First a pause for Heath Ledger and others lost before their prime.
Heath was an actor for whom playwrights dream of writing. He inhabited his roles with great sensitivity and respect for his characters. His roles became increasingly dark and choices puzzling. He was a generous actor. Failing to protect himself may have contributed to his premature demise.
As a produced dramatist and (unpublished) novelist I feel a responsibility to actors and audience, but especially actors. With rare exception, the audience shows up once, has dinner, goes home, entertained and intellectually stimulated. The actor returns to the role the following night. My themes are heavy – very heavy, but I always attempt to interject irony, humor, hope and redemption. My background in science often tempts me to more “explosive plots,” but I refuse to write “how tos” for terrorists and criminals irrespective of the potential pay off.
As a member of SAG I was disappointed at the gratuitous violence in most of the nominated movies. Arts for arts’ sake has become violence for its own sake, and it sometimes seems that writers are writing less from life experience than “upping the ante” in re-hashes of old movie and television plots. Or X boxes. The old guard knew how to create tension in a look, an out of place pause? To establish character without inundating the audience with profanity. Yes, I will support First Amendment rights, along with the right not to pollute my brain.
Why am I a dramatist. Ask me why I breathe. Writing is oxygen for the soul. I write plays because I cannot not write plays. I cannot ever remember not being able to read. I was the youngest in kindergarten and the only reader. The teacher had to leave the classroom, handed me a book and said to read to the class. I became so engrossed that I forgot to speak aloud and when the teacher returned all the other tots were crowded around my desk trying to hear.
No fear of that now!
Later that year I refused to go on as the “bluebell fairy,” because I knew that the role of Fairy Queen was mine. That the Fairy Crown didn’t fit my brain powered cranium was irrelevant. I had read Shaw, Wilde, Pinnochio and Alice in Wonderland unabridged and I knew drama! The word “temperamental” showed up on my school report that year. No respect for the wisdom of babes. I wasn’t yet five years old!
A few years later my intelligent and perspicacious teacher, Mr. Mott, in Hampshire cast me as the lead in the class play. He was ex British Army stationed in India, and gave me an enduring respect and affection for “our chaps.” We then moved to Ireland.
If there were an opportunity to express my musical gifts, England would have sent me to the wonderful Yehudi Menuhin school for child prodigies, but there’s nothing in the world for the literary prodigy, and a girl with super math/science skills better conceal them if she doesn’t want taunts, bullying and social exclusion. Bullying becomes more sophisticated in adulthood with “intelligent” articles on the relationship between genius and insanity. Take Van Gogh; the guy lived on black coffee, wine and whatever food he could scrounge, all the while creating a treasure house of artwork for his greedy brother, Theo. Mozart wrote over a thousand works, heard three hundred, the assumption being he wasn’t paid for the other 700. James Joyce lived off his supernaturally patient brother, Stanislaus, while teaching basic English to Italians. Too many prodigies die young, leaving academia to smirk in the counting house while outwardly lamenting the loss to the world. Perhaps the general public or awarding authorities need their communal heads examined.
It’s frustrating having an Irish name and a cosmopolitan background. Irish men are allergic to intelligent women and while I’ve talked a number into celebrity status, they’ve a habit of kicking a potential female rival off the career ladder. I can do “ochone, ochone, a weela walya,” dialogue but not with a straight face. McDonough’s welcome to that, though those of us in the know see him as a Londoner translating urban thuggism into rural Ireland. It’s disappointing to see New York audiences lapping up all the cliches and stereotypes inflicted on the Irish in previous years, revisited by McDonough. Although that’s expected of me, I won’t do it. Then again…another nascent play has just joined the queue…
I’ve written plays in school copybooks, driving in cars, in quiet corners at noisy parties, with an infant sleeping in one hand and a pen in the other. As a woman, “permission” for time to write is grudging, so my writing is compressed and concentrated. I complete my plays quickly, every line interlocking into the next, like, I hope, a finely engineered clock with a few rambunctious cuckoos to keep the audience awake! The physical act of writing is secondary to the mental processes which, like fine wines, can mature for years. I have three dramas “in holding” waiting for landing time like planes circling JFK, but the present priority is preventing Jerome Belson Associates/Urban American from snatching my apartment. “We know you’ve paid the rent,” they say, but…
With the exhausting exigencies of living on an island whose access becomes unreliable at any hour of day or night, it’s difficult to attend theatre and opera, dinners or parties to network, an integral component of our industry.
It’s akin to giving birth. They gestate for a while. When due, my otherwise placid nature becomes edgy, territorial of space and time. I become a bear disturbed in mid-winter. As a woman, space and time for creative enterprise are not a “given.”
Another analogy is the “holding pattern.” The plays circle the “landing zone” until space and time become available, usually August when the town empties, and I write intensely, and sleep the deep, dark peace of catharsis.