Dramas seem tailor made for screen — and that’s problematic

“One of the downsides of our ascendant era of writerly TV drama — wherein networks are constantly luring away playwrights with big checks — is that new plays by young authors now often feel more like spec treatments or screenplays than juicy dramas for the stage. It feels like a new style is emerging from our leading MFA playwriting programs: intense personal traumas play out, in multiple locales, against the simmering and intellectually high-end backdrop of some broader societal malaise. It’s all feeling a lot like a “Mad Men” episode, and it’s in danger of becoming a formula.”

 

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And, honestly, one of the very first things my thesis director told me when I presented myself and told him I wanted to do a theatre emphasis for my M.A. was: “Ok, but work on making your dialogue seem less like it’s from TV.”

I had to stop watching TV for a while and, most definitely, stay away from sitcoms, etc. I don’t know if that, in and of itself, improved my writing or if it made a difference, but I did it. I read a lot of plays during my M.A. program to improve my technique and sharpen my sensibility. I think that’s really what created a more drama-oriented mindset out of me. We can’t deny that there’s some really great TV shows out there, some awesome scripts that come to life on screen and that there is powerful dynamic to look up to and strong storytelling to be inspired by. But TV is not theatre and the things that you can do in one are often impossible in the other, and viceversa.

The magic of theater is its life, its incomparable presence and passion. You can feel like you’re traveling the world if you watch TV but you feel like you’ve connected with another human being when you’re watching theatre. If we write for TV and stage it on theater, our focus is in the wrong place: be it lots of set movement, hyperdrama, relatable but nearly perfect characters, etc. Though there are many purposes to theater, we should not neglect to focus on its magic. By writing for a flat medium (even with the advent of 3D TV), we are selling ourselves short and selling our actors, our directors and our audiences short with us.

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