You Should Write a Play.
You. The person reading this post. You know it’s crossed your mind. It was probably one of those stray thoughts you had the last time you got bored while sitting in a theatre. You were sitting there trying to stay engaged with what was happening on stage and wondering which armrest was yours and you thought: I could do better than this. I should write a play.
And you were right. Playwriting is the great unknown territory of writing. Nobody tries it in school, and as a result many people never end up discovering a talent that they probably have. Maybe you did try it but, as you typed, you felt your head get light. Your chest tightened, like you’d just jumped into cold water, as you thought: I don’t know what I’m doing.
You stopped. The thing is, you probably didn’t know how to write a play. It’s paralyzing to not have any sense of how to start. But the basics of playwriting are easy, and can be learned in an hour or two
The key is to start small. You wouldn’t start learning to paint by trying to create a mural, and you shouldn’t start writing plays by attempting an evening-length work. That’s actually a bad analogy, because if you were to decide to teach yourself by painting a (let’s assume) bad mural, most people would walk by, glance at it, think “eh” and walk on.
But theatre is an art form that takes place over time. Other people’s time. You must not subject innocent audience members to your learning curve. Even ten minutes seems long if the play’s not working right.
As a playwright, you’re making a contract with the audience. They leave their homes and pay to be trapped in their seats for a certain amount of time. Your responsibility, as the playwright, is to entrance. For now, that’s easier to do in short form. It would be ironic if that long-ago moment when you were bored at the theatre had inspired you to write a too-long play.
The last twenty five years have seen an explosion of ten-minute plays. Theatres like them because audiences don’t get restless. Playwrights like them because they’re easier to write: the wading pool of mastery.
A great way to start writing plays—any type of writing actually—is to take a class. Better yet would be a class that started you on the road to writing a ten-minute play. Now if only you knew of a class like that that was coming to your area…
If you’re in Juneau, you’re in luck! Stephen Gregg will be teaching “Playwriting Your Life,” Tuesday, October 16, 2018 at Perseverance Theatre, 914 Third Street, Douglas. The class is co-sponsored by 49 Writers, and is pay-as-you-can.