Voyeurism as Experience
How Do Young Writers Forge Their Artistic Identities?
The summer before I started applying for colleges, I was visiting one of my close friends who lived on the Jersey Shore before it was time to head back to school. The night before I left, her parents threw a porch-deck dinner party in which I found myself surrounded by sun-kissed middle-aged couples asking me about what I was planning to do for the rest of my life. “I'm applying to school for playwriting,” I said shyly into my wine glass filled with lemonade.
An older gentleman with a salt-and-pepper beard laughed a little as he gnawed on a lobster claw. “A playwright?” I silently looked on as he sucked on the marrow some more before he paused and asked me, “Well, aren't you a little young for that sort of thing? What exactly is it you want to—that you can—write about?”
After having spent most of my high school experience adjudicating “teen writing” as the playwriting editor for our online magazine, The Blue Pencil Online, I find the quality of writing—especially playwriting—by youths is not a question of the writer's specific voice, rhythm, or style, but of merit: is the writing any good at all? And if you can find some technical and emotional merit, is it automatically worthy of acknowledgement and mention? To reiterate the concerns of my fine, older friend from New Jersey: how can one credibly write about emotionally potent, adult situations when one hasn't experienced them yet? And furthermore: how can young writers forge artistic identities for themselves that transcend their own generational zeitgeist?
During one of the workshops for the New Playwright's Festival presented by RareWorks Theatre Company at Emerson College last year, a student director (of the other play that was chosen to be produced) gave me feedback after our read-through. “What I really love about your writing,” he said, “is that you write about things that are really important to people our age—how exactly can we reconcile our past with our present and how can we move on from there. It's something that really resonates with this generation, I think. You write for people our age.”
While the theme of last years festival was “The Memory Plays,” I found myself returning to his comment. In various writing workshops and classrooms, I have been told to “write what I know” and to “tell my story.” But as a writer—especially as a playwright—I find that my job is to fully realize voices that are not my own, stories that are weaved from different cloths, often that I have yet to wear. It is not the stories or words themselves that create our artistic identities but the vessels we choose to shape those alternate realities—and we borrow these “vessels” from other artists. Theatre is to create experience: a space and shape where people breathe in front of you. My experience becomes the experience of Miller, Pinter, and Williams simply by being an audience member. As a young theatre artist, my voice comes from voyeurism. And with the advances in technology, incredible avenues of access have flowed to my generation's fingertips, making voyeurism easier than ever before.
As a young theatre artist, my voice comes from voyeurism. And with the advances in technology, incredible avenues of access have flowed to my generation's fingertips, making voyeurism easier than ever before.
Experience then becomes dramaturgical; I find myself patching together narratives that I have yet play out myself in hopes that my observations transcend my lack of emotional intellect. I find this transcendence present and possible in the adaptation process.
Last summer, I began co-adapting the film Rachel Getting Married into a workshop script for the stage. While I had a narrative and dialogue at my disposal, research helped my understanding of the protagonist's addiction. I hope, then, that in this case the fruits of my voyeurism stands in for what I cannot articulate just yet. (And for my generation as a whole.) All of this begs the question, which I turn over to you, dear reader: does the artistic voice come from the “truth” of the real experiences that happen to us or from the artistry of our imagination—the way in which we draw and shape the grey areas of our lives?