Performance Date: 10.08.09Manhattan Theatre Source
Last Thursday I went in for an evening of five short plays at Manhattan Theatre Source’s Estrogenius Festival, an annual celebration of female voices now in its 10th year. A couple things immediately come to mind upon writing that sentence:
- Hallelujah for a festival that celebrates female artists, particularly female playwrights. I’m reminded of a study by a Princeton grad which got a lot of press this year (see NY Times, New York Magazine and LA Times) for demonstrating that female playwrights are indeed discriminated against when theaters select scripts for production. Brava, Estrogenius, for mounting new works by women writers for 10 years strong.
- Manhattan Theatre Source, which has been a lovely artistic home for several theater pals of mine, is in danger of losing their lease. I feel I would be remiss not to mention that they could use your help. Visit their site to throw a couple bucks their way.
So after this night of new works by women playwrights, I realized I don’t often think about writing when I go see a play – whereas when I read a play, or work on one as an actor, I think about the writing very much. Is this true for everyone, i.e. that writing goes unnoticed when seeing a work on its feet? Is it because the elements of sight, sound, and the energetic presence of people are so dominant? Or is it because I’m an actor and I pay more attention to the performances, just as my brother is more attuned to the nuances of scenic design? Or is it a false claim? Is it actually a reflection of the plays I’ve been seeing lately – mostly naturalistic, not much language-driven stuff – and would I not make such a claim if I’d been seeing more Mamet, Stoppard, or Moliere? Or highly stylized, text-based, avant-garde pieces? Yes I suppose it’s all about the lenses through which we see. The lens we use most often, or the one used most recently, filters our experience. That is, unless we are aware and can choose otherwise.
So let’s see if I can’t choose to unearth a few writing observations from the Estrogenius plays, even though it wasn’t my focus while watching them live:
- You can pack a lot of information into a few specific details. In one play, a mother mentions her son only twice – once to say that he spends all his time lining up his dinosaurs in neat rows, and once to say that he doesn’t like to be touched. From these two nearly off-hand remarks, I understand her son has autism — a particular that lends great depth to the mother’s struggle in the play.
- Gimme one reason to stay here…and I’ll turn right back around. I’ve been taking this acting class lately, and one of the lessons that comes up often is you gotta figure out why your character stays in the scene. What does she want (preferably from the other person) that keeps her from exiting? Most of the time, your playwright has given you at least one possibility, if not several. The plays I remember most clearly from the EstroGenius lineup had characters with multiple reasons for staying in the scene.