John Ardussi dropped by earlier today and invited me to see a new play The Home Game at the Performance Network this evening. Two of the actors with this local theatre group John wants to use for the first short. The Home Game turned out to be extremely good. Well written, well acted. Very funny yet very poignant.
Thinking about this afterwards, I was reflecting on the relative importance of having a great script. It gave the actors powerful material to work with. Yet without good actors, that material wouldn’t have come to anything. The script is the seed–and extremely important–but it needs nurturing to come to fruition. One without the other doesn’t leaves an empty harvest. Which reminds me of Andy Trussler saying that everything is important.
Saying everything is important feels a bit too restrictive. There has to be room for maneouvre, some freedom to make mistakes. Some elements are crucial–script and acting, sound and picture focus and exposure in a film–while others can be looser, like shot framing and to some extent even image quality.
John was lamenting that most theatre writers in the US seem to write a two act structure which consists of comedy for the first half and tragedy for the second. Watching Home Game I could see it had a structure like that, but to me, ignorant audience member, it struck me that it had light and shade. Comedy doesn’t work without pathos while something overly serious tends to alienate audiences.
Human beings do tend to laugh in the face of adversity. You have to show both. I disagree with John that this structure is predictable. But I only disagree to the extent I’ve been stuck on the same thought train before.
Fear of structure. I remember being stuck for ages, unable to write meaningfully, because I could see the structure in everyone else’s writing. So mainly, I either wrote very surreal pieces or simply overwrote.
I thought Vince Landon in particular used to write to a predictable formula on the St Albans Observer. Set the scene, powerfully, graphically, then introduce characters and questions, explore them and finally answer some of the questions and close with another descriptive scene. Something like that. Kind of. I rejected that formula. It seemed to easy. And yet… Yet Vince’s writing never bored me. That should have told me something. Embrace structure. Then once it’s ingrained, forget about it. Move on and write.
Structure is necessary but it’s the quality of the writing, the dialogue and the plot, which count. As far as this light/dark playwriting idea goes–and I didn’t think The Home Game came down squarely in an easily disected two acts like that–I’m not adverse to it. I like being lifted up then brought down to the depths, before being given either a final lift back to how I felt at the start or a push over the precipice. Feelings and raw emotion. Yes, using structure is a form of manipulation. But then, that’s drama.
As long as it isn’t obvious, as long as no one can see up the magician’s sleeves, the purpose is to entertain, to communicate, to take the audience on an emotional journey, perhaps with a mental and spiritual component thrown in. You can’t really do that without relying on some kind of structure. Experimental forms where everyone or everything just floats about conveys only a fraction of a well-written play or film.
Structure is the support for the words.