Advice to the Budding Playwright

Over on the playsandplaywrights listserv, playwrights have been debating endlessly the importance of stage directions (hint: your director will just cross them out anyway). Folks have been taking this very seriously, so I thought I would drop in my two cents, drawn from years of expreience as a mature playwright. To wit:

Once they have a contract signed, writers should always feel free to insert extraneous stuff into their works, just to see if the director’s paying attention. Ask for “a flying electric Lynx” or insist there be extras in black who briefly wield automatic weapons (that fire blanks) for no apparent reason, then are never seen again. Particularly if you’ve written a heavy drama or a frothy comedy. There’s no reason to do so except to cause the director anxiety. They’ll either figure out a way to do it and be beside themselves with joy or they’ll break down just before opening and admit that there’s no way to pull off what you want. Either way, at that point the proper response is: “Eh, whatever. I don’t know what I was thinking. Forget it.”

Also, if you have a really funny or heavy scene, just before its climax, insert a meaningless acting direction in capitals. (GRIMLY AND WITH FORETHOUGHT!) or (THE MOST IMPORTANT WORDS OF THE SECOND HALF OF YOUR LIFE!) or (WITH VAGUE APPREHENSION AND LEVITY!) The purpose of this is not to help your actor but simply to cause trouble. Wait until this causes great consternation and then go, “Shit. Did I leave that in there? Nevermind.”

Finally, if you really want to endear yourself to the cast and crew, two days before opening, tell the stage manager (not the director) you expect to finish the rewrites that evening.

The technical term for this is “being eccentric” (though others will call it “being a holy pain in the ass”), and it’s of no purpose other than your own entertainment. Don’t take it too far and bring a large flightless bird to opening. Unless they’re papering the house.


P.S.: One thing I forgot to mention. Whenever the director calls 10 for a break, the playwright should jump up and yell “Sexytime!” and run from the room.

About Steve Patterson

Steve Patterson has written over 50 plays, with works staged in Portland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Austin, Tampa, and other U.S. cities as well as in Canada and New Zealand. His works include: Waiting on Sean Flynn, Next of Kin, Farmhouse, Malaria, Shelter, Altered States of America, The Continuing Adventures of Mr. Grandamnus, Bluer Than Midnight, Bombardment, Dead of Winter, and Delusion of Darkness. In 2006, his bittersweet Lost Wavelengths was a mainstage selection at Portland Center Stage's JAW/West festival, and, in 2008, won the Oregon Book Award (he also was an OBA finalist in 1992 and 2002). In 1997, he won the inaugural Portland Civic Theatre Guild Fellowship for his play Turquoise and Obsidian. View all posts by Steve Patterson

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