Hello, hello, I’m a bit late posting this week, life, as it does, has been beginning to get in the way, less and less time to squeeze things in, so obviously, the immediately productive things, like scene writing and play reading, come first, blog writing, and apparently, sentence structure, latterly so. The third trip down to London this time, and the second half of the Natural History Museum (see the picture – ironically enough, very relevant to later, you’ll see!), before schlepping through the rain to the RC. I would be tempted to write a much shorter entry had the session been run of the mill, but it actually offered a really useful and refreshing systematic approach to playwriting. Not to say that the rest isn’t extremely useful, it’s just having taken part in quite a few workshops with TWP and the MPhil, it was excellent to hear a wholly new approach. The worst thing is I can’t for the life of me remember the name or the exact position of the woman who led the session! Suffice to say she’s high up in the literary dept. (she may have been the head of it). Anyway, what was so refreshing about what was in essence, a structural seminar, was that instead of admitting grudgingly that ‘yes the 3 act structure is mainly for films, though there is currency in it, and although Aristotle was a very very long time ago and writing in a different world, he makes a lot of sense, if you look at it objectively’ she pretty much threw that out the window straight away, and then crucially, she offered an alternative. The Storm Play. She suggested that the best, greatest , and earth shattering plays are Storm plays, plays that admit life to be chaotic, indivisible, and as unpredictable as the weather. Following on from Brook’s assertion that ‘theatre is life concentrated’ (I’m probably paraphrasing) she suggested that we think in organic terms, about plays as living systems, as unpredictable and volatile as the weather/the global economy/the political arena etc. There are 4 key definitions of a living system:
- They exist on the edge of chaos – they are ever changing (and never in the ‘equilibrium’ that the life-manuals so desire (equilibrium=death!))
- They are dynamic and never stay still – there is high and low pressure, energy moves out and in. (think entrances/exists/catalysts/characters)
- They move constantly between order and disorder – moments of change provoke evolution. Disorder is the place where change happens. (and follows on from the previous point)
- They respond to disturbances by rearranging their patterns- the system is pushed to a point where either it must change or die (both of these are possible outcomes). In Chekhov’s The Seagull, the suicide is caused by the character’s inability to adapt.
Thus the idea of (not entirely discarding the 3 act structure, but changing the structural emphasis to) the ‘storm’ in a play, was posed as a manner of thinking about playwriting. To consider your job as constructing a living system, to acknowledge that you cannot direct that system, only put pressure on it and disturb it in order that you discover the edges, and find your way to the eye of the storm (heart of your play). You can also consider this on a smaller scale- in dialogue- dialogue can be seen quite easily as a living system – good dialogue is under pressure (else why speak?), it is dynamic, it moves between order and disorder and rearranges itself according to the characters’ intentions- we talk in order to change people – which is (apparently I have no source for this and it’s too late to look) an evolutionary imperative.
It was a very interesting a quite releasing approach to playwriting, I have to say that I have always felt incredibly bogged down by thought on act structure- forcing plays into boxes, obviously plays need structure- I’m not going all hippy about this, but the session sort of articulated and made ok, something I have always felt I was failing slightly at- strict structure. An organic approach, seems much more sensible, and at this stage in my writing, very useful.
There is more to talk about in terms of the scene that I’ve been actioning/redrafting, and the 5 plays which I have now read (see previous post for titles), but it really is time for bed, work tomorrow, followed by another weekend away, I’m not back until next Tuesday, and am (again) fast losing the ability to grammarise. So yes, I shall leave you. I think I may not have done the RC lady justice (not least in not remembering her name) and assure you that it was very definitely not hippyish- just more like new science is to old science, if that makes sense.
Good wishes to all.