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 Posted: Thu Feb 8th, 2007 01:24 pm
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J Brian Long
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Mana: 
This is the advance question of what will probably be a tiring onslaught. I will beg

your forgiveness now rather than after you have grown bored with me.

 

Some literary types believe good poetry to be quantifiable. I used to agree,

but no longer do. Personal study has revealed to me that poetry (and by this

I mean the universal state of it as a genre) is fickle and as prone to favoritism

and fads as is Fashion (maybe even more so). Some poets, particularly in

academia, seem to know exactly the characteristics that define a good poem--

those just seem to change every ten minutes.

 

About plays, however, I know nothing, which brings me ask to you this question:

 

Is a "good" play quantifiable? If your answer is yes, what are the specific

characteristics of a good play? Can a play contain these characteristics and

still be "bad"?

 

And also:

 

Have the great plays already been written or have they yet to be written?

 

--J Brian Long

 

 

 

Last edited on Thu Feb 8th, 2007 01:53 pm by J Brian Long

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 Posted: Thu Feb 8th, 2007 03:38 pm
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ohdear
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Mana: 
being a poet and knowing full well that my poetry will never be deemed as GOOD by any literary establishment all I can share with you is my experience of said perception.

my poetry sells despite its lack of literary brilliance. Why? Because the people who buy my poems do not care about its achedemic status. They FEEL IT. They connect with it emotionally. They identify with it. It mirrors their thoughts.

it is a niche market, not one built on fashion or whim. it is written for those with open hearts who seek to find peace within. for them it is a soothing balm.

My book of poems, humble though it is, has helped to save the life of a teen age girl that I will never meet. For these things I write and for these things I am grateful. to strive for literary excellence would cripple my creativity and thus I remain uneducated.

As for a GOOD PLAY. Well, my writing diploma notes would certainly rouse some nessisary ingredients. Not being easily tamed, when I write, I allow myself to witness the unfolding, to escape untethered into the land of creative expression. Is what I write GOOD? That is for my audience to decide.

I am always brought back to something I learned in my public speaking club.

Make em laugh
Make em cry
Make em think

If these are the ingredients nessisary to make it GOOD, then I have them ever present. If it requires more, and I am sure it does, then I am as blind to them as you are.

As for a formular, I am sure one exists and I am sure it is based on sound principals.

Can a play be bad with these in place? I am certain it can. good writing is more than just following a formular. Good writing has HEART and that intangible X factor. That special zing that makes it stand out.

As for the formular itself, I will leave that to the more learned members here to enlighten us. Like you, I am eager to learn.

As always, I have found your question to be rather thought provoking.

cheers Robyn


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 Posted: Mon Feb 12th, 2007 01:27 pm
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J Brian Long
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Mana: 
Here I stumble bearing the cross of ignorance, and who appears as my

Simon, but Robyn. One voice among the crowd to dare pity me with an

answer. Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?

 

--J Brian Long

 

 

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 Posted: Sun Feb 25th, 2007 02:00 pm
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theactordavid
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Mana: 
Well, Aristotle thought he had it figured out.

That said, if there was any formula, I suspect that Williams, Pinter, Shaw, Strindberg, the Wilsons, et al would have written nothing but Pulitzer prize winners.  Surely some have had better success than others, and more of it.

Not sure you can know a good play until after the Tony awards. :)

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 Posted: Tue Feb 27th, 2007 11:54 am
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J Brian Long
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Mana: 
theactordavid,

 

So, would I be misreading you if I were to gather from your

reply that, to you, awards determine "good" plays (you mention

the Pulitzer and Tony awards, specifically)?

 

And, are you using the word "success" to mean "popularity"

or as the playwright's achievement of great art (or some degree

of both) (forgive the "nit-pickiness" in my inquiry, but, for instance,

a poem can be "great" and still be largely unread, while a "bad"

poem can be widely read and loved; would the same set of

circumstances apply to a given play?)

 

There is more here, but I don't want to get ahead of myself.

Thank you for replying!

--J Brian Long

Last edited on Tue Feb 27th, 2007 12:55 pm by J Brian Long

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 Posted: Tue Feb 27th, 2007 03:14 pm
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Steve Patterson
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Mana: 
First off, any time you're trying to measure art, it's necessarily subjective.  I might think "Gimme Shelter" is one of the best songs ever written, but, if someone doesn't like rock, it isn't even on their radar.

That said, I think you can say that good plays are successful in what they're trying to do, whether that's to entertain, make the audience laugh (in the case of comedy), tell a compelling story, create a mood, take an audience on a journey...or all of the above.  For me, that often means transporting me to a place where I forget I'm watching a play, so involved am I in the characters' stories or the play's atmosphere. (And it happens less and less, sadly, the more you know about theatre because weird professional details take you out of the experience.  Look at that beautiful gobo!  That costume's not going to make it through the second act....)

Traditionalists will say a play has to have a beginning, middle, and end with a resolution of at least one character's dilemma and have characters you care about.  Modernism and post-modernism have sort of scrambled those criteria, and therein arguments arise.  And a good play is going to be different for a 20-year-old and an 80-year-old.  "The Trip to Bountiful" and "Cowboy Mouth" are both good plays, but they speak to different audiences.

How's this?  A good play will still be produced 20 years after it's written (hi, Sam!).  A really good play will still be produced 100 years after it's written (hi, Anton!).  A great play will be produced 500 years after it's written (hi, Bill!).

Steve

P.S.: "Gimme Shelter" is one of the best songs ever written.

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 Posted: Tue Feb 27th, 2007 03:28 pm
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in media res
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Mana: 
"Gimme Shelter" is also one of the best documetary movies ever made!

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 Posted: Tue Feb 27th, 2007 05:06 pm
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theactordavid
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Mana: 
Steve Patterson wrote: How's this?  A good play will still be produced 20 years after it's written (hi, Sam!).  A really good play will still be produced 100 years after it's written (hi, Anton!).  A great play will be produced 500 years after it's written (hi, Bill!).
None of this explains Neil Simon's "Rumors". And as my sense of humor is completely lost in this medium, let me say that while a very successful (read over-produced) play, and a fine piece of Farce, it is a piece of crap IMHO.  And I'm not even going to explain myself, since either you will agree or not, and for your own good reasons.

I think any work of "art" has two measures of goodness: 1) is the creative artist happy with it, and 2) is there a continuing audience for it?  And I think they are often mutually exclusive.  If I write a play that I like and no one else does, I don't care. They're all wrong.  If I think it's crap, but it keeps getting produced, I don't care. They're all wrong. But at least I'm making money.

We did Yasmina Reza's 'ART', and in preparation I read up on it. In the very first few productions, the audience howled.  Reza was distraught. She had not written a comedy, and they audience was obviously not getting it.  Ten years later, it is still being produced (a good play?) to swelling audiences.  Here's what Dramatist has on the site:

Winner of the 1996 Olivier Award for Best Comedy. "…wildly funny, naughtily provocative…" —NY Post. "…a nonstop cross-fire of crackling language, serious issues of life and art expressed in outbursts that sound like Don Rickles with a degree from the Sorbonne…Reza is a fiendishly clever writer…'ART' sounds like a marriage of Molière and Woody Allen…" —Newsweek.

Who knew???  Apparently not the playwright herself, and yet.....

The Pulitzer, Tony, and any other awards are just a means to trying to quantify a play for the general public, so they know it's worth the money in someone else's opinion. It would be hard to argue that August Wilson didn't merit his awards.  "Cats"?  I guess.  "Avenue Q"?  I suppose.

Ultimately, I decide for me what is good.  As do we all. 

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 Posted: Tue Feb 27th, 2007 05:13 pm
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Luana Krause
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Mana: 
Steve, excellent insight. I totally agree. Art is subjective and the idea that a play or poem is "good" or "bad" rests entirely with the audience/reader.

I'm always amazed at this remark: The audience loved it but the critics hated it.  Are we writing to please the critics, or to please/inspire/perplex/intrigue/entertain the audience?

Which brings up another point....aren't the critics themselves members of the "audience"? If we please them, aren't we pleasing the audience?

Luana


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 Posted: Tue Feb 27th, 2007 05:27 pm
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Steve Patterson
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Mana: 
theactordavid wrote: I think any work of "art" has two measures of goodness: 1) is the creative artist happy with it, and 2) is there a continuing audience for it? 
Just curious, but why put quotes around art?  Because the generic art covers everything from "Cats" to "Hamlet" but not all that work is quality art and not worthy of being called art?  (I'm guessing here.)  It really is all art--just some of it's bad and some of it's good.

SP

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 Posted: Tue Feb 27th, 2007 05:44 pm
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deepakmorris
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Mana: 
Luana Krause wrote:
 
aren't the critics themselves members of the "audience"? If we please them, aren't we pleasing the audience?

Luana




No on both counts.

Critics are critics. They attend a play with the intention of "critiquing" it against an internally pre-defined framework of what, to them, a play should be.

An audience attends a play with a different motive. It seeks to be moved, entertained, made cry, made laugh... it seeks to have 2 to 3 hours of "worth it" time.

Audiences may attend plays based on the recommendation of a critic. They may praise the play in order not to seem out-of-sync with the exalted critic.

But the audience is not critical and the critic is not the audience.

Many things happen. I happen to think Reza's "Art" is a waste of the audience's time. Critics think it has layers of meaning. Audiences seem to go by critics' opinion and give Art a lot of stage time.

My "Business Is War" is a rotten play even by my own standards. The most amateur critic will find plenty of ammunition to shoot it down. When it was first staged here, the local newspaper-appointed critic called it my "noble attempt to kickstart English theatre" and then went on to trash it.

It's since been staged in seven countries across the world, different cultures notwithstanding.

Am I happy about that? I don't know. I'm proud that a play written by me is being staged across the world. I'm puzzled about why a play I dashed off in a week or so compels people to stage it. I'm trying my damnedest to figure out just why it works so I can replicate the success. I haven't had success in any of those endeavours.

At the end of the day I have to admit that I wite for the audience. That can be successful. Art, apparently written for critics, is wildly more successful than my plays.

I don't want to write Art. I definitely want to write another play like "Business Is War".  I'd rather make an audience of 100 happy than have an authority figure endorse my play and empower it to be staged before thousands.

What was I saying?

Oh yes, audiences are different from critics.

Deepak

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 Posted: Wed Feb 28th, 2007 06:46 am
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Poet
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Mana: 
A good play is one that is enjoyed just once by just one audience?

A great play is one that can repeat the trick?

 

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 Posted: Wed Feb 28th, 2007 12:04 pm
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theactordavid
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Mana: 
I think Deepak brings out a point, intentionally or not, that can not be overlooked.  And I'll express it (I hope) by quoting a friend who admits he stole this from someone else: "Art is given its immortality by the audience."

Write what you will, paint what you will, sing what you will, it's the audience that is the ultimate decision maker.  Of course, does that mean quality reigns supreme?  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Brittany.

I doubt any piece of art would ever suffer from universal condemnation.  But you can approach the creative process from three directions, I think.  1) Create for yourself, damn the world.  2) Create for the audience (ie financial reward), damn yourself.  3) Create from the educational exploration of the process, usually leading towards 1 or 2.  And if along the way you happen to score on more than one, rejoice.

ps. Steve, I used "art" to imply the inclusion of theater, painting, sculpture, dance, music, film, stand-up comedy, street juggling, mime, modeling, photography - well, you get the idea.  Whether it's good or bad?  I speak only for myself.

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 Posted: Wed Feb 28th, 2007 03:03 pm
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Steve Patterson
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Mana: 
Gotcha...that makes sense.  And who can tell if basketweaving lasts the ages?  (It did for the Paiutes.)

Steve

 

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 Posted: Wed Feb 28th, 2007 08:32 pm
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J Brian Long
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Mana: 
Thank you, everyone; your comments have proven beneficial to me.

I know you are probably busy people; I sincerely appreciate the small

slice of your life you have donated to the pursuit of my education. If it

matters, I do pay attention. Some of the other questions I had regarding

this topic were answered before I was able to ask them, but there

are, of course, more...

 

But I will let this drop (for now) and ask something else (in another post).

--J Brian Long

 

 

Last edited on Wed Feb 28th, 2007 08:33 pm by J Brian Long

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 Posted: Sat Mar 3rd, 2007 09:13 pm
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theactordavid
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Mana: 
Just thought I'd tack this on :

Right from the jump, ask yourself- 'Why does this thing I'm writing have to be a play?' The words 'why,' 'have' and 'play' are key. If you don't have an answer then get out of town. No joke. The last thing American theatre needs is another lame play.
-- Suzan-Lori Parks

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 Posted: Sun Mar 4th, 2007 05:56 am
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Poet
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David

Now I'm really curious.

Can you give me a couple of examples of plays that absolutely, no-fail, 100% had to be plays, not (for instance) novels or films? I can't think of a single thing I've ever written which had to be a play, so by your logic I'm damned!

 

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 Posted: Mon Mar 5th, 2007 12:12 pm
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theactordavid
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Mana: 
Poet - I direct you to the author of that quote for clarification.  Accept it or not, it's through the exposure to differing opinions that we have the opportunity to grow.  I just included it to have the words of a MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant and Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner in the mix

And let me say this about that: "damned if you do, damnded if you don't" so you might as well "do", right?

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 Posted: Mon Mar 5th, 2007 04:36 pm
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J Brian Long
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theactordavid,

 

When I first read your post, my initial reaction to Suzan Lori-Parks' quote was that

it was simply another of those types of things an artist might say when he or she

feels they are expected to say something meaningful but can't think of anything

(see the "So what?" test for poetry), so they fire off something that sounds good

enough on the surface to suffice but most times fails under careful scrutiny.

 

But then I thought of that act, "Storm", in Cirque's Alegria, that I mentioned before.

Neither you nor I know if it was a (true) play, but whatever it was, I do know it could be

nothing other than what it was.

 

And now I understand.

 

Your post has given me a revelation, and I am made aware of something I didn't even know I

needed to know.  I have some thinking to do as a result.

 

Thank you,

 

Truly,

--J Brian Long

 

 

 

 

Last edited on Mon Mar 5th, 2007 04:37 pm by J Brian Long

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 Posted: Tue Mar 6th, 2007 08:12 am
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Poet
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David

Still curious - I can't source the quote from Parks, and I'd love to see the context; can you point me to a text?

Thanks!

 

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 Posted: Tue Mar 6th, 2007 11:32 am
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J Brian Long
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Poet,

 

It was in "Elements of Style," which is published in The America Play and Other Works.

( Theatre Communications Group (November 1, 1994) )

--J Brian Long

Last edited on Tue Mar 6th, 2007 11:39 am by J Brian Long

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 Posted: Tue Mar 6th, 2007 12:19 pm
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thain
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Hi Poet

To access, enter the ISBN in the Search Box below - 1559360925

Paul

 

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