Wednesday, December 15, 2010

NYCPlaywrights 2.0

Well, finally the last meeting of old school NYCPlaywrights. After 10 years, I am so relieved. I really don't enjoy spending my Tuesdays making old people sad by giving them honest feedback about their awful awful plays. And I just can't stop myself - if they ASK for feedback, I actually tell them and don't sugar coat it. Sometimes I'm able to behave myself for an hour or so during a meeting; sometimes I bite my tongue until it almost bleeds; but eventually I will tell them what I really think. Especially if they argue with people who are giving them feedback.

One thing I always made clear at NYCPlaywrights meetings was that the writers did not HAVE to have post-reading feedback sessions - it was absolutely optional. And they almost always go for it anyway. In fact, it seems like the worse writers they are, the more likely they are to ask for feedback. And then they get criticism and not the praise they expected. Really there's no point in giving them feedback - they aren't going to change a damn thing about their crappy play.

Now maybe these old people will just do readings for their friends and families, who will tell them how wonderful their plays are, and they can go to their graves happy. And I won't be tormented by bad plays about old senile people, bad plays about old men talking about numismatics, and bad plays based on the Bible.

One of the NYCPlaywrights actors, who turns out to be a pretty good playwright - and I can give her a chance to write more now that NYCPlaywrights membership is free - gave me a Christmas card tonight, and inside wrote: "Thank you for your great year of opportunity at Playwrights! Cheers to a great 2011 with less old man plays!"

It isn't only old people who write bad plays of course. But clearly so many of them are doing it as a hobby and have no interest in actually having something produced. For example - today an older guy brought in a 10-minute play about a guy drowning at the bottom of a lake. He really didn't have to be in a lake - whatever point the playwright was trying to make about life or death or WTF could have been made in any other life-or-death situation. But since it was in a lake, he took care to mention bubbles coming out of the drowning guys mouth - and fishes eating the bubbles. And legs floating about his head (people swimming on the surface of the water.) And it was pointed out to him that these were rather pointless stage directions, since not only was this supposed to be a play, but a ten-minute play. And his response was that there were all kinds of high-tech devices that could be used to create the effects. As if anybody would think it worth-while to invest in high-tech effects for a ten-minute play.

But the thing is - he had done a reading of another 10-minute play of his with exactly the same problem a month ago - all these very specific, cinematic stage directions that would never be taken seriously and makes him look like he doesn't know what he's doing. And he was told all those things. And the fact that he did another play with the same problems shows all that feedback was for naught - he just doesn't give a damn.

I sometimes wonder though if I am giving people too much credit, to say they don't give a damn. Sometimes I think that it isn't so much an attitude as genuine, sincere stupidity.

Oftentimes poor writing is attributed to lack of talent, but I think that often it's actually the writing simply reflects poor thinking. When people write shallow, unrealistic characters, why be so sure it's inept writing? Maybe that's what things look like inside their head. Maybe they can't perceive depth in other people - everybody really does look that shallow and simplistic to them.

An older woman brought a play in today that was set during the Harpers Ferry Raid (the famous John Brown-led attack on slaveholders) and she wanted to show compassion for the black people involved. Which would, you would think, lead her to represent them as individuals. And she did that with the men - but the men's wives, whom the men care so much about, did not receive names in the script. They were each called "wife".

I pointed out this namelessness to the woman and she said, "hm, yes, interesting point" - which I understood to mean she would think about giving them names. But I don't think she just forgot to give them names - I think failing to give them names in fact reflected her attitude towards them. They weren't actual people, they were stock characters "the wife" that the male slaves could care for. But it's hard to show human interactions between a fleshed-out person and a stock figure. It indicated just how far she was willing to go in her consideration of the people she was writing about - Joe the slave (not the real name) and wife - not far at all.

Any time a play has characters that are not named, but just referred to like that - "man", "woman", "person #1" - it's usually not a good sign.

And there was a passage in the script in which a character describes rooting pigs eating human body parts - but it was completely unclear from the script what they were doing - especially to an audience of city slickers who had never been to a pig farm (in the 1850s) and who did not know what the word "root" meant. And she actually blamed one of the actors for the audience not getting it. She said he read that passage "too softly."

NOTHING pisses me off more than the writer blaming the actors, especially in a cold reading, for the faults of their own bad script. GRRR!

More later. It is freezing in this apartment and I have to put up some kind of window insulation. Yikes!