Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Playwriting in 3D notes

The Playwriting in 3D talk on Saturday felt like it was very successful. We had about 30 people attend, and I'd say that almost all of them were writers (next time, I hope we draw in some designers, too).

I was there early to work with our four terrific designers--Karen Perlow (lighting), PJ Strachman (lighting), David Remedios (sound), and David Reiffel (sound)--and Dawn Simmons from StageSource to set up the space. Every time I get to meet with this group of designers, I am reminded how much I like designers as a group--in addition to being terrific artists, they're intensely practical. They're used to jumping in and solving problems as they arrive--so the fact that our borrowed digital projectors were crapping out on us less than an hour before the event, didn't seem to phase anyone. They just found a way to solve the problem.

The format of the afternoon was pretty simple--each designer did a 15-20 minutes show-and-tell, then I led a discussion between all of us, and then, after a break for some homemade brownies (baked by yours truly), we opened up the floor for Q&A.

The show-and-tell segments were particularly fun--we alternated between lighting and sound designers. The lighting designers showed slide presentations of work they'd done in the past, and talked about how they'd approached the script or how various elements of the show all worked together. The sound guys had all kinds of fun gadgets with them that we hooked into the theatre sound system (and a big shout out to the Central Square theatre and to Alison from the Nora, and Taylor, the T.D.) for all kinds of cool, loud, and disturbing sounds.

The end result of the entire afternoon was not a take-home list of dos and don'ts, but something much less tangible but, in my opinion, more valuable--a much clearer sense of how sound and lighting designers approach a script and a production. In terms of how to communicate with them via stage directions, the answer is probably to write more descriptively (minimally) and less proscriptively. But really, the designers are looking deeply at the themes and characters in our plays, and trying to figure out how to enhance and clarify or amplify all of it.

One thing I appreciate about all the designers at our workshop was their inherent flexibility--they understand that some elements of their design will have to be changed as the production of the script begins to be fully realized. This same lesson applies, I think, to playwrights as well--though we keep in mind our original intentions, we also need to come to a realistic embrace of the elements of each particular production and try to understand better how to rewrite to make all the collaborative aspects of the show work effectively.

In the end, the afternoon felt like a great gift--it's not often that we're able to sit down with a bunch of designers and just talk about the art of theatre, without the pressure of a production bearing down upon us.

I'm hopeful that we'll do more of these sorts of talks here in Boston (next up on my list: costume and set designers, magic and its practical applications in making theatre, and an introduction to stage combat for writers). I also hope that writers in other cities will put together similar events--it's so important that we keep finding ways in the theatre to learn from each other, and these sorts of peer-to-peer, artist-to-artist, exchanges aren't really that hard to arrange. It's up to us to keep finding ways to improve our writing and our productions, and this can be one of them. Not every city has an organization like StageSource, which made all this run smoothly, but there are plenty of dark afternoons in theatre spaces, just waiting to be filled.

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