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December 2nd, 2007 No comments

I’ve cycled back a bit and am looking at Michael Wright’s book Playwriting in Process: specifically, Chapter 3, where he introduces the idea of the etude.

The etude, for Wright, is what he was referring to in earlier sections when he discussed theatre games, and referred to the six line. But here, he expands the definition to include the refinements that attend the notion of an etude in other art forms: music, painting, and acting. Wright also uses the notion of etude in these other arts to highlight the different focus that is possible in using etudes. Specifically, the etude types break down thusly:

  • Musician: “it’s an exercise, such as scales: designed to strengthen key skills and techniques…The etudes in this book apply to playwriting by refining technique–what a jazz musician might call ‘developing your chops.’
  • Painter: “it is literally a study” and Wright points to the common practice in painting of examining parts of a larger painting in detail: sketches, painting smaller pieces and examining how the light falls, or the colors change, or tones, or what have you. “The painterly use of etudes applies already developed essential skills in order to attempt an untried new vision or level of endeavor.”
  • Actor: “sensory exploration,” that is, Wright contends that “actors are routinely trained in sensory work to give them access to a range of choices in their personal memories.” Wright contends that writers do the same thing, but that writers tend to be unaware of what they are doing when they are doing it, whereas actors are trained to be acutely aware of what they are doing when they are doing it.
  • Wright then lays out the scenario of a character delivering a monologue on why he is voting: and all the choices available: you could deliver the monologue yourself and record it for use later; you could have to people argue about who each is voting for; you could present a person who lives in a repressive country and is voting for the first time ever; etc. The point being that “Each [etude] asks you to find the truth of a character’s experiences by getting into his mind and feelings, and each asks you to place your character in a real dramatic world in which he has a stake or a problem to solve.” 23

    The most important points, though are:

  • etudes are for exploration
  • etudes are for groundwork–not primarily for use in a play (though they can be used, of course)
  • etudes are to encourage you to ‘dig into your creation in a thorough and theatrical way so that you have crafted a textured, layered, and truthful work.’
  • etudes ‘challenge you to solve basic problems’ by a ‘reexploration of style, content, or work process,’ and to ‘evolve new levels of expression…and challenging routine ways of thinking.’
  • etudes are useful in discovering stories
  • etudes help to reveal the subconscious; 24
  • Wright’s book then goes on to dedicate itself to specific etudes which he writes “you could continue doing…for the sheer fun of it or begin to use them in a more dedicated and systematic way by looking for etudes to help you explore a problem in a play you’re working on or planning to work on.” 25

    Wright concludes that “each play I’ve written has been a combination of old ground and new turf. The etudes can help with the new turf because their nature is exploratory, but I believe the etudes can be solid foundations for the old ground as well.”

    I personally am looking forward to digging in–to assessing what it is I’m already good at, what I could use some help with, and to just plain generating new material in a variety of different ways, which is always the most fertile source for new play content. I am much in need of an impetus to write to get access to my subconscious, otherwise I write plot-loaded, usually political pieces–mostly predictable, loaded, biased, etc. Anything that can help me gain entry to my sub/unconscious and till up new material is a bonus for me.

    A dream… and an Idea

    November 26th, 2007 No comments

    Dreams are always a great source of material for me. I often have very vivid, very strange dreams. This dream is not so strange as others I’ve had, but it does work well with a play idea I’ve been kicking around.

    In my dream the houses in my neighborhood were compressed, such that it was like we were living in brownstone apartments or tenements or something that were pressed side-by-side against one another. There were two neighbors on either side of us but somehow they represented the whole of society, and yet remained as they are now: identifiable to me personally: M & L, and P & A.

    Each house/apartment had a main front window that overlooked the street, with an entrance to the side. If you’re facing the apartments, standing in the street, the large window, which I will only now describe as being a display window, for the two neighbors was on the left side, with an entrance on the right; while the display window for our apartment was on the right with a side entrance on the left.

    Now, there was some set of objects that were very particularly set up in each of the neighbor’s windows that are somewhat hard to describe. They seemed Asian in character and design, and yet, we all are not of Asian origin or descent. If the object I’m going to describe can be imagined as one object it would look thus: at center is a tall bamboo scroll with some scenery painted on it: perhaps it is three to five feet in height; on the sides–well, the thing may have been framed; to the right and left of the scroll was something. I cannot for the life of me remember what, now, though. I am, at this moment, inclined to say that the bamboo scroll was to the front of a table, and on either side of the scroll (and table) were tall-backed chairs as if the dining room of each apartment had been set up in the store-front windows. But part of me says that it was not a table and chairs, but something less social and more decorative. The whole of the ‘display’ was brightly lit and made to covetous design. And that is precisely the point, for you see, we did not have one. Our store front was bare, or at least, wanting.

    This is where I have tied in my other idea of the Expressionist play regarding an emerald dress: now I think it will be a vase. And the vase will be what is desired. As if the vase will save the world for the wife in this play. The husband of course, isn’t so sure. If only they could get that vase and put it in the window–clearly this would be a play that highlights the lack of communication or social depth of the husband and wife.

    I’ll have to review Expressionism: Ionesco, Kokoschka

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