Fear Not The Bard

He was not of an age, but for all time. – Ben Jonson

Last week I participated in Toronto Fringe’s 25-hour playwriting competition.  At 1:00 Eastern, they announced 4 themes each play had to have.  We had until 2:00 Eastern the next day to complete a one act (no less than 45 minutes).

I was eager for the challenge.  Usually when I’m not writing, it’s because I have nothing to write about.  This took that away from me.  As the time grew nearer, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to coherently use the themes they would choose.  And when I got the themes, I methodically wrote them down and actually brainstormed for a moment.  At that point, as it usually is for me, the play shaped itself.  I knew where it was heading, I just had to get it there.  I’m pleased with the results.  I won’t find out if it was a Toronto Fringe winner till Wednesday, but prize, or no prize, I have a new functional script, and plans to use it.

While I was writing, I had my TV on.  I’m not one for silence.  I’m sure I watched a few sitcoms, white noise and such, but as my to-watch list on my PVR dwindled, I saw that I still had most of the episodes in Shakespeare Uncovered to finish.  Prior to this, I had watched the one on Macbeth, and the comedies.  Ultimately, I believe the comedies to be my favourite episode, because it reiterated just how well Shakespeare, who couldn’t actually have women play the roles, wrote women.

But that’s probably a subject for another blog post.

Writing a play while learning how Shakespeare wrote, prepared, etc. was quite interesting, and eye-opening.  I haven’t done a lot of in-depth studies on Shakespeare, especially the writing aspect of it, but my class last year really helped me appreciate as an actor and a playwright just how bright Shakespeare was.  Every little thing he wrote meant something.  There was little to no “filler”.  Every punctuation mark meant something.  Every character was there to contribute something, not just to have a character there.

As a writer, that is something to aspire to.  I’m terrible at filler.  When I was in high school and college, 10-page papers were so daunting to me, because I always felt I could make my point in much less time/space.  Another negative aspect of filler is that your characters and your words need to mean something.  If that’s the service/ware you’re selling, you want to make sure every aspect of it is filling its purpose.

In my Shakespeare class last year, my main problem was lack of word-for-word.  I have a working theory that people who are more comfortable and confident in their improv skills will find memorizing scripts more difficult.  Not impossible, mind, but difficult.  Those people who aren’t comfortable and confident in improv have an easier time making sure every single word is memorized, in proper order.  Saying that, now that I’ve written more and more, and have been lucky enough to at least co-direct my own plays, I understand how important to a writer word-perfect is.  You’ve crafted these words, you know why the character is saying it the way he or she is.  You want to make sure the eventual audience will see what you saw in the character.  So actors: please, please, please, understand that directors and playwrights saying “word perfect” is only 10% OCD and 90% character.  Playwrights: know why you’re writing those words.  Know why your character is saying what they’re saying.  If you don’t know why, the director won’t know why, the actor won’t know why, and the audience won’t know why, and your point is lost.

I also see that some actors (especially hobbyist actors) seems to avoid Shakespeare.  Perhaps he seems too daunting with his tongue twister lines, and aged sayings.  He’s only as scary as you make him out to be.  Even if you are just a hobbyist actor, don’t you wish to be as good as you can?  We owe so much to this man, and he was really the actor’s playwright.  He would write scripts in the morning and give it to the actors in the afternoon.  He’s giving you everything you need to know in your script.  What’s not to love about that?

Playwrights, you must find your own voice, but if you don’t acknowledge, or dig even a little bit into what Shakespeare did, I truly believe you’re missing out on an opportunity to not only find your voice, but also to amplify it.

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