Writing for the Stage – A Reflection

Dug out of my files, I am sharing a piece here that I wrote in a college theatre class many years ago.  The questions posed at the end of the first paragraph make a great prompt for writing in a drama or theater classroom.  Enjoy!

Art is created in many forms: painting, sculpture, music, dance, poetry, theatre, and much more.  It is the creative work produced from craft, skill, and imagination.  The art of theatre can be broken into parts.  Acting, directing, playwriting, scene design, choreography, costume design, etc. are different types of art that come together to create the art of theatre.  I was in a discussion recently where the suggestion was made that theatre would not exist without a script.  The question was then posed: why do playwrights write plays?  What makes these artists create?

A play reflects life.  Many plays teach a lesson or moral value to a society.  Some support a cause, whether it is political or social.  Playwrights expose human nature, sometimes to the extreme.  They explore the mysteries of life.  A playwright creates an art that leaves an audience asking who are we and what are we doing here?

The question still stands:  why do they write? I don’t think there is a concrete answer.  Maybe they have something personal to share. Maybe they feel that they have an obligation to society.  I think that they do.  The late African writer, Chinua Achebe once said, “storytellers create history.”  They do.  In fact they shape our perceptions of history.  That is a powerful platform.  However it is a platform they share with all writers.

So why do they write plays instead of novels or poetry? I believe that for some it stems from a love of theatre and the challenge of writing a play.  It is difficult to write anything well. It is difficult to write for the theatre.  In a novel, the writer has room to create characters and their stories in an endless number of pages.  A playwright is more confined.  A playwright writes for the stage.  In a novel, characters can travel to a number of places.  In a play, the scene is often set in only one or a few places.  A novel can present the background of a character in detail.  This is more difficult to do in a play, and often the details of the background come through the performance.  An actor has to interpret the character’s past using character analysis.  Although it is difficult to write anything well, writing for the stage presents a unique challenge.  My guess is that most playwrights live for that challenge.

It is a unique art, as playwrights eventually give up their creation, the script, to directors, actors, and technical artists.  These artists give life to the playwright’s art.  The script translates into ideas in motion.  We can never really know what inspires others to produce their art, but we certainly can appreciate their art.