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.
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. :)
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!).
P.S.: "Gimme Shelter" is one of the best songs ever written.
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.
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.
Luana Krause wrote: aren't the critics themselves members of the "audience"? If we please them, aren't we pleasing the audience?
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.
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.
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
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!
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?