Craft vs. creativity (Cory)

My good friend Patrick, who works at the Theatre Development Fund and is always sending me interesting theatre-related articles, sent me this short essay by playwright Theresa Rebeck the other day.

It speaks to me a great deal as a playwright. The thought that a well-structured play is inherently traditional just by virtue of being well-structured frustrates me too. Anyone who knows my work as a playwright or who has asked me for feedback on their work knows that structure is incredibly important to me. And playing with structure should be part of the experimentation of theatre — you don’t have to explode structure or disregard it completely to be experimental. There’s something incredibly satisfying about a play with an appropriate, well-developed skeleton, whether it’s the linear, traditional construction of an Arthur Miller play, the circularity of Waiting for Godot, or the complex metaphor of Arcadia‘s structure.

Even in the almost frenetically experimental world of professional German theatre, the structure of a play is important — if, often, even just as a concrete element to purposely contradict or work against. You can’t have “deconstruction” without “construction,” and structure is essential to a play’s construction. A house without a foundation won’t stand for long.

Structure is a tool for a playwright to work with, another way to communicate ideas to director and audience. Playwrights who disregard structure usually don’t understand it. If they did, they’d use it. Show me a good actor who doesn’t use all of his tools, who decides, “I think I want to be experimental with this role, so I’m just going to ignore my body completely and not try to use it in any way to explore, express, or communicate the character I’m playing to the audience.” Hi, you just don’t do that if you’re worth your creative salt. You might choose to create a physicality that counterpoints your character, or that is dramatically different from other physicalities in the play, or that’s highly stylized/mechanical/unrealistic, but whatever you do, you make a choice. You don’t ignore it. Why, then, should it be acceptable for a playwright to ignore one of her basic tools, to ignore structure?

Do something weird with it, if you want. Non-traditional. Non-realistic. Abrasive. Surprising. But don’t ignore it.

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