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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...

Jan 10, 2008


I've been thinking a lot about things that you can do onstage that don't work on TV or in film. Definitely there is a theater spectacle that won't work in the small box or the big screen and this usually asks for the audience's imagination to play a role. There are pieces missing from the set perhaps or the staging is not literal and we must imagine that actors are in places they are not actually. Sort of like a blue screen when the audience is asked to create--which can make for a much more amazing setting because when one creates it oneself, it is much realer on an individual level. But that's not what I want to talk about, because that is the realm of the director and we writers rely on their genius to create beautiful things and we all rely on the audience to make little leaps with us. And I don't have the vocabulary to discuss it nor can I create it myself or understand why it is so pleasurable to watch a hint of something instead of have everything filled in. What I want to talk about is the current movement that might be called language-based expressionism that I find exciting on the stage. Often a vocabulary of stage imagery and spectacle is also there. Chuck Mee does this a lot or think of Ruhl's house of string in Euridice. But what is just as exciting in my opinion is the non-naturalistic language that characters use. Sheila Callaghan does this. Sarah Ruhl does this. Adam Bock, Anne Washburn, some of Mac Wellman's students. Many of the poets of the stage from Brown do this. And a lot of other people dabble in it. It's become a movement of sorts. When TV and Film are catching up it's one of the last things we have left. (although you might argue that Deadwood or even the Sopranos sometimes leave the realm of naturalism, they don't do it to the extent that it can be done on the stage.) I'm not sure why this works exactly for the stage. And it doesn't always, but when it does, it's amazing. Perhaps it is because we are more willing to suspend disbelief. Perhaps it has something to do with the space between the stage and the people. Some kind of energy transformed through the air. But enough of that. What am I talking about that I'm so excited about? Here are some examples: Some Adam Bock Sheila Callaghan here or here. The blogosphere's own Matthew Freeman here. I can't express this movement as well as I'd like. I'd love to hear what others have to say about it. What it is, where it's going. Here is a site about Mojo Theater, a much more specific delineation. I do think that a playfulness of language and a flexibility of it is necessary to the future of our great American theater. And I'm looking forward to seeing where it will take us.


isaac said...


Good post! And I agree that this is what excites me a lot about stage writing over film/tv writing, although heavily stylized language does crop up from time to time (Juno, Deadwood, The Wire etc.)

SO here's my question for you, sir! You yourself are a writer who is quite gifted at deploing hightened language within your plays. How does it work for you? What do you think is the value of it in your own work? How have you seen it in performance? When is it successful? Unsuccessful? I think you probably have more to add on this subject and, if you do, I'm all ears, because it's part of what I love about working in the theatre.

Adam said...

I think it is unsuccessful when the plot stops and the language goes and goes and goes. Language does not a play make. But it can infuse a play with brightness. If it is all language and no play, it doesn't work. And I'm concerned about going too far that way.

For my own work, I find if the rhythm or style is not right, the play sinks. I know what it takes to make the play (whichever play of mine) sing. And a lot of it has to do with picking up cues and timing and rhythm. That's what keeps the music in the language working. As to the plot, I have to work on that with a different wrench.