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The Playwrights Forum > General > Question & Answer > Is theater 'secular'?

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Is theater 'secular'?  Rate Topic 
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 Posted: Tue Mar 27th, 2012 03:30 am
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Zamdrist
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Mana: 
Not sure if secular really is the word I'm looking for. Niche? Exclusive?

I'm in the midst of an introductory play-writing class. I am admittedly new to the genre and I've not seen or read a great deal of plays by any means. Of the ones I have however, they all seem to be about or involve writers, the arts or even play-writing itself.

The first play we were tasked with reading was Betrayal by Harold Pinter. While the story was about betrayal it notably involved publishers and writers. The second play we were given to read was Circle Mirror Transformation. This is a play about a weekly acting class. In addition to those, I've also involved myself in informal readings of draft plays at the center where I live. The last play we read was about Anton Chekov, again, a playwright.

I know there are of course many plays that have nothing at all to do with the arts, drama or play-writing. Many of the classics for example.

It's just a pattern I've noticed thus far, and I wonder if anyone else has noticed it, or is compelled to respond.

Regarding Circle Mirror Transformation - We were 'borrowed' the script version of this play to read. Something is clearly lost in the reading. According to the reviews of this play, it's sharply funny, deceptively deep and charming. Bereft the benefit of seeing the play acted out and the sparse stage direction it doesn't seem nearly all that interesting at all. Makes me wonder what was seen in the script that said: "Ah ha! This is a play that must be produced!"

I hate to be critical, like I said, I'm very new to all this. Still, I've been around the block some, am an avid reader. I don't think I'm completely clueless about all this. Thoughts?

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 Posted: Wed Mar 28th, 2012 06:28 pm
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katoagogo
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If I was asking - "Hey, I don't see many movies, cuz I mostly only see plays with their endless diversity. I saw three movies this year: HUGO, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, and THE ARTIST and they are all either about making movies or being a writer - are most movies made about dead movie-makers or dead novelists?" -- how would you anser me?

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 Posted: Wed Mar 28th, 2012 06:57 pm
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Zamdrist
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katoagogo wrote:
If I was asking - "Hey, I don't see many movies, cuz I mostly only see plays with their endless diversity. I saw three movies this year: HUGO, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, and THE ARTIST and they are all either about making movies or being a writer - are most movies made about dead movie-makers or dead novelists?" -- how would you anser me?

Read and see more movies.

Point taken! :)

Last edited on Wed Mar 28th, 2012 06:57 pm by Zamdrist

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 Posted: Wed Apr 4th, 2012 03:23 pm
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in media res
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I've always found the theatre to be sacred space. We even have a "Ghost Light." There is always lurking underneath in a theatre a sacred history that goes back to when...well... when...well there was always someone and something long before us. And we tell the same stories over and over just with different names.

We are presenting the souls and ethos of man/womankind from past to the present. Sometimes in great stories, sometimes not so great stories. But, when you run into the sense of the sacred in a theatre or in a play, you will know it. At least I hope you will. And by Sacred, I do not discount great entertainment. If you are not entertained or touched or moved, what the hell is the point of sitting on your butt for 2 hours...and paying for it?

Most actors I know have this in them. Even when stuck in a shitty show, you go and do your best. Of course, you can not wait until the show is over, but you still go out and do your best.

On the other hand, one always has to deal with the business of theatre. This is where God-dess/the sacred negotiates with Mammo-ess/profane. Read Mircea Eliade's book, "The Sacred and The Profane." It is short! And you can also read another short book, The Dramatic Imagination: Reflections and Speculations on the Art of the Theatre by Robert Edmond Jones, the great Scenic Artist. Probably the best brief book, no, probably the best book written about theatre...ever. I've turned more people on to it. They were shocked no one ever mentioned it in their theatre courses even through MFA programs. I'd read the Jones book first.

But almost everyone I've met who is involved in the business end of theatre also feels this way. Even my accountant feels this way about theatre.

Have you had a History of Theatre Course? You will study origins of theatre, Blah blah blah. If you get a great instructor, you will be excited about it.

Wish you best on your continued reading.

IMR

P.S. Just to be clear: I am not equating "secular" with "profane" nor am I equating "sacred" with "religion."

Last edited on Wed Apr 4th, 2012 04:14 pm by in media res

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 Posted: Sun Apr 8th, 2012 01:31 pm
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Zamdrist
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Mana: 
Thanks for the above. The descriptor I was looking for was more along the lines of cloistered or cliquish. Not so much secular. It is clear though I need to learn and read more before coming to any kind of conclusion. This was just my early observation.

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 Posted: Mon Apr 9th, 2012 02:04 pm
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in media res
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Zamdrist,

You wrote, " It is clear though I need to learn and read more before coming to any kind of conclusion."

I think this is honest and wise self-counsel.

best,

in media res

P.S. And welcome to the Forum.

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 Posted: Mon Apr 9th, 2012 06:12 pm
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katoagogo
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Also - go outside of works that other people are handing to you. In the description noted above all of the plays you read were given to you by teachers or professors. Get to the library, thumb through the drama section, and pick out some plays that catch your eye.

My personal recommendation is that you try to find a collection of Lorca. Maybe Blood Wedding for a starter.

For newer work, maybe look for something by Sarah Ruhl or David Lindsay-Abaire.

Last edited on Mon Apr 9th, 2012 06:13 pm by katoagogo

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 Posted: Tue Apr 10th, 2012 03:03 am
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carlblong
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I read a fascinating book recently -- Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare by James Shapiro -- about the evolution of the Shakespeare authorship conspiracies.  He muses that the question and methods of determining who wrote Shakespeare's plays are as much a product of the times as they are of the 'researchers.'

In particular, he points out that around the time of Twain (and encouraged by him), the idea of "write what you know" came about, and has persevered since.  I think that a lot of writers fall into this (I'd call it a fad, but is it a fad if it's in its second century?).  No doubt the plays you've read, and likely the teacher who assigned them, are proponents of this idea, subconsciously or not.

My advice: read as much as you can, and diversely as possible.  Fugard, Stoppard, Miller, Ruhl, Kane, Durang, Anouilh, Soyinka -- the list goes on.  Find plays that sound interesting and see them or read them.  And I recommend Peter Brook's The Empty Space, which, more about playmaking than playwriting, accurately captures what theatre is and can be.

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 Posted: Tue Apr 10th, 2012 03:18 pm
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katoagogo
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carlblong wrote:
I I recommend Peter Brook's The Empty Space, which, more about playmaking than playwriting, accurately captures what theatre is and can be.


Yeah - be sure to read this one. A good one to include on the reading list.

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 Posted: Tue Apr 10th, 2012 04:04 pm
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Awfly Wee Eli
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I agree with so much of what's being said here, especially about bypassing the intermediaries and just seeing what's out here. I'm thinking about the plays I saw and the scripts I read last year, and none of them are about playwrights or the theater.

Novelist Elizabeth Bear wrote a great essay called "The Care and Feeding of the Greater Lily-Livered Speculative Fiction Writer", which I recommend for all artists, not just spec writers, in which she exhorts writers to have interests and activities besides our art. That way, when "Write what you know" comes to call, we have more to draw on.

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 Posted: Mon Apr 23rd, 2012 08:55 pm
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Louisep at Playwrights Muse
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For “write what you know” to be truly compelling and moving theater, it has to be much more than the facts you know and your life history.

“Write what you know” should mean write the truths that you know that nobody else does, the things you're passionate about, the stories that you know people need to hear right now.

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 Posted: Tue Apr 24th, 2012 03:12 am
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Zamdrist
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Louisep at Playwrights Muse wrote:
For “write what you know” to be truly compelling and moving theater, it has to be much more than the facts you know and your life history.

“Write what you know” should mean write the truths that you know that nobody else does, the things you're passionate about, the stories that you know people need to hear right now.


I would add to that I think a sensible concept: As you 'write what you know', forever expand 'what it is you know', i.e. read tons, and as many others have already suggested, take in as much live theater as you can.

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