Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Arts and Social Responsibility

Billy Collins the former US poet laureate, Jules Feiffer, a Pulitzer prize-winning cartoonist, novelist , playwright and screenwriter and Marsha Norman a Pulitzer prize-winning playwright all came together at the Annie Russell Theater at Rollins College to discuss the arts and social responsibility. Feiffer kicked off the discussion by pointing out that most of his cartoons were about the narrative of social injustice. He was fascinated by the way politicians would say one thing and mean something entirely different. In his mind fear is the most common human emotion.He saw Death of a Salesman when he was a young boy and he was truck by the way the family in that play never told the truth to one another. He saw his own family mirrored in the hidden meanings of what was left unsaid on the stage. He felt that the play "Waiting for Gordot" was a play with cartoon dialogue which as a cartoonist he could identify with.
Marsha Norman discussed how her play "Night Mother" came to fruition. She was angry at having just lost a job and she found herself in a new city not knowing anyone. She wrote the play from that place of anger feeling she had nothing to loose since no one would ever produce the play. The play was about time and anger and the end of a certain journey. As it turns out this was the play that won her the Pulitzer Prize. She said winning that award gave her the four word title in front of her name but little else. Writing her next play she knew she had to start from scratch and anything she produced would always be compared to the former high water mark. She started discussing how the intermission is so important in a play. The audience has met the characters and seen the obstacles. She compared the audience to a jury. She felt it is important for the audience to deliberate during the intermission. When the audience returns it is important that no key moment be staged in the first few minutes since audience members are still adjusting to the seats and thinking about their neighbors and any annoyances. Then she wants the audience to feel they are on stage with the characters. She said the brains main function is to predict and at all times the audience is making predictions and judgments.
In a question and answer session after the talk, a student asked the open ended question which has the most elusive answer, "What should I be doing if I want to write a great play?" I was surprised at the simple and obvious answer Marsha offered. She said, "Write some short one act scenes of dialogue. One could be a love scene, an argument and a scene where one character wants something the other character has. Then get some friends to rehearse these scenes and perform them in public places like a cafeteria or a park. The people in these public places will be your audience and see how they react. Keep writing. Write some more."

No comments: