PLAYWRIGHT -- Goals
The playwright's text is the only part of the theatrical experience to survive the specific time and place of the theatrical performance. Often plays are read or studied just as other literary genres, like poetry or novels. However, it is important to understand that a play is merely a blueprint for a live production, like a conductor's musical score. The play text requires interpretive artists to bring it to life as an art form. On the one hand, interpretive artists may alter some of a playwright's original intentions, but, on the other hand, interpretive artists will always make the theatrical experience richer for audience members. Why do we still produce Shakespeare's plays? Why do audiences go see Hamlet over and over again? Because the collaboration of different interpretive artists with the playwright's text will always illuminate new aspects of Shakespeare's play.
Because s/he is writing for the live stage, the playwright has different artistic goals than other writers. The conventions of theatrical performance (length of 2-3 hours, embodiment of characters, representation of locations, etc) encourage playwrights to focus on representing action in dialogue form. Occasionally playwrights will find a way to include a character's inner thoughts, but in general we have to find out what they think from what they are doing, unlike characters in novels. While some playwrights will include descriptive notes, these are not seen directly by an audience and are used by the interpretive artists as an aid in presenting the dialogue. Actors and designers will get a sense of the playwright's goal from his descriptions, but will always interpret the characters and locations in their own ways. Similarly, actors and directors look for action implied in dialogue because the theatrical medium encourages action as opposed to thought, description, or other rhetorical functions.
While working within these theatrical conventions, a playwright has artistic goals similar to other authors. The playwright seeks to communicate a plot, characters, thematic material, and heightened language to an audience. The author will often work within the conventions of a specific dramatic genre, such as tragedy or farce, appropriate to his or her ideas; because the conventions of a genre provide a common ground for communication between author and audience. Finally, a playwright develops his or her own style, both within a play and over the body of his or her work. The playwright will not communicate directly, but through the participation of other artists and media, all of which will deliver the playwright's text in an immediate, sensual manner. Interpretive artists strive to illuminate a writer's story, genre, and style.
Playwrights arrived late to some dramatic styles; for example, Carlo Goldoni (see image) an 18th century Italian writer, took characters who had been popular on the improvised stage (Commedia dell'arte) for hundreds of years and wrote plays that emphasized the language and literary arts around them. A playwright's goal is to deliver his or her story in a manner that encourages action; embodiment of sights, sounds, and movements; and the excitement of live, three dimensional effects for an audience.
A playwright's tools are similar to other writers, though the playwright must always apply literary tools while keeping in mind the goal of live performance. On the broadest level, language and imagination are the most important of the playwright's tools. The playwright writes primarily in dialogue. With dialogue, she suggests action, intention, and state of mind for characters. She differentiates among characters by giving them different vocabularies, diction, and dialects. Simply by analyzing the diction of characters, an actor or audience can determine who will clash with whom in the play. Dialogue also suggests dramatic genre: a play in verse will, from its opening lines, imply a serious subject, maybe a tragedy; or conversely, quick back and forth dialogue full of contemporary slang will imply a lighter subject, some kind of comedy. The time and place in which the dramatic characters live is also established in part by characters' diction. George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion , later made into the musical My Fair Lady, offers a good example: Henry Higgins demonstrates his ability to tell exactly where in England a person is from by his or her speech. Consider the range of dialects you encounter daily; also, consider how the words you use change depending on your context. You employ different diction in class, in the stands at a ball game, and on the phone with your grandmother. Imagination is used by the playwright in selecting the events in the plot and shaping conflicts among characters. Writers often base their work on events they have witnessed personally or encountered in other artists' work; but the artist personalizes these experiences and also makes them relevant to a broad audience through the use of her or his imagination. An excellent example is Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, (see photo) which is quite closely based on his own family but adapted to speak more generally about American society, specifically the south, in the 1930's.
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