22/07/2011 at 5:35 pm Leave a comment

For my one-hundredth post, something of a milestone, I wanted to write something a little different. I thought about wallowing in reflection on the past year or so, but that’s so naff, I should at least wait until I run out of things to say. But I would like to thank all the readers who have encouraged and offered feedback on my little theatre weblog. I have certainly learned a lot in the process of writing it. And there’s a lot more to come! Because when I’m not writing about theatre, I’m thinking about theatre, or possibly about how much I dislike umbrellas (but that’s topic for another day) – and while on break I made a point to read as much as I could and really develop my core beliefs about the what, how and why of stagecraft.

For example; in a recent post I espoused my discovery of the wonderful contradiction that the best ideas are those that can’t be done – which far from being the Yossarianesque paradox of productivity it may seem – has actually been a fundamental driving force behind nearly everything I have done creatively since living memory. Highly liberating to realise that the anguish of creative pursuit is directly linked to the impossibility of the targets for which I am reaching. It’s why I can’t bear mediocrity in art. ‘Safe’ choices bring me pain. But I digress.

I got the idea from a marvelous book called The Art & Craft of Playwriting in which the author Jeffrey Hatcher says:

“A playwright has to believe in certain dramatic and theatrical principles, and my life in the theater has taught me the following…”

He goes on to outline a set of core statements that mark his work, from the basic structural tenets as: “I believe in beginnings, middles and ends” to more abstract epithets like “I believe all plays are mystery plays”. Whether or not one agrees or gains insight from these is not the point (the book itself offers much more to writers which I cannot) – but I found it a fascinating exercise to create my own list of core beliefs that a life in the theatre has taught me. Because it’s not as immediately obvious as one might think: much of these are intuitive, and not so easy to articulate things which are a foundation of an understanding of a medium that encompasses so much of our lives (whether we are audience or artist) – beliefs are often not found in words, but instinct.

So anyways. I thought I’d take this opportunity to share. I’ll skip the more obvious and conventional; since many other writers before I (like Stephen King and, um, Aristotle) have outlined and debated what makes good story; let’s just take it as a given that elements like music and character are in play. For this list I want to dig a bit deeper and hopefully express a set of beliefs that are both personal and universal, giving insight to who I am as a writer; and not at all an esoteric wank-jam that indulgently self-promotes my credentials in thespianism. Or at least somewhere between the two.

I believe that art is conversation.
OK, so this one is kind of obvious; but it’s vital for any writer or artist to be aware of what they are trying to say in the context of the broader theatrical discussion. So artists must spend equal time listening, watching and being guided (towards or away) from others’ art as they do creating their own. It’s also the core belief that drove me to begin this blog – in a fit of disdain for theatre writers who nit-pick away at what artists are doing in theatres without paying any mind to what it is they are trying to do. Like listening to a debate and saying to the philosopher: “I have no idea what you just said but I didn’t like the way you said it…”. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: art is conversation, it’s been going for millenia. It’s not that hard to learn the language if you want to get involved.

I believe that theatrical metaphors cannot be expressed in any other form.
It’s no wonder there’s such controversy surrounding theatre as literature. For something that so often springs from the written word- it shouldn’t be this complicated, should it? I’m thinking of the Premier’s Literary Awards Fail last year (and I am yet to have my final say on that matter – another day perhaps). But I do agree that a script is a skeleton of what we can classify as theatre, it takes a special lens to see past the written word into such mercurial quantum possibilities as what a play can be . And that’s a living, shifting metaphor. One hundred productions of the same set of words, lived, breathed by one hundred ensembles – never quite the same, never repeated. To wit: words actually limit theatrical expression, such that it heralds far more scope for meaning and discussion than mere literature. For my money, when book snobs say theatre is not literary – they’re absolutely right. It’s So Much More.

I believe that actions speak louder than words.
It’s the Curse of the Thousand-Fold Entendre, the fantastic irony of dialogue that is meant to both reveal and obscure. But every great writer knows that story is driven by action, no matter how many witty ripostes come searing through, if nothing is actually happening… it’s not very dramatic. Or even comic. The funniest lines are usually so because the character is trying to do something sincere, not say something clever. A fatal trap for writers to fall into. Which brings me to stage directions. I don’t know where this business comes from that directors and actors dislike stage directions. What an absurd prospect. All the great plays have key moments of action which are either incidental [helping himself to cucumber sandwiches] or vital to the plot [putting the manuscript into the fireplace]… More likely, is they hate unnecessary stage directions. We don’t like unneccesary dialogue either, but that doesn’t stop most writers including it! Moving on…

Well, those are the beginnings of my basic tenets of theatre. There’s a few more to come, but since this blog is in excess of a thousand words I might just revisit the rest later. Too much else to do right now!

What do you think? What are your fundamental beliefs about writing, or theatre, or performance?

Entry filed under: Inside Theatre PROCESS.

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