With 14/48 Kamikaze weekend upon us, I wanted to throw out a few suggestions for anyone lucky enough to be a virgin writer this weekend. These are just things I try to keep in mind every time I sit down to write a new play for 14/48. There are countless awesome examples in 14/48 lore where suggestions like these were completely ignored - but experienced writers, by definition, break the rules and get away with it. You, on the other hand, as a virgin writer, might find that imposing some boundaries or structure around your process will help channel your inspiration into a successful 14/48 writing experience. Or something like that. Anyway:
- You have plenty of time. Relax. Take a walk. Brainstorm.
- Throw out your first idea. The first thing that pops into my head is usually just my brain's reaction to stress. My brain is all like, "HOLY SHIT WHAT ABOUT THIS COMPLETELY OBVIOUS IDEA AND CAN I HAVE A MARTINI NOW?" It's usually too obvious. You actually have multiple opportunities to throw out your first idea. You can throw out the first idea you actually think is good. You can throw out the first play you actually start writing. You have time to experiment.
- Keep it short. They will tell you that a ten minute play is six pages long. What they don't tell you is that no one wants a ten minute play from you or anybody else. Your best five minute play is orders of magnitude better than your best ten minute play so don't waste brainpower on the extra pages. My rule of thumb: if I'm writing for two or three characters, I shoot for three pages; if I'm writing for four or five characters, I shoot for four pages. Sometimes if I'm writing for five characters, I'll cheat and spill into a fifth page, but only if I'm doing a really good job evenly distributing the action among the characters.
- Keep it simple. If you need to repeatedly stop the action to have someone narrate what's happening, you might have an overly complicated story. If your director has to spend most of the process figuring out how to stage all the locations you specified, your director has less time to focus on getting the best possible performances out of your actors, and that's where the money is. This doesn't mean you shouldn't look for a clever set up or a twist ending (you know - shit people like). One of my favorite plays recently was just people with high stakes confronting each other in a single location (Exactly What You Would Do).
- Write characters, not concepts. Give your actors three dimensional people to play. Do not give your actors two dimensional representations of concepts to play. The reason I like to impose this limitation on myself is that the most engaging, most surprising, most fully realized performances come from actors who connect emotionally with the characters - and they aren't as likely to do that if they're playing idealized platonic forms of some philosophical attitude or some shit.
- Don't write monologues. Sure, the vast world of theatre depends on monologues. But half the 14/48 horror stories from actors revolve around "the time I got a page and a half speech while the other actor had five lines." Don't be a jerk to your actors, particularly on a weekend where some (like potentially me) haven't been in a play for years and years. Plus in the real world, even when someone does try to pour out their soul in a long soliloquy, they get interrupted constantly with questions, interjections, reactions, it's just how people talk. And dialogue is easier to memorize than monologue.
- Careful with jargon. Specialized technical jargon is harder to memorize. If your story depends on it, and an actor bobbles it, anyone in the audience who understands the jargon will get jolted out of the piece. If there's a simpler way to express a technical concept, it'll probably work just fine.
- Tell a story. This is probably the wrong weekend to explore the boundaries of performance art, theatre of cruelty, dada and absurdism, butoh, long form abstract poetic structures, etc wtf. On this, your virgin writing weekend, just tell a story about real people in real conflict with real stakes. That shit works.
See you there!