WHY write a play? (Capitalization intended!)

I’ve been sitting on some thoughts for a week now from class discussion on 4/15 revolving around how the stage can be used in different ways. I am always fascinated by the ability that staged performances have to convey messages in an intimate way. The structure of a play itself is potentially limitless, but in a traditional setting we expect to go to watch other people give a performance of sorts, independent of the audience itself. For me, why would I go to a play instead of viewing a movie? After all, a movie truly acts independently of the audience! Perhaps its authenticity? Living in the moment? For me, the power of the staged play is its ability to interact, perhaps against the original desire of the audience members. The reality that living people are looking at the audience makes theatre potentially unsettling for the audience, but as Parks says in The America Play and Other Works in the section From Elements of Style, “Why does this thing I’m writing have to be a play?” (7). The intentional of choice to write a play for the artists creation should effectively make use of the unique tools in the toolbox of the theatre, namely personal connections to the audience (despite audience members still not expecting this!)

The sign system that we expect in a play is limited to what I consider to be a mainstream play. Not that there is anything wrong with this, but the artform allows for a lot more to happen than the expected arrival of the audience, actors on stage for a while, an intermission, and bows at the end. This scaffold can be something to fall back on, but I contest that more artists should heed Parks’ thoughts on the craft of writing a play and use the reality of the situation to advance the message you wish to convey. What I mean is this: if you’re writing a play, make it extraordinary. Give the audience a show they won’t soon forget. Use the actors and their humanity to your advantage! Have interactions with the audience. Perhaps have ad lib opportunities here and there to break the stiffness and provide intimacy. I’m all about making the audience realize that they are an audience. Prolonged silence could make the audience feel like they’re doing something wrong, while direct address could make them feel like they’re a part of the performance (which, in a way, they are by providing constant feedback through expression, applause, and the physicality of their bodies sucking energy out of the sound,  that is to say that the presence of bodies alters the acoustics of the space of performance) and could prompt even audience response, which could make new content out of the air.

Okay. Rant over. I think what Parks is really getting at is the idea that the play that you write must have some defining component that is unique to the medium in order to not become “another lame play” (7).  Her discussion on form and content makes me think about the content that I wrote in the last paragraph. The reality check comes to me when she mentions Lorraine Hansberry and the naturalism of her work: “I don’t explode the form because I find traditional plays “boring”— I don’t really. It’s just that those structures never could accommodate the figures which take up residence inside me” (8). Why do I have a yearning for avant garde content in the theatre? I’m intrigued by new things, especially in a space I used to occupy (yup, I’m a theatre kid at heart).

As a performer myself, I was always interested and excited to push the boundaries of what was and was not theatre. While we have to stick to the script that we perform, mostly for copyright reasons, I would love to be a part of a performance that involves a script that is more open for ad lib lines and the like. I was excited to use walkways in the audience, to enter from different areas of the stage, to take stories and deliver them directly into the souls of the audience members by making eye contact. I didn’t want to be a show to be seen, I wanted to take my audience on a journey with me. As Gaston, I wanted them to see how insane I had become through my personal journey for Belle in Beauty and the Beast. As Radames, I wanted the audience to feel for me and my (upon reflection, extremely privileged, yet still) heartbreaking situation. By connecting with an audience on an intimate level, we as actors can truly take audience members with us, rather than letting them just watch us as we journey without them.

I think that some of the best performances, speakers, thinkers, essentially people who interact with other live humans in real time are those who pay attention to those whom they’re speaking to. If a performance is going on and the audience is not attentive, then I think that a connection needs to be made between the performer and the audience member. The potential for intimacy in theatre can be a great outlet for the attention to be effectively captured. Anectodal evidence through my education major, being a performer,  as well as other things have taught me that if you’re delivering your message effectively and intimately (that is to say you’re making eye contact and personal connections with the class, audience, or otherwise) then the audience will be silent, attentive, and eager to hear what you have to say next. I hope to channel this as a teacher as often as I can, as it will be a better experience for my students for sure! In the theatrical sphere, I think that I would be much more excited and engaged as an audience member if more performers (and directors!) strove for intimacy and connections, even discomfort as Parks sometimes does as we explored in “Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom” more than they currently do.

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