Maintaining Enthusiasm

Writing plays can be very discouraging. Every book I’ve read on playwriting has been discouraging. Most playwriting books emphasize that your chances of getting a play produced are very slim. Every rejection of a script is discouraging. Now that the coronavirus pandemic has shut down theaters the most you can hope for a Zoom reading of your play. That is also not very encouraging.

Nothing gets done without encouragement. I like to point out that plays don’t write themselves. Somebody has to make the effort to write a great play or it simply will not exist. This means that somebody has to devote a considerable amount of time and effort to do the writing. Writing a play takes a great deal of thought. Even though a script is like a sketch which does not need every detail rendered, it still requires countless creative decisions. Like most creative artists, the playwright is responsible for actually creating something, to bring something about, to bring a great play into the world. I would even suggest that the average theater enthusiast has a responsibility to write a play should a great idea for one come to him or her. You certainly cannot expect anyone else to bring your vague dream into reality as a completed script.

The power to bring a great play into being is encouraging. It lies in the playwright’s power to bring something about. And what will be brought into being will be as wonderful as the playwright’s imagination can make it. Unfortunately, the performing arts rarely acknowledges the power of the creative artist. Actors have no ability to create their own part. They are totally dependent upon being given an opportunity to perform. Of course, this is the reason many actors turn to producing or script writing. They do so to seek greater agency. But in general the performing artist has the mentality of a beggar and does not dream of creating his own opportunities.

If you genuinely admire great plays as works of literature then it can be very exciting to contemplate writing one and having one to your name. It lies in your power to increase your literary wealth by turning great idea after great idea into works of literature. You can also establish your stake on a great intellectual concept by being the first playwright to write a decent play based on that idea. As long as you have done the work to turn a dramatic situation into a piece of dramatic writing, you can consider yourself to be in the company of playwrights. Whether this prospect thrills you or not depends upon how high your regard for playwrights may be. Given the world’s high regard for Shakespeare, we often hold playwrights in greater esteem than we might.

So based on my thoughts so far, it should be possible to elevate one’s enthusiasm for writing plays by first appreciating the power one has to bring about something special in our culture. Second, it should be possible to increase one’s enthusiasm by increasing one’s appreciation for plays as works of literature. A script should not be considered nothing more than a means to an end, the production, but rather a work of art in and of itself. In other words, you need an elevated conception of the script. And third, by giving greater esteem to the playwright you will be more inclined to strive to be one.

It would be easier to hold playwrights in high esteem if they were treated like cultural heroes. Unfortunately, playwrights receive very little attention. A published play on Amazon will often receive no reviews. There are very few biographies of contemporary playwrights except for major playwrights of the past. And playwrights don’t tend to attract any literary fans or followers on social media. The only people interested in playwrights are other playwrights. The same might be said of poets but at least major poets are the subject of academic studies. A rare exception to the disinterest in playwrights is the French film Sur les traces de Sarah Kane which features an actress preparing for a role in one of her plays. This actress appears to become obsessed with Sarah Kane to the point where she makes a pilgrimage to England and even re-enacts her suicide which I thought was a little much. Nevertheless, this is an interesting example of an actor worshiping a playwright.

I have some interesting abilities. One of my abilities is the ability to invest something with the sacred. What I mean by that is I can raise something in my imagination to the level of the sacred. I can do this through conscious effort. Nothing is inherently sacred to me but I can come to view something as sacred. This is an useful ability for elevating something into a higher state of significance than is warranted. Why not elevate playwriting to a higher state of significance than is warranted?  In order to do this it is necessary to associate playwriting with the visionary. Few plays strike me as being all that visionary but maybe I can write the world’s first visionary play.

How does one elevate something to the level of the sacred? The trick seems to be to increase the number of positive things it symbolizes. Take a teddy bear for example. A teddy bear already symbolizes youth, innocence, and play. But a teddy bear could also symbolize a totem animal to give it a spiritual quality. Or a teddy bear could symbolize a friendship with somebody who loved teddy bears. The more an object symbolizes something else the more meaning it acquires. To elevate the play script you must see it as symbolizing something greater than what it is normally associated with, like a night at the theater as a story told at night, a fantasy spun at night, or the literature of the fantastic. This brings to mind my general concern to tie the arts into something more vital in the human condition instead of merely valuing art for art’s sake. It is always important to remember that we value the arts for representing something greater than the mundane. Therefore plays, playwrights, and the theater must be seen as being greater than their mundane reality.

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