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On Dialogue

a Playwriting Class

I consider a large part of my National Playwright Residency Program residency at Marin Theatre Company to be the continual asking and answering of this question: Why theatre?

I believe that it is the energetic and open asking and answering that keeps our art form relevant, responsive, and inspired.

This series of videos will be a collection of asking and answering that question in myriad ways. I will ask myself, my fellow theatre artists, social scientists, and community leaders. Sometimes the answer will be cultural (because art is good for you!), sometimes technical (because story has universal dramatic structure!), sometimes biological (because narrative is an ancient element of our human evolution!). I believe that it is the energetic and open asking and answering that keeps our art form relevant, responsive, and inspired. 

The first video is a playwriting class on dialogue that I led at Marin in March 2017 that asks "Why Theatre?" to myself and roomful of playwrights aiming to make great new plays. This explores a technical answer to our question through playwriting technique and conversation. 


Video editing by Jeff Berlin.


So this is ostensibly a class about dialogue, which we will go into a lot, but any time you're talking about ... you can't really separate one element of a play from another. So it's all connected, and creates this coherence of a story. So when we're talking about dialogue, we're actually talking about structure, we're actually talking about character, we're actually talking about all that. But I actually love being able to hone in on one element, because I think it can remind you of a couple of ways that the specific things, when you focus on storytelling, can really bring up a lot of the delicate parts of storytelling, that if you focus on, and then you pull back out, to see the world of the story, they can be really complementary, and let you really hone your attention on something, one element, and I think it'll make all the other elements start to sing, too.

But you can't really talk about dialogue without talking about your voice. Not just the voice of the characters, but the kind of plays that you write. And that's something obviously I can't, and would never, want to tell you how to do. So we're gonna talk about a lot of things that are commonalities, patterns, you know, little things that I use to streamline my writing, and to inspire myself, take what you will of that, because it's all in service of what your goals are, storytelling-wise, but also your goal as an artist, and what your voice is, that's what's going to make your play exceptional and distinctive, and you! And also one that you can write. If you're trying to write like somebody else, you're never going to actually write it, and it's never going to be what you want it to be.

Especially in the world of dialogue, because everyone's going to do it differently, everyone thinks what normal speech is different, in some way, and I think we embrace that and as long as I can ask you, "Why did you write it in that way," and there's a reason, we're totally good. Whatever the reason is, as long as there's a reason for it, and it's not, "Because I wanted to sound like Tracy Letts," or "I was trying to put it in iambic pentameter, because it is cool." So, yeah, again, this is all ... whatever we're talking about here is your job to filter and apply it as you will.

But I wanted to start, before we go deep, to go to the very basics, we talked a little bit about this last time, the basics of why writing at all. And what I mean is, what you're writing about has to have such stakes, and such depth of reason and humanity to it, otherwise it's not going to be the kind of play that lasts. It might be good for a time. It might be interesting, or funny, or whatever, but finding the ultimate themes for you to write about is what's going to make it be the kind of important that it stays with people for a long time, past that moment. And I often have to go back to this question at the beginning of every single play, and remind myself the things worth writing about are the things that you yourself would die for, would lay your life down for. If it's a person, if it's a future you want or don't want to happen, if it's a thing to preserve or knock down. Those are the kind of things that are Shakespearean, that are Greek, that are so human that you can continue to mine those themes and circumstances to get the absolute best and deepest kind of play.

And that doesn't mean it can't be a comedy, and still address those deep, profound things, and a lot of them are love, life, pursuit of happiness, etc. And again, through your voice, and the filtering of what you want to do and say, that can be the newest story around, but it is the most ancient stuff, so reminding yourself of that, that yes you can have your romantic comedy, yes you can have something that's very plot-heavy, oh it's exciting, it's exciting, it's exciting! But if there isn't at least one moment in the play where most of the audience can be struck with, "That's my experience. I know that," or, "That is my biggest fear," or, "That's exactly the passion that I have always wanted to express." That's when you click into people, and it's a play that's worth doing, and worth doing again, and worth coming back to, and worth talking about, and really a play worth writing.

So reminding ... really talking to myself, as much as you, really reminding yourself why ... just the meat, and again, this can be ... I often say you can literally write a play about anything. The structure of it, the ingredients, the landscape of the play can be in Africa, right here, in a kitchen, on the moon, whatever. But if, again, that's actually not what you're writing about, is the location, and the interpersonal shenanigans of human beings, it's gotta be that big heart-gripping kind of stuff, and if that seems to be missing from your play, sometimes it's because we're taught plot, plot, plot, and structure, structure, structure. And characters, and they've gotta have snappy things to say, and get that act break, so it's really surprising.

But it actually doesn't matter, if you don't have that real beating heart. So think about that. And so the way we do that, and why this comes to dialogue. We have to create those scenes, to earn those scenes, somewhere in your play, probably in the second act-ish, two-thirds of the way through, three-fourths of the way through, when we've had some time to get to know everybody, we've had some time to juggle the conflicts, and have the plot, you know, that rising action to rise a bit, and we really earn that moment of naked humanity, of most vulnerability, the "I'm gonna tell the truth of my soul, that terrifies me to utter," and again, this can be a comedy. You can have that moment where they're admitting all of the things that they hate about themselves, and, of course, if it's a comedy, she says, "I love you anyway!" If it's not, going to the execution, or something.

But anyway, all of this is true, and all of these great Shakespeares, and all of these amazing American plays, Death of a Salesman, and A Raisin in the Sun, you know, when I think of those plays, I don't actually think of the plot, I can't even ... I mean, I can kind of tell you what happens. This person gets mad at that person, and that causes him to do this, and that's good playwriting, but what I remember is, you know, Mrs. Loman sitting at his grave, going, "Free, free, we're free, we're free." And dealing with that. That's, when I think of those plays, when I think of Raisin in the Sun, I think of the fight for self, against kind of bigotry, I can't remember who's doing what, you know what I mean? So that's just to say, these plays, the things that stick with us are those naked human moments.

But again, we have to design those, we have to earn those. And then once we've designed them, once we've gotten Lear on the heath, the storm, or realizing that Cordelia's dead, or Romeo finally getting alone with Juliet, you've arranged that scenario, you've got them together, the dialogue, and that's actually going to include the things you don't say, the things you do, the things you mean, the things your body languages tells us, as well as the other characters in the play. That's when you get to make it distinct.

If you just have Romeo and Juliet say, "I really really really love you," who cares? Who is this guy, go home, what are you talking about? He's gotta say it in a way that is funny, that is humble, that is totally grand, bigger than his britches. How does she respond? You know, again, if you think about that scene, he doesn't just show up, and is like, "Hey it's me, I like you too!" She doesn't even know he's there for half of it, and we see him go, "Oh my gosh, she likes me, wait, what do I do, what do I do, I'm gonna clap, I'm not gonna clap, that's a terrible idea, OK [will I clap 00:08:46], oh crap, now the nurse! Oh, crap, it's all messed up." Right, so it's this combustion of elements that make that scene so unique and unforgettable.

So you can do that with anything, with grief, with revenge, with whatever. But if you get to that scene, you've created that space, you've aimed the story for that great moment, and you kind of just let it happen, you've missed the opportunity to do that thing that's gonna make it so memorable, and so you. So how do you grieve in a new way? Again, we know that emotion, that emotion is basic, everybody in the audience is going to have some access to whatever that scene is, or they're like, "God, I want to kill that guy," feeling, but how do you say it, how do you use words and not words to convey it? That's your opportunity. And yes, it can sound a little overwhelming when you say it like that, but for me, that's the giddy part. How do I write a love confession that is unlike anything that's been written before? And it might have no words to it. It might have a song, it might have this massive amount of poetry. It might be a string of curse words, I don't know, we can make that work, whatever you want!

So that's where I think dialogue becomes the fun part of what we do. A lot of is kind of brain-breaking architecture and trying to remember rules, and the exhaustion of going through the play again and again and again, and trying to figure out, "Wait, is this good any more, I can't even tell." The dialogue when you actually get, "OK, this is the scene I wanna right," that's the [carbonation 00:10:17], that's the fun stuff, so.

OK, so now we're gonna get a little technical, after I said it's not about being technical. So up here, we have a couple of the three things that dialogue really does: expose character, exposition, subtext. That's really all it is. That is the information it's imparting, I should say. Not all it does. But when you break it down in those three categories, we realize these two are the most important in terms of heart, and the soul of play. This is technical, this is architecture, this is engineering. Because, of course you need exposition, and it can't sound like exposition, that's the worst, isn't it. The kind of cement block of detail that you just throw in your audience's lap, that's no fun.

And of course, character, as Aristotle says, character is actually what we do, not we say. So dialogue has to be both. It has to be what the character can tell you about themselves, and what, of course, they're lying about. Lying is your great friend, in story-telling. And subtext is the most fun, because it's delicate, but it is of course the real truth of what's going on in the play. Subtext is ... obviously it's when somebody loves someone, but says, "I can't stand that person," and we come to know that they are, again, lying. It's what they do, not what they say, they weep when the person leaves the room, or they write them a love letter and throw it away, and all that stuff. The fun of subtext is ... I heard it described, actually in [John Yorke's 00:12:16] book ... what I loved is, it is not what the character is saying, but what they're trying to conceal.

And last week, when we talked about character, we talked about façade, right? Every character has one. Sometimes it's flimsier than others, some are real thick facades, and it takes the entire play to crack that person. And some it's really easy to tell. But either way, that's related to subtext, right, that's when we get to see what they're hiding, and why. And it doesn't necessarily need to be ten fingers, Mr. Burns, evil, hiding things, but it can be something that's just uncomfortable, or something that they've just decided to forget, to move on, and their life is great without knowing that, and of course it's gonna rear its head again. But it's all the possibility that's in subtext. And your play needs to have it. Not just because it's "good playwriting," but because it's way more interesting, characters just burst to life when they've got something else going on, and it's hard to say. So your job is to figure out why it's hard to say.

So a couple of things about exposition, which ... it's kind of ... again, because it's technical, we can just throw a little ... we can chat about it too, but we can throw a lot of tricks out about it, and then move in. Exposition, I find, can be as delicate, and efficient, as possible. If you reference something that happened once. Something that happened in the past, someone's favorite flower, someone's allergy to whatever-the-hell, I don't know, it really only needs to be mentioned once. As soon as you do it a second time ... if you must do it a second time, do it really quickly, while somebody else is talking, as they're leaving the room, something like that. The more you hit on ... even if it's, "Oh, well this is really important to the end of the play, when her ..." whatever, truth is revealed. Any more than twice, and it starts to be like, "Yes, alright, we see it coming, yes, oh my god, OK, she loves chrysanthemums, please lord, stop talking about that."

So, light touch, light touch, light touch, it will serve you, otherwise, again, it's that brick of exposition that we can see coming. Also, because if you think about the logistics of theatre, we're all facing the same direction, and listening to the exact same thing really carefully, so it's not like it's in a busy room, at a cocktail party, and you're gonna miss what somebody else is saying. You're gonna get it, and you can move on, and it will do the marvelous thing of, they won't know that they're remembering it until you reference it again at the end, and it's like, you have that "Oh my god, it makes total sense," moment, which is exactly what you want.

Exposition can't feel like it is without character or conflict. So if it's, "Hello, you know, we met last week, at lunch, and we had that conversation about blue trucks." Where is that, why am I telling you? If you were at the conversation, why are needing to remind you of ... you know, that kind of a thing, that's kind of amateur writing moment. So all exposition, you have to find a way for it to be exposed through some sort of conflict, action, desire, somebody needs something by telling this information, again, as efficiently as possible, that's why a lot of exposition comes out of fights. You know, "blah, blah, blah, da, da, da, oh no, you're always talking about that one time in Venice, and I just cannot talk about it any more." Well now we know something happened in Venice, you know what I mean? So, again, that can be easy to overdo, but as long as there's some desire connected to it, some goal connected to sharing the information, you'll be fine.

Other element of exposition, of course, how one delivers this exposition will expose some more of your character, so there's another opportunity to figure out if it's information that characters in the play need to know, versus that we as the audience need to know. And sometimes the audience can know something the characters do not, or the audience and the characters can know something, or the characters know something, and the audience doesn't. Right, that's the kind of mixy-match business. And it's your job to figure out, again, how to make that smooth, and efficient, and move on with the fun of the play. Yeah, unless you're in the kind of play where you can step out, and be like, "Hey, here's the details you need to know." That's one choice. Cool, right. Any exposition questions?

I mean, there's other tools that you can use, projections, I mean, but I think if it's not self-contained in the play itself, if you need to need to use too many devices, it's probably not gonna be a sturdy-

One, I think, really clear example of the exposition of conflict it's like West Wing, and the walking scenes, I mean it did get overused after a while, but it's two individuals are arguing about the content of the conversation, which completely hear.

Yeah, and there's urgency about it-

Yes, always.

Which is not sitting around having the end of your latte, and "You know ..." Yes, as long as there is go-go-go to it, or "Get out, get out, I don't want to talk about this, get out!" Fine. Great. It feels rich. And this also will ... I think I can say this line, one of my ... I don't know who said it to me, it might have been just a professor along the way, but she was saying that monologues are the easiest to write, and the hardest to justify. I love that. One, because it's true, and because it does remind you the beautiful Tony-winning monologue, with violins playing under it, you know, that's actually not playwriting, that's speech-writing. So to make sure that you have that urgency, their point-of-view, who are they talking to? And even the soliloquies in Shakespeare, they are talking to themselves, and the world, and there is a point-of-view there, it's not just, "I'm going to speak my beautiful speech now."

So, making sure that if you have a monologue, it's the kind of, again, West Wing has done some amazing monologues like that, I mean, a lot of amazing plays have, where it's the, "No, you're not leaving, you're not leaving until I finish this, no, sit down!" "Oh, OK, I will listen to all the things you have to say, now." But there's urgency, it's desire, there's goal to it. And then you can write the kick-ass, Tony-winning monologue.

Right, OK. So, the question of character in dialogue, again, one thing that I think David Ball says, and John Yorke definitely says: people don't do anything unless they want to, and it is to serve their goal. And that includes talking. So even exposition is a means to an end, in a play. And pretty much in real life, too, but certainly in a play, where things are efficient, and focused, and we have a driver and a time limit. So everything your character says has to have ... it is because they have a want attached to it. It's not to fill the time, even a "Hi, hi, come on in." There's want there. There's the way you say it. The subtext, do you actually want them to come in, or are you like, "Oh my god, why are you here?" All of this is serving what we have designed in our characters to be that driver to get them going.

So thinking of ... again, this is all connected to what does the character want? Which is why dialogue is inescapably linked to the structure, on the grand scale, of the play, and what a character is really about in their essence. And so, again, thinking through the decisions you have to make to earn these great speeches and lines, are structural, at first, we've got to design a play that starts with urgency. With somebody who wants something, like actually really wants something, and it's hard to get. There are things in their way, and pushing against them, in an equal and opposite pressure. So that you can't easily accomplish the goal, or else the play would be over in ten minutes. And other people surrounding them, which also have their wants, and pressures. So we're surrounded with all of these vectors of energy that make it really hard to just go smoothly forward.

If you think about plays like that, then there's physics involved. And you need to make sure that the waves coming at them don't stop, and get bigger as the play goes on. And all of this, again, dialogue is, in some ways, the last thing that I think about. I think the end of the play, before I think about the sound of it, in some ways. Unless I'm doing a little noodling, you know, "I wanna ... just let me write this little moment." Because character ... because dialogue, again, is the fun part, it's the carbonation, it's the part where we get to mix in the flavor of the play, but you need to know how to bake the cake. You need to make sure you have all the ingredients, and the pans, and the right temperature, and that you do all that right, before you get to go, "OK, we can decorate, and we can ..." Now that's not to say that dialogue is decoration, but it is the kind of things where you get to design yourself ... or put yourself into it in a way that isn't as engineering-based, as some of the other decisions you have to do.

But again, the things that I think about in plays that I love, a lot of them are these great lines, but they are lines that are great not because the writing is sleek, or beautiful, but because it means three different things at once. Those kind of scenes, they can beautiful, and they can be witty, and they can be this and that. But making sure that the play has such legs to it, that the great beautiful things you're going to write ... it doesn't just fly away after somebody says it, it's like, "Oh, yeah." The kind of ways that ... this is such a terrible example, but it's the first one that popped into my head ... the best/stupidest "I love you" line was "You complete me." It's such a great line. It's such a stupid movie. Right? It's simple, it's just great. It's vulnerable, and everybody has some relationship to it. I should probably have quoted some Shakespeare, or something a little more high-minded than Jerry Maguire, but it's true, right, it works.

And similarly, so I surprised my sister last night with tickets to Hamilton, she loves it, she loves it, she's listened to it since it came out, and seeing it, it is as good as it should be? Has everyone ... have you seen it? Has anyone seen it? It's damn good. And I will tell you why, without giving anything away. And musicals are actually a great way to learn the lesson of how powerful and efficient dialogue can be, because you don't sing ... you don't sing a song unless you have a want that can be accomplished in that moment. So it's about decision, remember last week we talked about characters and decision-making. That's when a domino falls, to have one scene make the other scene happen, make the other scene happen, make the other scene happen. It's decision, right, something's gotta change, plot is change, so we've gotta keep changing things so they have to push forward.

And musicals, that happens in songs. When I was writing a musical, I was hired as a re-writer on a musical that Harry Connick, Jr wrote the music, so the music was great, so it was my job to make the play support this great song, and the director was like, "Your job is just to get to the song. It all happens in the song. You don't have to write the scene." And I was writing all these, "Oh, hey, I'm gonna have this great scene, and there'll be secrets," and I will doing all this stuff. He's like, "No, just justify the song." And so thinking about those moments, that cauldron that we're looking for, musicals do that well, because they're like, "And now, singing." And you get this great piece where we get information, we get decision, we get interaction with other people.

So anyway, Hamilton over and over has ... and you can hear this on the soundtrack if you wanna hear it ... this use of language that every major tagline, every major line, or song title, or something that comes back again, it means at least two, if not three or four things. So this famous line, "I'm not throwing away my shot." Of course means his chance, and of course it means a gun. Which, we all know the story of Hamilton, he gets shot. So, the idea that that's from the beginning laid in, and "I'm not throwing it away," what does throwing away mean? He feels like trash, he's an orphan, he has no money. So, again, lyrically, it sounds like something anybody would say. "I'm not gonna throw away my shot." That's not something that sounds so poetic that it's like, "I obviously know that that means four things." It's just a thing you said, but then it's reused and reused.

And of course, at the very end of the play ... spoiler, history's already spoiled it for us, I suppose, he does throw away ... again, that's the difference between what the character says and does, right. "I'm not throwing it away," actually, you are. What does that tell us? It makes it so much more rich and wonderful. But every character, throughout the play, has this use of dialogue that means more than it means, which is just lovely. But also, as I was watching the musical last night ... and it's just so good, but the reason it's good, and the reason that it is proof that all of our ...

PART 1 OF 3 ENDS [00:26:04]

But the reason it's good, and the reason that it is proof that all of our work can be as good, like I said, it's about creating and earning the moments where your language can just burst forth and tell us the deepest human expression of that kind of emotion. So it has ... Every scene is a moment of, oh my God, I've been there. I felt that, or, oh my God, that is the worst thing that could ever happen to anybody. How do you manage that? Or, oh my God, that's what I've always wanted someone to say to me. It's every line. I mean scene after scene. It lines up everything from first love, from brotherhood camaraderie to, oh my God, you're losing this person. This person's dying. That person is dying. What is it like to go through that? To have the greatest triumph of winning your country's freedom. These are huge moments, epic human experiences. And this plays, literally has all of them, just one after the other.

So again, finding a way for your play. No matter what it's about, no matter what the plot, no matter what the fine details of the world, it's about earning that moment, where you get to put it all on the line and scrape away all of the theatre, really. Use all the theatre to get to that moment where somebody is losing the love of their life, and they have to watch them die, or something like that, that's just, oh God, unimaginable. Well, you have to imagine it, and put it right there, and walk your character straight into the middle of that moment and see what happens.

And maybe they have no worries. Maybe it is a moment where the person we think is the antagonist comes and gives them a hug, and that's the end of the scene. And it's just, again, this naked, vulnerable, human moment, or maybe it's the most poetic and beautiful thing. Or maybe it's like Greek grief, where they're just wailing and throwing shit all over the place, either one. It actually doesn't matter. It's just that's what theatre is best at. That's what it's for. And so, if you don't have at least one moment in the play where it's the love scene of all love scenes, or it's the grieving scene of all grieving scenes, or it's the revenge scene, something that is so juicy. And I'll tell you, writing that scene can be the scariest thing to do, but it is what makes it worth it. It is the absolute moment.

And oftentimes, it's the moment I forget to write until a couple of scenes in, where I was like, oh yeah, I totally just skipped that. I just went right to, OK, they fixed it, and now we have this great denouement. Great, the play is done. Where is the moment where ... The heart of the play? Because it's hard, but you have to walk 'em right in there, which means you have to go in there, too. That's why it's hard.

So many tears have been shed over my keyboard, walking into those scenes, but that's what I walk away from Hamilton, and Romeo and Juliet. I don't actually ... I mean their dancing is cute and all that stuff, and even Mercutio's speech is kind of giddy and fun in Romeo and Juliet, but I walk away with that death scene. I walk away with the fight of Tybalt dying, and those are moments of just, whew, but you can have those moments. You just have to make sure that they're there, and don't shy away from them.

I've painted this little picture before, but this is our play, and the elevation is what they would say rising action or whatever. The stakes keep getting higher. Round about here, this is the opening. This is the catalytic event. Why am I going backwards? We're going to start at the beginning. OK.

If this is the part of the play before our inciting incident happens, so this is life as normal. Which in some plays, we see, and some plays, we start right with, oh God, and the audience is playing catch-up a little bit. But if it's a Eugene O'Neill play, there's a little bit of this.

The inciting incident. So I.e., Hamlet sees the ghost of his dad, or somebody comes in and is like, "I know what you've done," or, "Oh, God." If you've seen Peerless, they get the news that she's not going to the college of their choice, and thus begins mayhem.

This being about halfway through the play, and also about where things ... You can't turn back. You're at the point of going. You've got to keep moving at this point, because you've tried enough. You've just got to keep going.

And this being the climax of the play, with the kind of life or death decision. Again, not every play works in that language. But as we talked about last time, in terms of structure, this is going to answer that question of do they get what they want? In Hamlet, does he get revenge? Yes. He also loses his life and others, but he does get revenge. And then, this being the denouement, where things kind of return to a new and different, but another stasis, like we've see in the beginning.

So it's something for me to think about with y'all. I feel like y'all are a group of mature enough writers. We can process this together.

The different kinds of dialogue we need. I find as a play goes on, it's not the same even structure of dialogue that I use at the beginning of a play. Perhaps only the same, like this is kind of similar to this maybe. But this is we're different things, they're different speeds, they're different intensities.

So for example, just kind of going through here, exposition will obviously come a lot at the beginning because we need to be exposed. So figuring out in the first three, depending on how your play is, the first third, most of the exposition is in that first third. It is unfortunate if at the climax of the play, we have to pause, and have a bunch of people go he's allergic to this, so he can't have this, so that's how we're going to kill her, and you know what I mean. We need to know that up here, so you can plant seeds here that you can use back here.

This is also true of those details we were talking about, right? And you all can jump in and help me if you have great revelations too. But the idea of details of those people's likes, people's proclivities, people's bad habits, people's good habits that can help you as you plot along, and as we work to this moment of crisis here.

So again, if it's a love story and we know what kind of flower she likes because you mentioned it once and just once, or you mentioned a favorite song, or you mentioned some fear that she has, or whatever. Then, we can use it at the no turning back point, and ideally at the crisis, when she's like, "You don't love me. You never have." And of course, he has the flower. The rare flower that she loves.

Right. But again, if she has to tell him what flower she likes, or if you have to tell the audience that right here before he uses it. No good. Got to [inaudible 00:33:42]

And so, again, the opportunity of exposition, how we delivery it, again, assigns a different kind of tone in some ways to the beginning of a play. For me, that means there is ... I do exposition in a couple ways because exposition can also be ... So like literal or logistical, like history, the physics that you need for this world.

Yeah. Relationships between people. Making sure that everyone knows who is related to whom, or whatever, like that kind of logistics of exposition. And there is also thematic exposition, and I have fun with that a lot in plays. Sometimes too much.

In a play I'm working on now, it's a lot about a cosmologist, so the language and the science of the beginning of the universe has a lot through the play. So the first scene is all of him lecturing a little bit in a poetic way, but lecturing about cosmology, which is a kind of exposition, right? It will be helpful throughout the play, knowing what he knows, so I can use that in the play.

But again, it allows you in all of the worlds that you're creating, there is ... Again, if exposition is not let's stop and give you a bunch of details and information, it is there is charge to it. There's momentum to it. So we have to accomplish a lot in those first couple scenes. We need the exposition to the play, but important for the audience, it needs to feel like it's moving, like you can't take your eyes off of it, and that's a rhythm thing, right? That's a chance for you to really play with language that makes itself go further, faster.

There's nothing worse than that first 10 minutes of a play, and you're like, oh God, this is going to be long. Right. So do not be that playwright. And that can mean that your scenes are short. That can always help a scene break.

So when entering a fight and dropping your audience in the middle, again, this is a kind of exposition where we start ... Instead of here, we start here. The stakes are already high. We lights up and they're like, "God dammit, I already told you!" Oh, I'm paying attention. At least for the first five minutes, I'm paying attention. But again, keeping that momentum going throughout the first chunk of the play so that ... You know those kinda plays that you're just, man, it's a steam engine without brakes. You're just going, going, going. It's really fun.

Fun language, and that can be a parlor room drama as much as it can be Henry V. But it's just a matter of using the language that is most accessible to the audience. They're not watching the mechanics of plot happening. They're with you in dialogue, so keep using the speed, the naturalism of dialogue versus poetic dialogue. Like I was talking about my little cosmology monologue, maybe not the best way to start a play. But I can do it in a way that keeps the momentum going if you perhaps chop up the monologue and have in interwoven monologue with somebody else, who is talking about something different. And then, just switching to another person, that back and forth has a momentum to it that builds, or are we in a kind of Tracy Letts land, where there's a lot of heat under the language but it's very naturalistic.

So yes, that first fifteen pages are so important. You even think about ... Thinking about Glass Menagerie. The way that play bookends itself with that beautiful poetic strange and breaking fourth wall kind of monologue. And then, we go into kitchen sink drama, really. We're in the room with those people, and it's a too small room, and they're too poor, and drama ensues. But the beginning, it just paints the rest of the play with this kind of, wait, what? What kind of play is it? It combines this heightened poetry with a kind of dirty, gritty realism that, of course, at the end of the play, we pop back into that mysterious poetry. So that's a really interesting way to contrast something so quickly, and allows us access to both poetry and the kind of poetry of naturalism that he plays into. So, so many options.

All right. So that's the first third of the play. Details, what did we say? You have the rules of the play, we can say. Rules and play, how your story works. Yeah. Is it a play where like if it's a musical and we don't have a song in the first fifteen minutes, maybe it's not a musical. That's, of course, an extreme example. There's a lot of opportunity for your dialogue to carry this, but also figure out the kind of speed, which is a lot of choices that depending on your voice, is it the kind of play where people cut people off, or do they let them finish their sentences? It's amazing how many plays you can categorize in one of those two categories. Yeah, OK.

So in the second ... Oh.

In the second chunk, which includes this kind of moment of now we switch it from the kind of past information, the ingredients of this conflict to facing forward conflict. So this is kind of this point of the play. We're going forward, but we have to reference the past to get momentum. And this, we really start driving. So I find that in this point, there's a lot of goal orientation to certainly my dialogue in the scenes I'm writing. This is where we start having scenes where there is even more of that West Wing-y, you've got to go. We've got things to do, and the dominoes start to fall. And so, what pushes a domino, right? Plot is change, choice, decision. So this is where we have to ... It's kind of more like this. Instead of one arrow, it's a bunch of them, and each one of these is a decision point, which means you've got to create that scene and that speech or that moment for a person to decide.

So scenes become less who are we? What is the ingredient of this place? And more, what are you doing? What's next? I have to decide. I can't decide. I don't want to decide. I have to decide. I've decided. Moving on, right? So there has to be, again, this kind of ... So this is like scenes of decision, and thus, speeches of decision. It also doesn't mean ... There can be scenes that are the decision is unfinished, but still propellant. So somebody go, we're not done with this argument. That's a terrible way to end a scene, but there is, again, momentum. But it's not like everything is wrapped up at the end of the scene. It is the force of their decision is causing the next scene to happen. So a lot of cause and effect, which is another cause that leads to another effect.

And then, let's say that this, if there were an act break, it would probably be here. This moment of things are different enough here in the characters' world, the world of the play, that you have to just go forward. Again, the Hamilton because I've just seen it. They win their revolution at the end of the act, and Hamilton has proved himself, and da, da, da. So yes, the world is different. I think that's actually the song they sing. The world is ... The world is upside down, and act break.

So yes. OK, great. We can borrow some structural lessons from musicals.

So that point, again, we have to design that moment, and I think it's a great opportunity, whether your play has an act or not, you still need to know this moment, where for the character, there is no way to go but towards this point, and it has got to be a moment of decision. It can be a moment of accomplishment, but not one that makes you go, OK, great. Whew. It's good, but also now there's the 10 other things that we have to do.

There was something else I was going to say about that moment. Oh, yeah. This is a chance to use some of the details, the exposition, the things that we planted in this first third. Use it in that moment, that act break moment. If it's the, oh God, this is going to be the scariest thing that's going to happen to me, we need to have ... It's got to be something referenced from here. What their fear is, who they most love or hate, or whatever.

Yeah. What was it for? I'm trying to think of examples. But oftentimes, this is when delivery of bad news really happens, or the news becomes even worse than they thought. It was manageable, and now it's like, oh, nope. Now, we're really going to have to fight. So again, the tone, the language here, and the scenes you're having to write, there's a different tone from this to this.

And then, the last, this is ... I think this space here, kind of in the first half of this last third. This is getting [inaudible 00:44:01] Sorry. But the first chunk after what would be an act break, or if there is no act, that central moment of the play. That middle point. I find this is often the place where we get one of those huge human moments. This is a scene of grief, just impossible grief, or a betrayal that you really have to ... If it's a love story, this moment is when the person that thinks they love them, they catch them in bed with somebody else, or they think they do. And thus, we start the second act with them going it is all lost, and I am an idiot. Or, oh, that person has died, and this is that going into the belly of the beast opportunity.

So again, our language can change. It's still the heat of the whole play is behind it. So I think that's partly why we can have a ... It's not a pause, but it's kind of the eye of a hurricane moment, where you get a moment to collect yourself, but you have to deal with one of those huge things [inaudible 00:45:08] here. But the opportunity of dealing with that huge moment in The Book of Will that I'm working on, this is where this kind of titanic grief scene, which is kind of the reason I wrote the play, happens right here. But out of that, because again, going into that beast, the belly of the beast there, if you can survive it, you have the grit and the muscle to manage this moment that we're really waiting for. This is the kind of crisis climax of the play. The moment, if this were medieval times, it's like battle of good and evil. The two knights fighting, whatever.

So this is kind of the moral gym. The moral workout. The moral, ethical, human heart internal battle that will prepare you, and knowing that you can survive can give you the strength for their character to go through that.

Yeah. I can't ... I wish I had my Hamlet a little bit better. I think this is probably Ophelia's death, right? Probably? Ish, timing-wise. Ophelia and Hamlet realizes, oh my God, and poor Yorick, I knew him well. This facing death in a whole new way, which leads him to be like, all right, we're doing this. And then, we get to that fight scene, where it all comes out.

But so, thinking about the kind of dialogue, and speech, and scene that we can create in this space. That's the heart of your play. That's the moment, where we have some of ... Perhaps even some of the speeches we started writing here. The I don't know how to go on, I must go on. And that can be love or loss, or anything. But again, coming out on the other side of that scene, we know who these characters are because we've seen them at their worst. If it's comedy, they think it's at their worst, but they didn't get all the information in time, brap, brap, brap, brap. And then, they have to prove that they actually love each other, and it's all fine, and they weren't cheating on each other anyway. Life is a drama.

Yeah. We can go to the hard place. That's what's worth writing.

OK. So then, in the last chunk, we kind of pick up the arrows again. This can be ... I don't know the ... I don't know if that is ... So it's all happening. This is that moment where what we planted here as far as who our character is and what they want is paid off here. And in classical plays, it's a little easier to see what that is. In contemporary plays that are a little more psychological, this is the hard work for the writers to find what is the thing that someone can actually do. Not just say, as Aristotle reminds us, doing, doing, doing. What can they do in that moment for the character to be able to go on? And for honestly, the audience to know, oh, this is what the play is about. All right, OK.

Again, a love story, it's easy to see because our lovers want to be together. And yet, they are pulled apart, forced apart. Think the other one is not faithful. Da, da, da, da.

So in this moment, again, so maybe some lovely details you planted. The weirder, the better, can show up to prove that they know the person and they love the person. Whatever. Maybe they have to shout down an entire room of people, whatever. This is the running to the airplane that's about to take off scene, if it's a love story.

And so, yeah. The language can be both. It's like a combination of this, the depth and meaning. It's really a combination of all of the tones in the play. So some of this stuff from the very beginning, these details things that we've found are there. This energy of this second phase of the play has got to be there because there is a time limit. There is a moment. It's not something that we can do any other time. And right now, we have to address it now. But it has the kind of depth of soul of this chunk, so it really all comes together in the end.

And so, this climactic moment should actually be separate from once the climax happens. This last little piece. It's similarly to this piece of the play. Sometimes the denouement is super short in some, like once the climax happens, it's like boom. Out, great. And sometimes, we need this to come back to a stasis or know who we are again, and that's up to you. But this language can be ... I find that in my plays, I need this space to have the characters and the audience all have a moment to acknowledge the journey that we've been on, and to kind of find that coherence for I think that happened. Did that all happen? You know, just ... And again, it can be 60 seconds of that, if you're in a hurry. Or frankly, if it's really tragic. You may want to get out, so people can start drinking and talking. But something like a play, Miss Bennett, which is kind of has joy and charm in its heart. We need a little bit of this to know that they are going to be happy, and that everyone is happy for them, and that we all [inaudible 00:50:52] are like yay. Maybe they sing a little song, and it's kind of like, oh, we all feel great. End of play.

For Lear, a little bit different. Less singing. And Hamlet too, but there is still the Prince of Norway comes on and it's like, yep. There's a new prince in town, and we get a sense of what the future might hold. But the language, of course, can be not as driven as this, and more thoughtful as far as what we've been on.

Does that make sense? I think that makes sense. I've never actually said all that out loud, so [inaudible 00:51:30] helpful for me to chunk it up. And it does, of course, remind me how linked all of it is. This is why it's hard to just do dialogue exercise because without knowing who they're saying, and what they care about, and who they are, it's kind of just an exercise in fun lines. But the idea that it's got to be connected to that original want, all of this stuff continues to play out.

Yeah. And I will say I often think about this part of the play before I start actually writing this stuff.

PART 2 OF 3 ENDS [00:52:04]

... Before I start actually writing this stuff, because this is the reason you're writing. This is the heart, this is the point, that's the dark side, it's the prayer to God on your knees, "Help me, help me." It's all of it.

I mean, I think, connecting it to what we talked about at the very beginning, this is that stuff of "What would you die for? What would you give your life for? What would you give away your money for?" Different than life. "What would you ..." Like, this is where you challenge yourself to go, "Let's write a play where we go there." Because if a play goes there, you're going to find people that need it. And have been there, or fear that so much that it becomes so compelling and so human.

A couple of things came to mind. The first thing was, in dealing with the ends of plays, the last third, as you were talking about, the endings, making it this and that. One of my big revelations in the last year was, we always talk about the climax of the play. This moment, right?

And I often talk about Hamlet. And, of course, there's a big sword fight at the end of Hamlet, but a lot of plays that we're writing are not going to have sword fights. Or even Hamilton. There's a gun fight, there's a duel that climaxes that one. Most plays, modern ones, are probably not going to have that, and that's hard, because a sword fight is a set piece, it's a big moment, there's an actual life or death situation, it's a literal battle, and a lot of our issues climax in a more psychological way, a metaphysical way, there's great meaning, but it's not at the end of a bayonet where we solve it or figure it out or prove ourselves.

And what occurred to me was, there is the event that has driven us to this place, the crisis of your play, and it is, of course, seeds that were planted here that determine what that is, if the play is about love, then at this moment, we've got, the question on the table is "Is love real? Is your love for me real? Can I trust it? Are we gonna do this? Are we together?" All of the questions of love can be here.

But again, that's not a sword fight kind of a question. Grief, a play that I'm writing is about grief. Again, not a battle that will define that climax, but if you think about this scene not as the kind of top of the mountain moment, which this geometry would allow you to think that, it is almost more like you're going inwards. Like, it's the bottom of the cauldron. It's where everything is hottest and most bumping into each other, and ... I'm not sure how far that metaphor's going to take me, but ...

The idea that it is this moment of alchemy for your play, where it starts as one thing, goes into that moment, and comes out its true self at the end, and that's the characters that go into it, the play itself goes into that moment, and realizes it's changed by the fires of that moment into the denouement, into the rest of the world, the rest of the ...

And that can happen in physical events terms, but it also boils down to quiet symbolism. And I mean that, oftentimes, the big deciding moments, the moments where you go, "I know." I know what this character is capable of, or what they're gonna do or what it meant, or the answer to that question, are they gonna get what they want? It's actually not the speechifying, it's not the tussling, it is a symbolic act that solves what the play needs solving, or says what the play needs to say. Even without words. And that's actually the strongest one.

So, what I mean is, if your job is to create that cauldron, to create that scene that is so hot, and people cannot avoid the shit in their past, and they cannot lie anymore, they cannot get away from making the decision of am I this person I didn't want to be in your play, or am I gonna die or not, or am I my grandfather all over again, or whatever it is? Am I gonna be OK? And they have to go in there.

But oftentimes, instead of thinking we need to write this speech of all speeches, or this scene of all scenes, it actually is usually someone just holding someone's hand, or a big fucking slap in the face, or a kiss, or, actually a quiet thing, not a speech. And for me, that relieves me of the sense that you have to write the great truth of the world and put it in language, because language is actually terrible for communicating truths, because truths are sticky and complex, and they don't always work for everybody.

But, if it's a love story and the person is bearing their heart out, and this is it, they're gonna leave forever if they don't say this or whatever, what have you, they don't need to have that amazing speech, some of which we wrote, if they just give that undeniable hug. And in its silence and in its inarticulateness, it actually says everything for everybody in the audience.

But this can also be true for a grief play or a revenge play. It is, again, in Hamlet, it is the act of the cup that he forces Claudius to swallow. And I would argue, it's also the act when he hears Laertes say, if Hamlet's whole goal, he's gonna get revenge, which needs to, the big element is did the king actually kill his brother, my father? He needs that piece of information to complete his task.

At the end of that play, we hear Laertes say the king is to blame. And remember, this is a big scene, tons of the highest townspeople are there, so everybody hears the king is to blame. Hamlet hears it, we get to see him hear it, and then he sees, "Oh, my God, everybody else heard it, too, so I'm not crazy. They all, we all know. I was right, and now I'm justified in taking this revenge."

Of course, it's Shakespeare, so there's a lot of talking around all of this, but it is that "Follow my mother," where he, "You will follow her." It's that action. And that's, again, a violent action, so it has that crucible, but it's symbolism, too.

Even going back to the beginning of the play, because the play is about the rottenness of Denmark, right, and he is, something is rotten in the state of Denmark, and he is in many ways clearing out that rottenness with the symbolic act of killing this one person. It's one person, even though it's the king, yes. But that king is the symbol, the act is the symbol, the king is the symbol. So finding that kind of language, which is in the realm of dialogue and what it can do, again, saying what I said at the beginning, the idea that it means more thing that what it means. It means, the act can mean more than it means, as well.

And this is why something like, in A Raisin in the Sun, the grandmother's plant, there's such symbolism in that plant at the end of the play, for life, for home, for, you know, survival, the biological connection that we all share. You've gotta have a pot to grow in. The pot is their house.

The Glass Menagerie, that menagerie, the unicorn, the candles at the very end of the play. Blow out your candles, right, is the symbolic act that that means so much. When the light of that candle goes out, the play goes out.

Allowing yourself to, when you're trying to figure out what is an ending that can be powerful, that can be impressive, that can really cap off all of this, finding some of that symbolic stuff can relieve some of the pressure of, again, having to write this grand stuff that you might think you actually don't need to write.

Because in some ways, this act's breakthrough moment will feel hotter than this climax, because oftentimes, this is the "Oh, my God, we can't, ahhh!" moment. And the climax could actually be soft. It could be a moment of forgiveness that makes it OK. It could be an admission of guilt or love or whatever, and it can be small. So feeling like whatever is most charged, what is most important, most intense, is different than being like, the loudest, swashbuckling moment.

So trying to let that drive some of the writing, especially towards the end, when we're figuring out, this is the scene that's the point of the play, sometimes we can actually back off of the talkies to let the play do the work. If you've already planted all of this good stuff here, then the climax actually needn't be, to make, can't be, big and splashy. But there's a lot more ways to communicate that stuff than just the big and splashy.

And then, in terms of what dialogue can do and the kind of choices about voice, the question of talking in theatre is, is it how people actually talk, and do we care? Because how people talk is incorrectly, often, cutting off, cutting each other off, being interrupted, and all this stuff. Which doesn't mean that you have to do that to make it realistic. But it means that you can if it will help the world of the play, the characters, the feel, the audience's experience of what you're doing. You could use those things to increase momentum, or to slow it down. To point at what is important in a scene, which again, similarly to the macrocosm of the play, what is most important in the scene usually happens towards the end of it, which is why the domino falls and you can move on to the next scene.

But using those tools to figure out what is the important information, even though, yes, everyone's important, blah, blah, blah. But if everything has the same heat in the play, it's hard to focus on, "Oh, I should actually be caring most about this thread."

So using that, like, one example that I tend to do in my writing, which is a good thing and a bad thing, because I find myself doing it in every play, is I kind of ramp up, like a roller coaster, or like you've dropped something here, and it ramps up, in terms of the heat of an argument, the speed of an argument, and then it slams to a stop. And right in between whatever they last said and what happens next, there is some revelation, some decision, some admission, some space for the person to go "Oh. Well, now it's different." So that's just my personal, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who does that.

And the example being, it's a fight, it's this and that, buh-duh-duh, no, but you always do that. Duh-duh-duh-duh. I'm just saying that I love you.

Uh-oh. That was a true thing that I admitted, and now that changes everything.

So that is a structure and a way that, if that argument before is people saying wrong things and cutting each other off, but the emotion, the speed picks up, so it really highlights whatever they've said at the end of that. That's both done some exposition work for me, it keeps the momentum going, it, you know, whatever tone and the pepperiness of the play I want to write, it's inhabited in that, too.

So you can use these things, i.e., using when people don't know what to say, when they are cut off and when they are purposely silenced. Really, there are all things that are as good if not better than an actual line. And the way that I actually just write them, this is grammar town, but it helps me ... is if there is, it's the difference between using a period at the end of a sentence, which is somebody deciding this is the end of what I'm going to say. A hyphen at the end of the sentence, which is, "I'm not really sure I-" and somebody else is "I know what you mean." So a cut off. Balance shifts of power there, there's information there, who would let themselves be cut off, and maybe they don't. "I was actually talking."

The ellipse, which is, "I'm thinking of what to say next. I'm not quite sure. The, I just ... I really just ..."

That's totally different, that's a different way of saying it. Same exact words if you switched these things. And then, I have totally borrowed this from Shakespeare, which you're welcome to, as well. When, if this is a line, and this is a line of dialogue and this is a line of dialogue, I'm going to label this Character A, Character B, Character A. Shakespeare does this in McB a lot, where the lines kind of follow each other and pick up speed as the line goes, and he kind of writes it in this stair step way, and I just totally borrowed that as a way, again, to use momentum and speed of the actual words you're saying to help a director tell that story and go, indicate to the director, pick up the pace.

Because there's urgency here. You wouldn't do this with a grocery list, right, but you would do it with "We gotta go, gotta go, gotta go. This is important. No, stop arguing, I'm trying to tell you, I'm trying to tell you, I'm trying to tell you."

So this is all just like how grammar can help punctuation, can indicate your choices, your options for using dialogue, to keep that, to help you tell your story. So thinking about what these ... and I'm sure there's other ones. Some people do a cut off, I use mine as a hyphen, some people use that as a cut off. And you can also do, of course, overlapping dialogue. Character A, Character B, line, line, and they both talk at the same time.

Again, this tells something about a story, if they can both be talking independently. Are they listening to each other, are they not? Are they just going along? Are they in different times and spaces? You can have this where one person is 30 years before, you know, if you want to be theatrical and wacky about it. Again, so all of this is like literally what you can do with the words and punctuation, but it still allows you ...

Sometimes for me, if I get stuck in a scene, if you're looking for something to do, it's shift up. How the actual information, how the language is on the page, and it might open up some worlds and some theatrical options for you to get to telling the story that way.

A couple of other things. Repetition. This is in kind of in the vein of how people actually talk. I find great strength in repeating words or phrases because I do that when I am talking. My husband, my mom. "Oh, my God, yes, I totally agree. No, I just, I just ..." Whatever it is. The second time you say something, unlike that expository thing, which the second time you're like, I get it, don't tell me that she likes roses again. But in a turn of phrase, the second time you say it, it has more valance. The third time, it has even more valance.

Again, in musical terms, this often happens. It's these words that are repeated over and over. Even within one singular monologue, much less used later in a play. But just knowing how the kind of biomechanics of how we hear and interpret things, what we hold onto as an audience member means you can use that in your play, as well as what people say.

And again, finding in the quest to make that meaningful scene at the end of the play, like, what is this all amounting to? You have the great beginnings of the play, and all this great conflict, the theme stuff is great, characterization is great, but we're still, as an audience member, we are waiting for the moment that you have promised us by saying "This is a play. Watch it." It's the moment where something changes for that main character. We decide what they get and what they want, and we are waiting for that. It's not that we're forcing you to. You kind of promised by agreeing to write a play that you would give us the moment where we go, "Ah, OK, this is, I know when it's over." That's kind of basically it.

So repetition.

Disagreement is an excellent way to impart the complexities of exposition. It can be a full-out brawl, or it can just be, again, in the terms of creating a kind of naturalism, if you're interested in that, people correcting each other. I always think of my grandparents, who were like, "We went out to dinner Tuesday." "It was Thursday. We always go ..." "It was Tuesday, no, because we couldn't go Thursday ..." "No, it's not ..."

So that not only tells me that they went to dinner, but this is their relationship. This is the kind of people they are. And that's not a full-out brawl, right. They're not gonna get socked for having the wrong date. It just tells me both directly some information and indirectly. And this is again, that detail stuff, where we can find out again, not the just the particulars of that one person, but how they communicate. Like, maybe this person ... you can just have so much fun with the level of detail. And specifically in how they speak. And it's not just that one person can't finish a sentence and the others can, but in the goal to have every character have their own voice, that's one way that you can distinguish, and have fun with the distinguish, and not just go, "Well, they're supposed to sound different, so I'm gonna make them sound different." It says something about who they are, whether they are the type of person to interrupt someone or not.

Allowing that to, as you continue to get to know your characters, that stuff will become automatic. As you're saying, you get to know those characters and then they kind of write themselves. But making sure that that choice is a clear one.

There is a great value in talking about other people that aren't there. It is always fabulous when a few characters are talking about somebody, and then we meet them. Because, of course, we have what they think, and then we get to kind of go, "Are they right about this person? Are they not?" It can be a lot of fun and again help in that kind of early expositional category, too.

Towards the end, in that last third, it's like nobody can talk about anyone behind their back, because we're all having those conversations. It is all out, "No, don't talk, nope, you're talking to me, what do you think of Erin?" Right? So that's again one of the earlier steps we can have, the "Oh, my God, she always does this," conversation. But later in the play, we don't have time for that. Un-uh. Have the fight. "You always do this to me."

And then, having a larger conversation about subtext, because it is such a literary term, but it really is the pulse of almost any play. It's those hidden secrets, the things that are actually driving us versus what we say are driving us, the image versus reality. And finding a way, with delicacy, to impart that makes those secrets so much more valanced.

And what I mean is, the way people hide things, dodge things, equivocate, can actually tell you so much more about them than even their honesty, which is a lot of fun. But again, that will prompt you, what is the circumstance that somebody can, you know, not say what they mean, but of course we understand what they mean. So that's both a structural issue, and then you get the fun of putting them in a position where they can lie. And even if it's a terrible lie. They can just say, "I know you used to always go get an ice cream after we fought." "No, I didn't." "Yes, you did." "I did not." We obviously know he did.

And the argument doesn't have to go on too long, But even just him saying he didn't twice indicates that's something that, one, they haven't talked about before, two, he would prefer that not to be known, three, he's not protesting so much, so it's not like going to be the end of their relationship that she knows this. You know, all of that little stuff that just feels human and feels like it's more than information. So keeping all that in mind.

The macro issues of a play can also be represented by the characters in them. I think that the play itself has to change during the hottest moments of it. And that can be quite literal, i.e., in one of Jane, oh, is it, "Octoroon"? Where like, there's a wall and it just falls down in the middle of the play. So you go, "Oh, that's the kind of play we're in." Right? Imagine that chilling. Or "Blasted," Sarah Kane's "Blasted," where suddenly, like, there's an actual huge explosion that we are supposed to experience.

It can be the play changing the way it, changing a kind of form of dialogue, it can be the stakes in the play changing, but I think you have to challenge yourself to not just set the rule, this is the world that I'm in, and go. Because again, we're in theatre. We're making every single thing up, and it's art, so we can get away with it. There are actually no physics in the world of your play that you can't mess with.

So I think, thinking about it in terms of just the grounded naturalism might deny yourself the pleasure and the power of theatre, which is that we can have someone, even though you've never turned out to the audience and spoken directly to them once, you hit that point, oh my God, it's happening, and you are out to the audience and begging them to understand you. Or to say, let me out, I don't know, the world of the play, let me into this play, please. I don't know what play that would be, but that would be kind of powerful for the audience to go, that's how high the stakes are, is that the character wants out of the play.

Or, it turns into a musical. I don't know. You can really just start messing with the rules that you've created. That's part of the fun of having the rules is breaking them. Not just because you've run out of options, but because it does indicate to the audience that's how high the stakes are.

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Thoughts from the curator

Playwright Lauren M. Gunderson teaches a series of playwriting classes focused on the question of "Why theatre?"

Why Theatre?


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The bits about repetition and the moment where the main character changes rung closest with me. I generally remember characters in works of fiction by their habits, catchphrases, style, and posture, so continuously hammering (albeit not too much) whatever trait in the words a character says or the visual of a character helps them become more memorable in my head. Repetition's effectiveness I believe is not just limited to characters in a play, but music as well. When you hear sampling of a show/movie/game's main theme play in bits on other tracks throughout the series it helps you to remember everything else.

Did you know that Amazon's recommendation system is powered by Artificial Intelligence technology, code named DSSTNE (Deep Scalable Sparse Tensor Network Engine) pronounced “destiny”? This is what is recommending the books I read, destiny AI?

As a playwright, I craft stories in which characters are unaware of the motivational factors which guide their actions. Their fate is determined by unconscious processes running in the background of their minds, daemons in the psyche. So if I were to craft a story in which a character was fed reading material by an AI named destiny without his knowledge, what would be the implications for my character?

I guess that explains how I went from reading books about playwriting to books about ontological engineering, because creating a fictional world based on depth psychology is sort of like data modelling representations of reality. ;)