My mother was working on her college degree throughout my childhood, and being the youngest in the family, that meant being dragged to a lot of her classes. She majored in playwriting, so I was exposed to theatre from a very young age, and it was just the most magical world to me. I never really wanted to do anything else.
When I got out of undergrad, I had a degree in theater and telecommunications. My first job, I was a news reporter for the local stories for NPR. Then I was a country-western DJ. I did data entry for a yearbook company. In my mid-20s I went back to grad school at NYU, and I specialized in playwriting.
I began as a dramatist in the theater, so I'm always thinking about how a story moves, what it looks like, how to engage the senses, how dialogue sounds, what feels authentic and sounds real, what's funny, how to build distinctive and original characters - all the aspects of playwriting, scene-building, the architecture of dramatizing.
I've come to view screenwriting assignments as playwriting grants, because they provide a considerable financial cushion. However, they can also be extremely time-consuming. Film projects tend to drag on and on, which takes me away from the theatre, and then they don't get made. At the same time, the screenplays that have come my way have been quite challenging, for the most part, and even enjoyable.
Brooke Berman's voice is utterly distinct, and her book, detailing her nomadic artist's journey toward both a successful playwriting career and a home of her own, through 20 years of cramped sublets, high-rise palaces, writer's colonies, and boyfriend's vans, is a hilarious, hopeful, and penetrating must-read.
Maria Dahvana Headley
What was once a cottage industry dedicated to the discovery and development of new voices and works has become instead the raison d'etre for many a playwright's existence . . .. And since readings have become playwrights' main source of exposure, the nature of playwriting has changed to fit readings' needs. Investigation into what is eminently theatrical has been substituted - more and more these days - by what can simply come across and read well.
I don't have an audience in mind when I write. I'm writing mainly for myself. After a long devotion to playwriting I have a good inner ear. I know pretty well how a thing is going to sound on the stage, and how it will play. I write to satisfy this inner ear and its perceptions. That's the audience I write for.
In playwriting, you've got to be able to write dialogue. And if you write enough of it and let it flow enough, you'll probably come across something that will give you a key as to structure. I think the process of writing a play is working back and forth between the moment and the whole. The moment and the whole, the fluidity of the dialogue and the necessity of a strict construction. Letting one predominate for a while and coming back and fixing it so that eventually what you do, like a pastry chef, is frost your mistakes, if you can.
I got the breaks. Starting from nowhere in the corn belt, I helped edit a country weekly, then was jack-of-all-departments on an obscure daily, so that when I arrived in a big city everything I tackled in the line of column conducting and syndicate peddling and playwriting had to bring promotion, because I had no social standing which could be endangered, no reputation to toss away and no pride which might suffer a setback. Everything I acquired had to be velvet. You cannot lose your silver spoon if you are brought up on pewter.
I write in order to understand the images. Being what my agent . . . somewhat ruefully calls a language playwright, is problematic because in production, you have to make the language lift off the page. But a good actor can turn it into human speech. I err sometimes toward having such a compound of images that if an actor lands heavily on each one, you never pull through to a larger idea. That's a problem for the audience. But I come to playwriting from the visual world - I used to be a painter. I also really love novels and that use of language. But it's tricky to ask that of the theatre.