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The Dallas Theater Center : Write On! 26

Guest blogger Gail Sachson owns Ask Me About Art, offering tours and program planning in the Arts. She leads ” Gallery Hopping ”  adventures for SMU/ CAPE and is exploring playwriting at the Dallas Theater Center.

Every good teacher is a playwright. Every tour guide, social worker, psychiatrist, political strategist and Mother is a playwright. Actually, we are all playwrights. Our minds never stop having back-and-forth conversations with our partners, our opponents or even ourselves. Do we not all anticipate the reactions of our audiences? What questions will follow? What reactions? Rebukes? Belief? Disbelief? Contention or agreement?

Will Power, the award-winning  actor, rapper, musician, educator, and Dallas Theater Center Playwright in Residence, is leading a class in playwrighting at the DTC. Power, who created the DTC musical “Stagger Lee,” is sharing his experience and inspiring 12 of us: myself, an actor, an unemployed college professor, an oncology technician, a sometime pilot, and others with real day jobs, to write down  conversations, to reveal the truth of real life, or life as we may imagine it.

With a hearty laugh, exuberant physicality and years of stage and staging experience, Power reminds us aspiring playwrights to deal in the truth, rather than just mere fact.What you see and hear is not always the truth. Conflict and tension and layers exist everywhere, and it is our job to unearth it and give it life and relevance, revealing the truths between the characters, who are stand-ins for all of us humans.

Mike Nichols, the well known producer and director said that every good scene involves fighting, negotiating or seducing. The seduction may be thwarted. There may be no solution, but a good scene offer a resolution, with the tension only to resume again in an even more frightening form or perhaps with a softer edge.

Come write along. Pick a person in your life. Pick a place. Pick another person. Already there is tension.

  • What are the characters’ objectives?
  • What do they want from each other? Money? Power? Sex” Love? Security?
  • How do they go about achieving their objective? What do they say and do to get what they want? Knocking down chairs, hysterics and hugs can all be good theater, but long pauses and silences can be effective as well.
  • Their words and actions should offer the audience a hook into their inner lives and their past lives. Layering and “Ah ha” moments of revelations and discovery of sub-text adds to the audience’s engagement.

If you are not going to write a play, your homework at least is to go see one.

Note from Art&Seek’s Anne Bothwell:

Gail invited me to her final class last Tuesday. For six weeks, she and her fellow students polished two-person scenes. Now they would see actors read their work.  A group of acting students was on hand and each playwright got to choose who would perform her work. The actors got to practice reading cold.

These tight scenes packed surprising twists, humor and tension into a few pages of dialogue. A bathroom stall without toilet paper leads to a surprising betrayal. Happy news about a pregnancy turns deadly.  Special bonus: Former Art&Seek-er Betsy Lewis was in the class.

I’d expected to watch as part of an audience. Turns out I was the audience. So Will Power invited me to join the acting pool. Important note: I haven’t acted since high school, when I distinguished myself in “Guys and Dolls” by flubbing my sole line.

I read stage directions for a few scenes. And then it was Gail’s turn. She chose me for her scene, “Senior Sex: Front and Centerfold.”

Me: “Who am I, Dolores or Susan?”

Gail: “You’re the old whore!”

Gail’s scene, between a fading porn star who craves one more cover story and a magazine editor, was funny, lightly bawdy and in the end, touching. I can’t say I did it justice. But I did have fun trying.