Last night I participated in a fabulously fun and informal theatrical reading in the living room belonging to an inspiring playwright and director, Wendi Olson. I read the role of Mrs. Daldry (from Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room), in a room full of inspiring playwrights and directors and artists and actors (Patricia Reynoso, Conrad Panganiban, Nara Dahlbacka, Laramie Crocker, Matt Cover).
I am not an actor. I have never considered acting as something that I can do, or do well. So why did I do it? Why, for two hours, did I attempt to walk and talk and paroxysm as a wholly different person than myself?
Why did joining this troupe of immensely dedicated and generous artists give me goosebumps of excitement and deep sense of gratitude and, at the same time, shivers of terror? Why would I do something that leaves me feeling exhilarated, rattled, shaken by the end of the night? Why put myself through this particular type of excitement?
Because in doing so, I believe that this disembodiment, this disassociation from everything that I think I know and believe that I am, will make me a better writer.
I initially started to write plays because I wanted to learn how to write dialogue for my short stories. But I continued to write plays because I’ve fallen in love with the art form. Playwriting encourages writers to dig into the internal mind of their characters, their motivations. As the brilliant Carson Beker has taught me again and again, character development is the blood and breath of playwriting. Without knowing who your characters truly are, the words might sound hollow. That is not to say that you need to know everything about everyone in your stories ahead of time. In fact, not knowing anything about your characters often allows for you to move through a story in ways that you didn’t think possible. Zigzag here, zigzag there. Fun fun fun!
Writing exercises can help you get there, as well! One exercise that I would like to leave you with is to imagine one of your characters speaking to someone in your real life (i.e. your grandmother, your urologist, a favorite high school English teacher, etc.). Have this character try to tell your real life Someone about a secret that she/he’s never told another soul. To add a little kick to this writing exercise, have your character do this without actually revealing what the secret is. Similar to that miming/gesturing game, Charades, have your character talk in circles around what they really want to say. Try to push this dialogue as far and as long as possible without revealing the secret.
I hope that your writing adventures this weekend leave your characters breathless, blood boiling with desire, and exploding with paroxysms of need and want and secrets!