Yes, and I was very good and even had great moments. (You know, I have been hanging around not posting...not even registering...but I really wanted to respond to this thread.)
As an actor, I was very comfortable on stage. I was naked before the world, but I had a certain amount of control. The first time I sat down to hear my own words spat back at me as a playwright, I was out of my mind. I had no control. I felt as though I had given birth and handed my child over to a bunch of raving lunitics to torture for a few hours.
I was in my first play when my mother was four months pregnant with me. "Time out for Ginger." I started in theatre - beyone the womb - when I was six. I played the doctor in St. George and the Dragon. The hat had to be stuffed because it would have rested on my shoulders. I can't remember why the doctor was wearing a top hat. I was always in theatre, but a bit daunted by my mother's talent, so I was always going for the singing and dancing parts in musicals and rock operas. I always got good parts in an annual university spoof I did for six years.
The first actual part I went out for was the Vagina Monologues. When I walked to the front of the stage, and sat in the stool, ready to take the audience through my supposed first orgasm, I remember looking out over the people, inhaling deeply, and thinking...this feels really comfortable. I was surprised. Singing and dancing was easy...I thought the acting part would be really hard. It wasn't. I've done several roles since then but I'm still not sure how people remember lines. I find stuff I've written, and don't recognize it.
I felt as though I had given birth and handed my child over to a bunch of raving lunitics to torture for a few hours.
That made me laugh. I don't get really nervous about anything...but there is that issue of control...and Profe said it wonderfully.
I totally agree with Profe . I acted professionally for about 10 years before I had anything I had written produced.
Acting I was always nervous but it was an excited type of nerves. The first time I had my own work produced, the cast threatened to gag me. I had to sit on one hand and with the other I was digging my nails into the person sitting next to me so hard I left bruises.
I still don't enjoy that feeling of handing over control.
I've been an actor since I got out of the navy back in the early 60s. I was also a director, did voice over and TV and radio commercials. I did the Equity dinner theatre circuit and "retired" right after performing in Amadeus. My favorite characters were Pseudolus in A funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream. As much as I love it, I'll stop bragging here.
After Amadeus I began writing seriously. With a background of acting, directing, scenic design, lighting design and even the financial aspects for putting a production together--I was totally prepared for writing. I believe that it is essential for a playwright to have some familiarity with the mechanics of Theatre. I love actors and so every play I have ever written was written with the actor in mind. The play that opened in Boston last night (Sept. 1) has about 12 characters, but it is written for 4 actors. They get a chance to stretch and perform a bravura performance. All actors want a challenge and a chance to shine.
If you're going to write a play at least have some familiarity with the medium you are writing for.
Having been my class poet in High School, submitted several short stories to publishers, hammered on a few closet novels, and run into a wall of crisis in my private life, I decided to audition for a one-act called "Lone Star" and actually got the central character part of Roy (which remains one of the best memories and productions of my acting life). While jumping head first into the theatre "pool" and learning to "swim" while "drowning" in the details that were so new to me, it crossed my mind that playwriting should be something I could do.
I've won acting awards on a community theatre level for George in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" and C S Lewis in "Shadowlands" and have had a handful of plays produced by local companies, but am still awaiting a publisher's call (in all of my writing endeavors).
While the productions of my plays have been enjoyable overall, I have had directors and actors who would never have done some things they've done had the script been from a publishing house. You live and learn.
I have the utmost respect for the words and the wordsmiths and, as an actor, relish in a well-written character and show.
I agree and appreciate everything everyone has written! Scenedreamer: terrific succinct explanation and quite true! Leon, heeding that person's comment will probably save you a lot of future aggravation! George Bernard Shaw used to read (performed) his plays to the entire cast before the first rehearsal. Yet, he was so good, he intimidated the actors with his talent!
Acting and writing both have their "jitters." I have been fortunate to be a full-time actor in all media for many years. Start rehearsals on my third movie of the year next week. And on this American Labor Day weekend, I should give homage and thanks to my Performing Arts unions: SAG -AFTRA-AEA and The Dramatists Guild! "We are the Union." And I give time to them.
However, I have had every job in theatre from being a house manager for two years in a small theatre early on (talk about a “total theatre” immersion experience!) to directing, some design, producing on a small level (the theatre needs more terrific commercial producers outside the funded theatres) and writing.
I believe being an actor, along with all the other jobs, has made me realize better what makes a play work: playable lines that fit the arc of the story. That simple! That difficult! As an actor, I love to do readings of new plays. When asked, I usually I ask to read them ahead of time to see whether I want to participate. I love to help out writers, especially when I see a promise of a good story. And I always learn something. Just recently did a backers’ audition for a new play for a writer.They want to use me if the show goes up, but I have told my agent I am not interested in doing it for a run. But if my work helped get the show on - which is a pretty good piece - I’ll be happy for them.
But to Profe’s wonderful question about "Which is scarier?": if an actor is in a great production of a terrific play there is total confidence in driving that play like a well-tuned Mercedes on the Autobahn and you feel exhilarated at the end. You still have to pay close attention to the road, but you can fully enjoy the activity of the drive. However, if you are in a dog play/production (Fortunately, I have had the luck/innate good sense to stay away from most of those) it is like getting into a rusted old rickety junk-mobile and you feel unsafe at any speed. And the road you are driving is in the upper Chilean Andes Mountains and has a bunch of gaping pot holes with no guardrails and thousand foot drops over the edge. You still feel confident of your driving ability, but you can’t wait until the trip is over and it seems FOREVER and you are exhausted when it is done! It is like carrying a limp corpse around on your back for two hours. And you think, “Except that I am being paid for this voluntary torture, I could be home right now.” In essence, Paula Vogel is correct in her comment but I say it in my own words, “DON’T EVEN THINK OF TORTURING THE ACTORS OR THE AUDIENCE.”
As for writer fears (one writer I know goes to a bar during a reading) casting the right actors who are willing to bring something to the table, and knowing what you want is the most important thing to abate them. If an actor proves to be wrong, I have had no problem politely getting rid of them very soon, whether in production or a reading, if things are not working out. And the person reading stage directions must also be as good an actor. A composer would not have the wrong musician who hits the wrong notes to play his music. I think the worst thing a writer can do is have a bad reading or production of a play in front of an audience. You never want to have an audience see your play where you have to make an excuse for something or somebody. And in a reading you do not have to worry about type casting. Go for the good actor! I always treat readings as a Performance Reading, whether I am the actor, director or writer. Just a “reading” does nothing. And I never would allow a public reading until I think the play is quite presentable. REMEMBER: IF SOMEONE DESTROYS YOUR PLAY, YOU LET THEM DO IT.
Yes, only took 18 years to find out I was fond of writing dialogue rather than saying it. It is too bad the "voting" did not allow, "Yes, I was an actor," AND "Yes, I was great," and "Yes, I was terrible" for I was all of those.
Smiles at Edd's comments about happy remembrances of Bottom. I was a vulnerable Helena! Never Juliet. Never Lady Macbeth. Phebe and other comedic sidekicks. When I was good, I was very, very good and when I was bad - well, you know.
I have been a director, stage manager, house manager, costumer, prop maker, producer and in the end, as I corrected a well-known playwright whose play I stage managed was filled with many contradictions, realized I was a playwright. Nobody told an 18 year old girl in 1970 that she could be a playwright. "My, you have a gift for dialogue but your description is horrid." (I did not have the wherewithal to say, "That's what designers are for.")
I smiled at being "an actor's director" for of course, I am. My training has me approach directing and playwrighting as an actor. What does your character want? What will your character do to go get it? Didn't Leon write, "If your character got what he wanted, get him offstage?"
And I do tend toward character biographies when I am being diligent. And even reference them. (A must in a large cast play - which I did not always do early on and it shows).
I am not a jack-of-all-trades but I adore theatre and the possibilities a sheet of paper, a glance at the "playwright's gym" and an opening or a reading at the theatre brings. Nothing is more immediate. And interestingly with theatre conventions, canvas and rehearsal, when it works - nothing is more true.
I was making a small (apparently VERY small) joke about how do we judge our own performances? Other people told me I did fine, and directors wouldn't have continued casting me if I had truly been mediocre. But in my own estimation, I didn't feel great. Acting was the one aspect of theater where I never found a comfort zone.
I am very proud of some of the sets, costumes and make-up I have designed and executed, graphic designs for publicity, plays I've written and produced, and some of the stage manager miracles I've pulled off.
Ultimately, I got into directing because I was tired of running around behind people's backs, secretly fixing their mistakes to avoid hurt feelings, so I decided it would be a lot easier to just take charge and do things my way so I could ensure greatness!!! <GRIN> I love directing; it's my proudest accomplishment.
Edd said elsewhere something about needing a way to show cheek bulging with tongue. True, because what I love most about theater is that there is no such thing as a one-man show. A group coming together to make art is always great, even when the result is horrible.
didn't everybody start out as a dwarf or something in the second grade holiday pageant? I was a brown elf, as I recall. Worst performance? As the fox in Pinocchio at the Mineola Theatre on Long Island. As stage manager, I was general understudy for a touring children's threatre company. The actor playing the fox missed the train. I was literally hissed off the stage by 700 6/7/8 year old critics.
Started in musical theater, then went on to straight theater and regional theater. Twist my arm - ok...acting highlights include: Tom in Glass Menagerie (Best Actor in a Non-Musical), Space Punk in Starmites, Jeff in 17 Days, Martin in Fool for Love, Jack in Jack and Jill. three productions of Blood Brothers (twice as the narrator and once as Mickey, A Chorus Line, naked on stage in HAIR...
Theater people - as a group - are the funnest I've ever met. Acting was everything I though it would be (when I first started) - nothin more, nothing less. Haven't acted in two years due to an eye injury I suffered and I miss it terribly. Though I have found much solace in writing for the stage (really), it doesn't fill the void in my heart. I hope to perform again someday. I hope :) .
I must say that my acting has helped my play writing tremendously. The one thing that EVERYONE has said about my plays is how natural the dialogue is. Yep, I'm patting myself on the back. How I HATED auditioning for theater, TV or film - or rehearsing for something - and reading dialogue that absolutely sucked. Pet peeve - one I will NOT commit.
dino wrote: Theater people - as a group - are the funnest I've ever met.
Whenever I'm asked what my favorite show is, I often say, "The one I'm working on."
A very special bond forms between the people who are putting on a show. Sure, there are people-politics that swirl beneath the surface, and I've rarely seen a show go up without some blood, sweat and tears, but for the most part, everybody declares a truce and at least for the preparation and run of a show you're a member of a family that is greater than the sum of its parts. The best groups are the ones that don't divide into actor/tech cliques; I hate when that happens, but more often than not, it's not a problem.
A surprising number of theater people I know describe themselves as shy, including me. Maybe theater attracts us because it enables us to disappear into another world. Anyway, I'm taking the long way to get around to saying, maybe it's the courage it takes to put on a show --that breakdown of inhibition, but theater people are some of the most fun-to-be-with folks I've ever known. And just to keep on topic, that alone is reason enough for playwrights to at least take a shot at acting. I don't see how a playwright can work in a vacuum.
This post has really piqued my interest. One would think that all playwrights would have at least some exposure to work "walking the boards." As others have said, I started as an actor... I'm still an actor ( currently in my first year of MFA Actor Training) and during my admittedly short life as a writer of plays, I have always seen a clearly connected need for those of us who write for the stage to know exactly what goes on for those of us who take those words and have to somehow own them as if they were, in fact, our own.
It may be most informative for the playwright to know, as actors, most of my colleagues and I are actively looking (excavating if you will) for the action behind the words on the page. Most actor training works around the idea of a character's immediate and longterm "want," "objective" or "intention" and it has been downright shocking to see how many plays lack this crucial element or require the actor to invent one. The craft of acting is an active one by nature and requires the actors to be in a constant inquiry into whether or not their character is getting what they want, losing what they want and how they are doing so.
Since I began teaching acting to undergraduates at the university, I've been constantly reminded of the difference between playing a quality/tone/mood and creating a breathing, living being of a character. Though this distinction is mostly lost among amateur actors, the point is often difficult to demonstrate when working with scripts whose protagonists are skin-deep at best.
I regularly find myself reintroducing the building blocks of acting theory (borrowed from Robert Cohen's Acting One) to my students and when applying the ideas to my work writing plays have found that it helps immensely!
In Cohen's method of playing (or in our case writing) a scene, he recommends employing his GOTE system.
I've used this in the same way I would if I were cast in a show.
The Goal is what the character desires to happen, have or hopes to gain from the other person(s) they interact with in a scene or, in the larger picture, throughout the whole play.
The Other (or in some schools of thought, the Obstacle) is who/what stands in the way of the character from getting what it is he/she wants. Obviously, if the obstacle happens to be another person in the scene or play, the conflict will be intensified.
The Tactics are how the character (can) go after what it is they want. Cohen strongly recommends strong, clearly active tactics (To Seduce, To Threaten, To Entice, To Consume are a few examples) to achieve those goals. Different tactics are usually employed with pursue the goals and are assigned to the lines of text that seem to mirror the action employed.
The Expectation is what the character expects to get if they obtain their goal. The higher the stake of this expectation, the harder the character will fight for what it is they want and the more there is to lose if the don't in fact achieve their goal.
By using this simple system in each scene, you can easily check the conflict dynamic in your plays, you can see how an actor might play the characters you've written (And there will be a million takes on them.)