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The Playwrights Forum > General > Question & Answer > "Beat" vs. "Pause"

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"Beat" vs. "Pause"  Rating:  Rating
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 Posted: Mon Feb 25th, 2008 02:02 pm
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justjen78
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Mana: 
Hi all,

I'm new here, and am incredibly glad that I found this board. It's really helpful now that I'm preparing to submit one of my shows for possible production or publication. Anyway, my one burning question that I would like people's opinions on is this:

Do playwrights still use the term "beat" in a stage direction or does everyone pretty much use the word "pause" instead? Is it me being snobby to want to use "beat," and wlll anyone understand what I'm writing about?

Thanks!

jj78

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 Posted: Mon Feb 25th, 2008 03:03 pm
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Shanahan
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Mana: 
I use "beat" if I want the actor to only wait like a one-count, and "pause" when I want them/the director to decide how best to hang a silence.

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 Posted: Mon Feb 25th, 2008 09:05 pm
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Proboscisbunny
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For me a pause is simply that...a pause. A beat is to be filled with something by the actor.

Some think "beat" was actually the word "bit"...misunderstood from Stanislavsky himself...russian accent and all...

Vanessa

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 Posted: Tue Feb 26th, 2008 03:05 am
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katoagogo
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I hate the word "pause."

As far as I'm concerned there is no such thing as a "pause" in a theatrical landscape. The notion of "pausing" is something that does not happen in a piece of theater -- because every moment is full -- even when not talking -- the moment is full. While this may constitute a "pause" in talking -- the reason for "pause" is to accomplish something that is more potent and more essential to that "beat" that "moment" than mere words are able to convey.

Therefore

I hate the word pause.

Instead

I use space

or direction

to fill the space

where words are not enough.




That's my take on it. I know most people don't see it that way. That's cool. I know what you mean by "pause" -- you mean something else more profound.

--kato

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 Posted: Tue Feb 26th, 2008 04:13 pm
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Sam Stone
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Mana: 
Hey jj,

Nice topic.  I'm not an authority but find the following method helps in my writing.

I use "Beat" only and include it in parenthesis between words in a character's line.

The only time I find a "pause" appropriate is during some sort of blocking onstage the author envisions.

When that happens...

(I use this method of showing a pause without using the word "pause" in my blocking notes.)
...and then go back to the character's line.

Then, again, I don't lilke to "direct from the script" so I also expect the director to take-or-leave such blocking as he/she wishes.

Sam

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 Posted: Tue Feb 26th, 2008 05:13 pm
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Edd
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I completely agree with kato.  It has just taken me much longer to arrive at that point of view. 

I have always used "pause" to mean for the actor to stop and take a breath--to emphasize that which preceeded the pause or perhaps that which is about to follow.  I have always used "beat" to signal the actor to a quick shift in the cerebral action of the character--almost as a director would use "beat change" when charting a script.  However, in my old age I find I am using "pause" and "beat" less and trusting more in my writing and the actor's and director's ability to interpret it for themselves.   In fact, in my most recent work (The Wake) I use neither "pause" or "beat" nor punctuation other than the period.   This has taught and continues to teach me to write closer to the bone.

Try it.  Trust your collaborators.  Trust your writing.

Imagine if poetry came with "pause" and "beat."

By the way, one might also consider using less italized words for emphases.  We may be limiting ourselves.
~Edd

A Lewis Carrol quote on poetry comes to mind.  In some obscure way I think it has something to do with the subject at hand.  I paraphrase:  "Pay attention to the sense and the rhyme with take care of itself."

Last edited on Tue Feb 26th, 2008 05:30 pm by Edd

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 Posted: Tue Feb 26th, 2008 08:54 pm
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in media res
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"Beat" tends to be used widely in screenplays. Seldom have I ever seen "pause" in a screenplay.

The use or negation of Pause depends only upon the particular play one is writing. I make no hard and fast rules. Each piece requires its own structural language and punctuation tools to hold the play up, just as each building needs its own architecture.

Since an actor, Harold Pinter, really popularized the use of Pause, I look at it mostly as a signal to the actor. (The director can do what he wants, what the hell do they know, anyway! Just kidding.) Remember, all the words are the playwrights. All the little white spaces in between belong to the actor. As I said before, I saw two different productions of The Caretaker. One took 1 1/2 hours. One took 2 1/2.

The shorter one was much better!

Any correct use of punctuation is a road sign to an intelligent actor. But we know how often people obey road signs! Bad actors violate them or adhere so much to them they should haver their mouths ticketed and booted! Some speed. And others go under the legal posted limit. Both can be infuriating. Which is worse, having some speedster passing you and cutting in front of you, or getting stuck behind a little old lady or man going 20 miles per hours in a 50 mph zone?!

But, the beauty of road signs (and punctuation and pauses) is they can be as varied as "Dangerous Corner," to "Hidden Driveway" to "Scenic View." They must be used as on a trip: moving forward with anticipation.

It is just as important how an actor begins a Pause and how long he stays in it, as well as how he/she comes out of it. They are very complex things, when done well, for whatever length of time. One section of a pause without the other two means failure. A pause, however, never stops the action and dynamic of a performance. Even an intermission does not do that IF the intermission is placed/used correctly. It is no different from musical notation in a piece of music. Different orchestrators use their own creativity to stress their personal way of performing the piece. Even John Cage music moves forward! Same with actors and directors.

It is funny, but when one sees a Shakespeare production we think of all the talk. But the great productions I have seen have utilized creative silences/pauses, which Shakespeare also built into his scripts, he just never wrote "PAUSE." But the actors at the time knew what to look...or listen for.

I do not trust directors/readers to "get it" with or without "pause" or "beat" or anything else. I like road signs. If I could one day put a GPS system into my scripts, I would!

best,

in media res

Last edited on Wed Feb 27th, 2008 02:56 am by in media res

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 Posted: Fri Feb 29th, 2008 08:37 pm
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dino
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(Pause)
i totally agree with in media res - i do not trust actors and directors enough NOT to include "beats" and "pauses".

(Beat)
that being said, i have to be the King of the "Beat" & the "Pause". honestly, i laugh about it every day. what the hell am i doing??? when all is said and done and i've edited and re-edited, i put them in for a reason. as far as the interpretation of the actor and director and sticking to those directions...what can you do when you're show is being performed in Cedar Rapids and you're 2600 miles away.

i'm a big fan of the non-verbal. always have been as an actor. maybe that's why i toss so many "beats" and "pauses" in my plays...not sure. all i know is i don't think there are any rules - i certainly don't abide by any - when i write.

(Sigh)
i've been away from the board for a while. almost forgot my log-in info again. nice to be back.

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 Posted: Sat Mar 1st, 2008 10:40 pm
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Luana Krause
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I, too, am a fan of "beat" and "pause." I work with amateur actors and they constantly run the lines and talk too fast. The "pause" tends to slow them down a bit. After several rehearsals, they'll finally begin to understand their characters and motivations.

Luana

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 Posted: Sun Mar 2nd, 2008 02:43 am
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katoagogo
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in media res wrote:
"
I do not trust directors/readers to "get it" with or without "pause" or "beat" or anything else. I like road signs. If I could one day put a GPS system into my scripts, I would!


This is why I believe there are far more effective ways to signal the need for silence -- or action sans dialogue-- than writing "pause".

Just like any over used catch-phrase or antibiotic, "pause" has come to me veritably nothing in modern playwriting and its overuse has only served to make it a small word in parentheses or italics that is ignored.

Discover and employ creative alternatives to the shopworn 'pause' -- your writing and the productions that spring from it will only be enhanced.

--Kato

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 Posted: Mon Mar 3rd, 2008 02:10 am
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in media res
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"ON CROSSING OUT A PLAYWRIGHT'S STAGE DIRECTIONS" by Louis Catron

http://lecatr.people.wm.edu/stagedirections.html

in media res

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 Posted: Tue Mar 4th, 2008 07:11 pm
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IanFraser
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I used to write "There is a pause."

These days, I tend to write "There is a beat pause."

Sometimes, I write '(CHARACTER NAME) blinks at this, and thinks for a moment."

I think playwrights should write whatever they feel is the best way to convey exactly what they mean and want on a stage.

re the horrifying 'mark out the playwrights stage directions' idea, being spread by illiterate thugs disguised as 'teachers'..

Its crap like that being taught, which has motivated me into having finally assembled an application letter, with a view to getting into residencies or fellowships - as the worst thing in the world, it seems to me, is to have the art of play writing being taught by stuffy academics, who think that adherence to predefined 'rules' can make a good play..

(Also - I discovered recently how uber cool it is to talk with students and give them real tools for writing, and alt perceptual models to see the fun of theatre, as opposed to the dry formal and dusty method of endless rules, conformity, and 'plan it all out before you write'...)

Onetime, as a homage to the non verbal director Jacque Tati, I started a play with around a solid page of 'stage directions' - non verbal business, including exits and entrances.. in staging it ran to almost 5 minutes of stage time. But it also conveyed a whole bunch of stuff about the character.

I double dare any damn teacher or supposed expert to try say 'delete the playwrights stage directions'  in front of me, and remain unpunched.

/takes off Grumpy Old Man mask, and gets back to work :)


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 Posted: Wed Mar 5th, 2008 01:06 am
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Basso
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I double dare any damn teacher or supposed expert to try say 'delete the playwrights stage directions'  in front of me, and remain unpunched.

 

Would that be "beat," then.

Basso

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 Posted: Wed Mar 5th, 2008 12:17 pm
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Paddy
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Ha, basso.

I like them.  I put as few stage directions in my plays as possible...only the ones that without them, the play would not be what I intended.

Writing plays, is a lot like writing a music score.  A beat, is a beat in music, and Edd used the exact word I use to explain it.  It's a quick shift.  In the middle of a longer bit of dialogue, when the character is having trouble saying what needs to be said, a pause can be like a paragraph of dialogue.  In film, there aren't pauses because the camera is busy getting close on the face so we know the character is struggling.  In theatre, we need different clues.

If it's a monologue, I wouldn't write pause, I would continue the dialogue on the next line, if that makes sense.

Still....thinking it should be as simple as possible.

Paddy

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 Posted: Wed Mar 5th, 2008 07:16 pm
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in media res
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Here is what recently happened in Chicago when one disregards stage directions. It hit the papers pretty good.

http://www.playbill.com/news/article/114892.html

And the director is not unexperienced. Amazing, isn't it?


best,


in media res

Last edited on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 07:18 pm by in media res

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 Posted: Thu Mar 6th, 2008 05:10 pm
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katoagogo
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dino wrote:
(Pause)
i totally agree with in media res - i do not trust actors and directors enough NOT to include "beats" and "pauses".
(Beat)



I've been thinking about this a lot -- and here's what I believe (this is not for everyone -- or even for most people -- this is just how I approach this issue)

I write my plays for the people who are gonna 'get it.' I write for the 'get its' because I want someone to pick up my play and get that the whole thing is a problem to be solved. The whole process is a problem -- a problem that requires observation, and rehearsal to uncover the meaning behind it all.

That's who I'm writing for.

The guy that picks it up and doesn't get -- well -- he's never going to get it. Even if I deposit road signs and 'how to's' and loads of 'here's where you pause' -- he's still not going to get it. I'd rather my play either stay on the shelf -- or that the guy have fun with his very bad production of my play. Because he's never going to get. No matter what I do.

Why sully the delicate body of my play in order to explain it to that guy who is never never ever going to get it? That's pandering to the lowest common denominator -- and that conflicts with my understanding of the purpose of art -- attempting the impossible*.

I prefer to write the kind of play that attracts the kind of artist that I want to work with. If the other folks are repelled or dumbfounded, well, we wouldn't have had a happy time working together anyway -- so nothing is lost.

That's my philosophy. It keeps me happy. And my collaborators (because actors and directors are collaborators in this crazy crazy scheme I devise) are happy too.

--Kato

*Art that doesn’t attempt the impossible is not performing its function.
—William Butler Yeats

Last edited on Thu Mar 6th, 2008 05:15 pm by katoagogo

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 Posted: Mon Mar 10th, 2008 03:20 pm
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Paddy
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This is my favourite.  First read-through of the play by the theatre, and the director has the actors, and himself, systematically black out all stage directions.

Just before the play opened, the director contacts the playwright saying, we don't understand why Elizabeth has no lines after page 54.

The playwright wrote back, Ah, so you blacked out the stage directions?

The director replied...quilty.  How did you know?

The playwright said, "Elizabeth dies on page 54."

That said...I'm still wondering why there was no clue to this in the dialogue.

Paddy

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 Posted: Mon Mar 10th, 2008 04:55 pm
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katoagogo
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I do assume that before the play is cast and the the first read-thru happens -- that the director might have taken the time to read the play in advance of striking all direction.

Hmmmm.

Urban legend?

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 Posted: Sat Jun 23rd, 2012 10:14 pm
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Shawn Fisher
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The very first statement of the Dramatists Guild Playwrights Bill of Rights says it well and very plainly:
"1. ARTISTIC INTEGRITY.
No one (e.g., directors, actors, dramaturgs) can make changes, alterations, and/or omissions to your script - including the text, title, and stage directions - without your consent."

The spirit of artistic exploration is important, and script changes are certainly welcome through a process of actor/director/playwright collaboration. But an actor or director immediately blacking out the directions of the playwright, without consent, is like a museum blacking out negative space of a painting before hanging it because the curator feels those areas are less relevant.

A playwright should place pause or beat or any other direction or no direction at all if such an approach best conveys their vision. This does not hinder the actor/director process one bit. It simply allows them to focus on the aspects of the play that are left open to interpretation.

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 Posted: Mon Jun 25th, 2012 02:34 pm
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in media res
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Shawn,

Succinctly put! A clear and beautiful analogy. Thank you.

Best,

IMR

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 Posted: Wed Jun 27th, 2012 03:15 pm
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Doug B
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I don't have a lot to add to the discussion but I am going to do it anyway. ;-)

To me a pause means the actor has something non verbal to communicate to the audience.

Far too many actors use it as an opportunity to "emote" - show the audience how well he can look sad or whatever the director has told them to do. Others see it as a stop in the action and everyone stands there for the allotted time.

Sometimes saying nothing screams at the audience.

A beat, on the other hand, is a change in the actors want or goal at that moment. Every actor on stage has some reason for being there. They want to give or get something or learn or tell something. When the actor realizes that they can't achieve (or no longer want) the original goal, it is signaled by a beat. A good actor will show the audience the mental process of changing goals - hopefully without overacting.

I'm not sure that playwrights are consistent in the use of pause or beat. A while back, I directed a play where the protagonist received totally unexpected bad news. The playwright called for a pause before the protagonist responded. I thought is was a beat.

Just my two cents. Maybe a cent and a half.

Doug

Last edited on Thu Jun 28th, 2012 03:13 pm by Doug B

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 Posted: Tue Jul 3rd, 2012 07:22 pm
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Louisep at Playwrights Muse
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I've started using layout to indicate pauses and changes of thought. I use paragraph breaks a lot.

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 Posted: Mon Dec 30th, 2013 10:06 pm
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Craig of Hart
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We seldom usee beat in America except in formal staging.  I personally use "a pregnant pause" to mean a pause with drama or expectation.

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 Posted: Mon Dec 30th, 2013 10:24 pm
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Edd
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I don't use pause anymore unless I say (A pause to examine the knife before plunging it into the body of evidence.) why there is a writer's pause. I leave it to the director and the actors. Here is another one: (He crosses to the upstage chair.) What in hell is that? Why does he cross? He wants to sit, examine the fabric, pull the stuffing out? Why? That's motivation and not just pushing your pawns across the boards. Learn to ask yourself why you are using pause and beat. I can most always spot an amateur if I open to a page filled with pauses and beats. BTW, "beat" is usually a dead giveaway. Just write the best play you can without signaling how an actor or director should do their job, unless you've thought it through to a reason why exactly you are using them, and use them sparingly. Now get to work!!

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 Posted: Mon Dec 30th, 2013 10:30 pm
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Paddy
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Chiming in. Beats and pauses are often my only stage directions. Writing a play is like music, for me. Huge difference between beat and pause...Doug B said it well. As a producer, I read a lot of plays....the thing that gets me - Upstage L, or right or center. Every theatre is different, and the door might not be L or R or exist at all. If he sits in the only chair on stage, you don't have to write in the directions that he 'crosses' the stage to the chair and sits...they actors are pretty smart. As a director...I actually hate to block the actors. I want them to be thinking of the words, the emtotions, not exactly where they are supposed to be by this line. Done.

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 Posted: Mon Dec 30th, 2013 10:48 pm
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Craig of Hart
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Mana: 
As a 'retired' musical and drama director/teacher, I agree with so many of these comments. With one caveat: young students need the specific instructions until they have a body of experience and life experiences. I usually am rather specific in asking for facial/body expressions and pauses. My older upper classmen are/were getting quite good in deciding and anticipating what could work. By college and community theater level actors should be given more latitude if they have had theater experience. As a Master of Music, a beat takes on dual meaning: theatrical and musical. I rarely spend much time defining either. Just produce the sound or action.

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 Posted: Mon Dec 30th, 2013 11:00 pm
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Edd
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"Just produce the sound of action." NICE. Craig, you do know I am going to steal that. It pulls so much into only 6 words. Thank you.

Edd
http://www.edwardcrosbywells.net

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 Posted: Mon Mar 3rd, 2014 09:59 am
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ServiceSpirit
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I've been thinking about this a lot -- and here's what I believe (this is not for everyone -- or even for most people -- this is just how I approach this issue)

I write my plays for the people who are gonna 'get it.' I write for the 'get its' because I want someone to pick up my play and get that the whole thing is a problem to be solved. The whole process is a problem -- a problem that requires observation, and rehearsal to uncover the meaning behind it all.

That's who I'm writing for.

The guy that picks it up and doesn't get -- well -- he's never going to get it. Even if I deposit road signs and 'how to's' and loads of 'here's where you pause' -- he's still not going to get it. I'd rather my play either stay on the shelf -- or that the guy have fun with his very bad production of my play. Because he's never going to get. No matter what I do.

Why sully the delicate body of my play in order to explain it to that guy who is never never ever going to get it? That's pandering to the lowest common denominator -- and that conflicts with my understanding of the purpose of art -- attempting the impossible*.

I prefer to write the kind of play that attracts the kind of artist that I want to work with. If the other folks are repelled or dumbfounded, well, we wouldn't have had a happy time working together anyway -- so nothing is lost.

That's my philosophy. It keeps me happy. And my collaborators (because actors and directors are collaborators in this crazy crazy scheme I devise) are happy too.

--Kato

*Art that doesn’t attempt the impossible is not performing its function.
—William Butler Yeats


I HAVE A HUSBAND LIKE THAT! IT'S NOT VERY ENCOURAGING

Last edited on Mon Mar 3rd, 2014 10:00 am by ServiceSpirit

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 Posted: Sat Apr 4th, 2015 06:56 am
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dedwards
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Mana: 
I write with pauses. I'll let an actor know if and when it's too much!

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