Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


The chemical state of writing

At some point or other, almost every playwright finds himself in a development process. His (or her) play is being workshopped for a short run, possibly for consideration of future production; or he’s at a retreat working with actors and directors that will result in a reading of sorts; or he’s at a new play development conference for a public reading with feedback; or he’s working out some areas by having some actor friends get together and read scenes now and then.

I’ve been involved in many of these experiences myself, as a playwright or director or producer or respondent.

So, occasionally, I’m asked by a playwright for my advice on whether or not to bring an unfinished play into such a situation. Not a play that has a first draft and needs a rewrite, and not a play that is stuck and that the playwright needs to hear — a play that is being written but which is currently unfinished.

Here’s what I say:

I can’t say what you should do, but  I can tell you what I would not do:  I would not take an uncompleted play into a development situation, especially not a play-in-process that is working well.

I think plays are written under certain conditions. If your play is working well, you should continue the condition in which you’re writing it. Changing that condition will change the play, and not necessarily for the better. I wouldn’t want new people talking to me about it while I was still writing it.
That’s why when I’m writing a play and it’s working, I’ll reconvene the circumstances of that writing every time I’m working on it. I’ll play the same music. Drink the same drink. Smoke the same sort of cigar, if I was smoking a cigar. Sit outside again, if that’s where I was writing it. Everything going in your brain is a chemical combination; that certain set of chemicals was part of what you were experiencing when your writing was working. Best to stick with them.

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