I want to write the chaos that is inside us, chaos in which a word has no meaning but a meaning has a sound and the layer of sounds is grappling with what it is to be.
I want to write a person that I can’t know by meeting them, that I can’t see on a screen, something that goes deeper than subtext; it doesn’t matter why you are like this. I want to see you, the way we never see each other. I want to watch, I want to listen, imagine. Let me find another way of thinking.
I want to write beyond language, I want to write noise, emotion, the impossibilities of writing any of this.
Show me a world without the answers, let me see the patterns, let me discover something about myself, I don’t care if it wasn’t intended. How could it be? No one is that clever.
Writers don’t know why. Writers don’t know what they are doing. That’s when it’s writing writing writing the writer is lost.
Lost, invisible, busy, we want to disappear in our work.
Risk. Audiences love it. Audiences don’t know the rules. Because there aren’t any. Anyone who needs someone to tell them how to do theatre should be doing something else. A job with a line manager.
Stop censoring writers who play with plays.
I can’t tell you what central question this play is asking its audience, because it hasn’t been made yet. Because the page is only the first breath. And even when it has been made it will ask different things of different people, and they will ask different things of it.
As soon as you think you know how to write, direct, make theatre – as soon as there is a system, it is dead.
Of course I can learn the ‘rules’, I can understand them, I enjoy them embedded in a good novel. Hunger Games used them well in the film (the book gets the rules of plot right but forgot to follow the ‘show don’t tell’ rule with character and dialogue). Of course I know the rules. I’m good at teaching them too. I also don’t think the audience is stupid enough to require them on a plate. Not in the theatre. Not in the theatres with uncomfortable seats, dodgy heating, and no ice cream. I need something more to keep me sitting there.
The funny thing is, everyone knows this, everyone knows that really, there are no rules, but still, people keep quoting the ‘rules’ of playwriting back at me. David Lan’s ‘rules’ come up a lot. But he doesn’t have rules for directors, this is great:
It is not as if once you have done 37 productions, you will walk in next time and know how to do it. Everyone is equal and everyone is struggling all the time. On the first day of rehearsal it can happen that you arrive and you have no idea how to start or what you are going to do. You make it up. We are all equal and everyone is starting afresh each time. David Lan, interview.
The following was given to me by David Prescott from the Drum Theatre Royal, Plymouth, I will find out where he got it from. It has also been quoted to me verbatim more than once.
David Lan’s Narrative Structure for all of Western Drama:
A character exists in a culture.
Something about that culture is causing the character to suffer.
Something happens that makes the character realise that they have to do something or get something to ease the suffering.
They go on a journey that may or may not be a physical journey in their attempt to do or get this thing.
On this journey they come across obstacles which they either succeed or fail in overcoming.
In their success or their failure they either learn something about themselves or the audience learns something about them.
[I have never met David Lan and he may not intend the above as a manual for today’s playwrights, however, it has been presented to me as such]
I prefer to think of narrative as the perspective that the work is told from, and as something that the audience can weave for themselves, audiences are good at that, we just need to let them.
I struggle to apply Lan’s structure to Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life, Heiner Müller’s Hamletmachine, Sarah Kane’s Crave, Beckett’s Not I…etc. Perhaps with effort and a bit of twisting it’s possible. But what’s the point? These principles were not extracted from plays in the first place in order to interpret this ‘postdramatic’ generation of writing (which is a joke in itself, this work is hardly new, it’s just marginalised now more than ever –and in fact barely exists in this country thanks to the censorship of the few ‘new writing’ theatres that accept unsolicited scripts). But it seems this vocabulary is all many have. As a reader/director told me, if we don’t use these parameters to discuss a play – then how can we talk about it? If they can’t talk about it the writer’s fucked.
I hope I never know how to write a play.
Give the writer a voice. Let us respond to your reasons for rejecting our plays without fear of ostracism and the reputation for being difficult to work with.
Being able to think as well as being about to write doesn’t mean we are difficult to work with.
Art gallery curators don’t tell artists how to make their work. Stop telling writers how to write. That doesn’t mean we won’t listen or collaborate. That doesn’t mean we will be difficult to work with.
Stop censoring plays you don’t understand. You’re not supposed to. They are not supposed to be read. I thought Kane’s 4:48 Psychosis was a self-indulgent diary the first time I read it. Then I read it again many times and performed in it. All plays are for performance, but some plays in particular don’t work on the page, and certainly one quick reading of them is not enough. It doesn’t follow that they need more than one viewing in order to communicate in performance.
Don’t dismiss a play because it doesn’t look like a play on the page. Don’t dismiss a play because it does look like a play but doesn’t do the other things you expect. I’ve said this before, I’m boring myself.
Come on England, let us write and get rid of the bloody readers. They are not needed because playwrights don’t write for the page. So stop reading our pages and let us write them.
For my part: I’ll stop sending you my pages to read.
‘We hope you will find a home for your play elsewhere’
There is no home for my plays. I need to build one myself.
Inspired by my rejection letters, various blogs including by George Hunka:
The impulse to storytelling (and to being subsumed within the telling of a story) is constantly undermined by violent fragmentation of the human urge to both telling and listening to a well-rounded narrative — and, in fragmenting and frustrating this desire, to invite the individual audience member to fit these on-stage events into their own matrix of interpretation instead of having this matrix imposed upon the events by the artist: to create one’s own story, rather than having a story eliminate alternative interpretations through the logic of its expected progression through time, in conforming to the “well-made” story, as that “well-making” is ideologically defined by the dramatist and the director. (George Hunka)
and a feature in the recent UK Writer, the Writers’ Guild magazine which quoted Arnold Wesker from ‘Wesker on Theatre’.
Arnold Wesker on the Royal Court in the 50s:
They didn’t like or understand what I wrote, but they took the risk. I’d like to think they trusted the writer, but with experience and hindsight now understand it was the directors – Anderson and Dexter – whom they trusted.
And on new writing now:
All plays must be filtered through those directors and, more likely, literary managers with first-class degrees in Eng. Lit and little ability to lift a play off a page, or whose antenna are tilted to detect what is politically correct or (ephemerally) of the moment.
[...] I have no home, no base, no team with whom to work on that material, and my file of curious, stuttering, contradictory letters of rejection grows. Artistic directors admire my plays for their ‘powerful’ themes, ‘passionate dialogue’, and ‘brilliant’ something or other but, but, but…they do not fit into their artistic policy.