Vision writers’ very own Michele Cashmore has a play being performed next weekend (Saturday 13th of November). I’ve invited Michele along to the ROR blog to talk about the art of play writing. Take it away, Michele …
Thank you, Rowena for inviting me to do a post for ROR on writing for theatre. Having recently completed an intensive weekend course in playwrighting with Short + Sweet Theatre with Alex Broun, one of the world’s leading ten minute playwrights, the topic today is playwrighting versus fiction.
I should emphasise here that I’m discussing short plays as opposed to feature length, so it might be more applicable to explore short plays (ten minutes) versus short stories. What are the differences?
A short play can be defined as emotional and something you feel. It is a shared act of imagination for the audience to engage in and respond to the ‘suspension of disbelief’. When we are talking ‘live theatre’ a play is a visual medium so the audience must be shown and not told. A good rule of thumb for any storytelling.
And like all good fiction every scene should be pushing the story forward. It should have a beginning, middle and an end. But as with all art a good story doesn’t necessarily have to follow the conventions, so long as something happens within the first four – six minutes that will raise the stakes and hurtle the play to its conclusion.
In fiction you can explore the geographical location, or its surroundings or internal dialogue but in a play the only thing you have to rely on is dialogue. Dialogue that tells the story. As a fiction writer I find this a challenge not only because dialogue has to work twice as hard but because I love descriptive prose of location and setting, sound, smell – everything that explores the senses. When writing a play, you state where it’s set and that is it. E.g. Mary’s kitchen at 2pm.
The layout of how a play is written is also quite different than the normal formatting of fiction but I won’t go into that here.
So what else is different?
Fiction: has a greater range of characters, introspection, or even narration.
Theatre: is first person dialogue, with the absence of narrative. Short plays would ideally have no more than three characters/actors. While these might be seen as a hindrance to storytelling they can in fact make the story stronger and heighten the tension provided the plot is sound and the dialogue realistic and showing.
The key elements to a play are:
- Theatrical and dramatic tension or humour;
- Something/elements that keep people watching.
The key elements to fiction are:
The differences between a play and fiction are subtle and there are all kinds of variances to the above elements.
In a play you can have real time or stage time.
Real time: the story is told in the ten minutes that you are watching.
Stage time: The ten minute play can span anywhere from 1 – 100 years.
In addition to this, there are generally two types of plays:
Direct address: An actor/character speaks directly to the audience because they want something from the audience (it could be narration explaining the passing of time, or it could be because all the other characters in the play are dead).
Fourth Wall: is the imaginary wall between the audience and performers in which the stage has three walls with one missing. The audience are not acknowledged or addressed as in direct address.
With theatre a play becomes a production. The writer must relinquish control, just as a writer does in effect when the book is published. The writer has no control over how the reader may perceive the story.
A play, however, is not just about the writer giving over its story, it becomes a physical act upon a stage. This requires actors and a director, all of which will have an influence on your story, and the finished product may be slightly different than how you first perceived it. For me personally, I find this an exciting process as it’s a collaboration. The writer in most cases will have no input once the play is handed over to the actors and director.
As in getting your novel published or your short story in an anthology, the reward for a playwright is seeing your words performed to an audience. A play doesn’t get published – it gets performed and without that performance a play is simply a story along with all the other unpublished stories hiding in that bottom drawer. Getting your words performed, is equally as competitive and equally as rewarding once your words see the light of day as it is getting published.
Playwrighting is an exciting visual medium and one of the things I have learned since attending this amazing course is the importance and power of the short play. A quote from their website sums it up nicely: Short + Sweet believes in the validity of the ten minute theatre form and that ten minute theatre works can stimulate, move and entertain audiences as effectively as longer theatre forms.
For more information and bookings for the Short + Sweet Theatre Festival, currently held in Brisbane at the Judith Wright Centre for the Contemporary Arts from 10 November – 20 November 2010 click here or visit my blog for more details.
Michele’s ten minute play, The Corpse cannot Play will be performed as a ‘Wildcard’ session during the festival on the 13th November, 2010 (two performances only @ 1pm & 4pm). Bookings here.
Michele is a Brisbane based writer and a graduate of the 2007 Clarion South Writers Workshop, a six week intensive residential programme for developing writers of speculative fiction. You can find out more about her here