Monday, March 26, 2012

Playwrighting Process and the Product of Chicken McNuggets

There is line I heard many years ago, delivered by the character Chris Stevens on my favorite old Television show, "Northern Exposure" and it goes; "Art is the process, not the product". I'm not sure where this line originated - I did a bit of research to trace the quote to its origin but could not find the source. For all I know, it may have been imagined by a writer for the series - which segues nicely into the thoughts (or process) that follows.

Follow me
The argument would follow that a painter or sculptor is only creating "art" while in the "process" of painting or sculpting, and the finished result, the painting/sculpture, is nothing more than a "product". (just something that happened as a result of art, not art itself.)

However, for someone like myself who writes plays, the "process/product" argument is difficult to maintain. Yes, writers can fall under the category of "artists" - we use our imaginations to create something out of nothing - we use an artistic process to create a product however, in the case of a playwright, the process of art doesn't end with the product, which is "a play". Not by a long shot - the journey for a play is still to follow another process as the art continues.

Another Journey
camdenton high school cast
Occasionally, I am invited to attend performances of my plays all over the country. Most recently, I journeyed about 2 hours from home into the magnificent Ozark mountain region of southern Missouri to Camdenton High School for a production of "I'm Getting Murdered In The Morning".
While it can be said, my process of writing is my art, in the case of a play, the "art" does not stop when I have finished writing. A "play" is essentially taken by other artists (actors) and reprocessed. (sort of like a Chicken McNugget) The characters I created in my mind and captured on paper were wonderfully realized and brought to life in a live setting. The lines were memorized and spoken before a room full of people. The actors of Camdenton High School took a story from my imagination and essentially reconstituted it with their own thoughts. Painters and sculptors could only dream of that process.

The world a playwright creates in his or her imagination; the setting, characters, dialogue, is given over to the imagination of the director and actors who will enact their own artistic process and create another product; the live performance. And in a sense, a live performance is a "process" and therefore, art.

Remember This
So, if art is the process not the product - what is the product of a playwright? Well, I could say, finally it's the audience who views the processes, and in the end - the product is just a memory. At least, that's what I imagine. I may have to process it a bit more.

Friday, March 02, 2012

2 New Plays Are Available

I just finished directing my new script Last Call At The Chez Mort for my local theatre group. Essentially, it's set in the 1940's at a Jazz Night Club or supper club or both. I've always wanted to do a period piece set during this Swing Era. I've watched enough old movies to have that clipped style dialogue and lingo running around my head.
The play actually evolved from a 15 minute piece I wrote for a group in Singapore. They wanted a short murder mystery set in a night club Shanghai in the 30's or 40's with Jazz music and gangsters, so I dove into a bit of research and found some interesting facts. The nightclubs of Shanghai were populated with all sorts of characters from all over Europe - British, French, German, Russian, Americans, a virtual cross cultural collection of people. I had a chance to create some great characters, albeit, limited to a 15 minute story. When Affton CenterStage requested a "new" murder mystery, I saw a great opportunity to expand the piece into a full length play. I kept the European flair with the French Master of Ceremonies and the Russian hoodlum, but I "Americanized" a few other characters so the "Jazz Nightclub" setting would work here. Also this was my first time incorporating "music" into a play. (though it's not a musical per-se)
Since the setting was a Jazz night club, I felt there needed to be some songs and they should be performed live. I found a gifted actress with a great singing voice and a piano player to complete this feat. I must admit it added a whole new dimension to the play. After a successful two week run, I was able to restructure some plot points based on audience reaction and rework any "bits" that didn't work.

Other New Play -Guest Artist

From time to time I hear from other playwrights who would like me to check out a script to offer feedback. I've done so on many occasions.
A few months ago, I helped out a fellow "writer/actor" named Toby Otero who hosts a morning radio show down in Louisiana. He was part a theatre group that produced one of my plays and through the wonders of social media we stayed in touch.

A few months ago, Toby tried his hand at writing his own Murder mystery and sent it to me for pointers. It was a wonderful campy tale of a mad scientist who conducts an experiment on a couple - virtually, swapping their personalities but of course, not everything goes as planned. Especially a major power outage. Couple the situation with other assorted odd-ball characters and you have a great blend of Sci-Fi and murder mystery.
The play was called The Science Of Murder - well long story short, I offered Toby a spot on my website Play-dead to list his script. Please check it out!