Some thoughts on theater

Two weeks ago, I went to a college theater festival in Maryland. Surrounded by crazy

Photo from the festival: a few of us in Midsummer Night's Dream Costumes, designed by Emily West
Photo from the festival: a few of us in A Midsummer Night’s Dream costumes, designed by Emily West (Far right)

theater types, plays, and workshops–including one that taught how to use a feather to achieve inner balance–the nine of us who went had theater on the brain–still do, I suppose.

Since ninth grade, when I acted in my first play, theater has remained an integral part of my life. Many of my friends have been actors and techies, and my evenings–sometimes weekends–often get swallowed by it. Whenever I can, I try to see plays.

It’s a fascinating art. Is has the fragility of music and the visual complexity of painting, kinetic and dynamic like dance, yet grounded in the permanence of writing. It uses space and resonance in ways a film never could and the vocalization of everyday poetry.

And it’s immediate, like life.

That said, I haven’t written much for theater. I wrote one act in high school: For Restful Death I Cry, taking the title from a Shakespearian sonnet. In the play, the main character, Matt, finds himself dead, having committed suicide. He meets an Angelical Negotiating Generic Entity Liaison, a.k.a an “angel,” bureaucrat in charge of the suicide subcommittee.

The angel tells him that he must fill out some paperwork before he takes him to heaven. Matt reveals his reasons–his general disgust with the world, his lack of hope, etc.–but as he talks, his girlfriend Wren runs in.

Turns out, he killed himself because he had lost his job, and was going to propose to Wren, but she was cheating on him when he came to do so. As his last hope in this world, she crushed him.

Wren calls the paramedics, creating a choice: Matt can either go to heaven or come back. In the end, he chooses to come back, forgiving Wren and refusing to leave her alone. The angel leaves, saying, “I hope I never see you again, and I mean that in the nicest way possible.”

It’s a darkly humorous play, and I’ve actually seen in performed twice. Once by Syracuse Stage in a playwright contest, and then by one of my friends and a small theater troupe of students at Ithaca.

Seeing the words come alive, the set made physical, and the characters fleshed out into forms with voice and movement, I realized every performance is an interpretation. As in Roland Barthe’s “death of the author,” my interpretation joins a chorus of other ones. I didn’t envision it the way the actors and directors did. At first, I felt irked. Then, I realized the richness of a reinvented text.

Since then, I haven’t written many plays, embracing prose instead. Still, with theatre rattling in my bones, the urge to write a play remains. I went to a playwriting workshop at the festival and found that passion invigorated further. But I lacked a play.

Yesterday, I thought of one. I started one three years ago, dividing the acts into courses in a meal. The whole play takes place at a single café table and involves a collection of college friends, including an overly intellectual young man named Blake and the daughter of a hippie, named Willow.  They have a mutual friend who speaks in quotes and clichés most of the time.

The play got derailed, although it had some good scenes. I couldn’t find a coherent through line and found myself mired in melodrama and unnatural dialogue.

Now, I want to return. My new plan: Blake and Willow deconstruct the usual symbols and rituals for love, things like roses and chocolates–even the word love itself–because they think the words and symbols have lost their value. They’re empty and meaningless, and therefore, unusable.

Surrounded by the wreckage of their handiwork, Blake suddenly realizes he loves Willow. But he can’t communicate how he feels because they’ve deconstructed everything. So, he must construct a new set of values and symbols and use it to communicate his feelings to Willow.

So, after my current project–a memoir–I hope to attempt a play. What do people think about the idea? Any suggestions?

4 thoughts on “Some thoughts on theater

  1. Ah! That’s such a great idea. I don’t want to sound like I’m overly enthusiastic all the time, but I really think it’s got something going for it. I will say that I think every writer has toyed with the idea of the “One single place and the events that happen there over time”, And nine times out of ten it seems to involve a cafe (But that’s just because they’re such a staple in the writers life as well as generally awesome). I really like how that they’ve de constructed these universal symbols that are so ubiquitous, like in saying a word too many times, but then they find they need them, or what they used to be, and are now lost. I’m very interested in what they come up with to replace them. 🙂

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