...

That Johnna person sounds like a real egotist. Goes about fantasizing about "future biographers" and stuff. :-)

I have one play that I feel is a major work and no one else on the planet agrees with me. People read it, smile politely, and shrug.

I have another play (written right after the 'major' one) that I thought was weak. It won $500 in the Hinton Battle Contest last year and the two directors looking to mount productions of my trilogy think its my best play. Boggles my mind. I barely remember writing it and it sat in a drawer for a year after I finished it. Scratching my head. People really like it though-- much better than it's major older sister.

Then, I have a few plays that I thought would be major and there are people who agree with me, moreorless.

I am not a good judge. Sometimes I can tell. Sometimes I am wrong. And sometimes I am surprised. Mostly I can tell, though.

Also, I tend to like a play best when it is a darling baby first draft. The 'older' it gets, the more I dislike it. Then it hits a surly teenage phase where I really dislike it. Then, sometimes I like it again as an adult play. So, depending on where my relationship is with the play, I will have varying opinions on how good it is-- sometimes wildly varying opinions (total crap/total genius).

With my writing, I tend to fall closer to Gus' assessment. Usually the extent to which I write the play I meant to write in the first draft is the extent to which the final play is successful. I am not a strong re-writer, so it is better for my work to go back to earlier impulses. There are always exceptions to this, of course. And I will often cannibalize older one acts or UFOs (unfinished objects) to create new plays. That's closer to what Adam is talking about.

Mark S. said...

Hi Adam,

I've been reading a lot of Joe Orton lately. Like a madman I've been reading a lot of Joe Orton lately. In John Lahr's biography of him, Lahr includes a letter from playwright Sir Terence Rattigan to Orton written after he'd just seen "Entertaining Mr. Sloane". It reads in part:

"Dear Joe Orton,
I don't think you've written a masterpiece--and you wouldn't want me to say that you had--but I do think you have written the most exciting and stimulating first play (is it?) that I've seen in thirty (odd) years' playgoing.
"I think you *will* write a masterpiece before the decade is out--provided, always, that you don't try to. ..."

I found that last sentence very very inspiring. Orton of course went on to write "What the Butler Saw" arguably his comic masterpiece.

As ever, thanks for the blog, Adam!


Adam said...

Thanks Mark, Gus and Johnna. Great stuff all.

I have orton's diary that I am afraid to read. they should cal it "diary of a man who will blugeoned to death with a hammer by his lover"