Playwriting

5 questions with Allison Williams

Written by Lindsay Price

We have a great community of amazing playwrights here at Theatrefolk that contribute to our collection of middle and high school plays. We hope you’ll enjoy this peek behind the curtain as they share how they approach the creative process, how they overcome challenges, and what advice they have for young playwrights. Don’t forget to check out their work!

Meet Theatrefolk Playwright Allison Williams – the author of many popular plays including the newly released Dead Men Don’t Do Radio Plays.

What was your first theatrical experience? How did it impact you?
I was always the kid who put on the neighborhood talent show, or when we went to see Annie, I came home and reprised all the songs in the living room for my parents! The first show I remember watching, though, was actually Cirque du Soleil, and it was when they had no tent and no billion dollars, it was basically 8 acrobats doing free shows in the park with a tree of lights and a couple of boxes. That was the first place I saw performers interacting with the audience, and I’ve been fascinated with breaking the fourth wall ever since.

Almost all the plays I write have either direct address to the audience, or the audience is enlisted as part of the play – for example, the audience becomes a game show crowd in Hamlette, and in Postcards From Shakespeare I use the audience for Timon of Athens (because the only other Timon joke I could think of was “who?”)

Why do you write plays?
Two reasons, both extremely self-serving. One, I like being funny, and funny is a skill like anything else–you have to practice it, all the time, or it slips away. So some of the time I’m playing improv games with myself in the car, using random billboards as audience suggestions, and some of the time I’m trying to make serious heavy stuff into funny dialogue.

Two–and this will sound terribly crass–money. Specifically, money that I work for once by writing the play and then see a trickle of royalties for years. I know artists are supposed to be doing it for the art and not talking about filthy lucre, but this is my job. And I’m good at it because it’s my job–because I am able to spend all my time on it. And I couldn’t do that if I was squeezing out ten minutes here and there. That’s not to say people can’t write part-time–there are a ton of amazing playwrights who also teach, or perform, or direct, or have all sorts of non-theatre jobs, but I’m really bad at time management so I need a lot of it.

What’s the most challenging part of writing a play?
Handing it over to my editor for her to savage :) No, seriously, I love working with Lindsay Price, my editor here at Theatrefolk. I get her notes, I sulk, and then I get over it and make the play better. It’s a real gift to be able to edit, and an incredibly useful part of the process.

I’d also say ‘getting started.’ In some ways I’m very open about my work–I approve 90% of script change requests, I love cross-casting, I love seeing people be creative. I don’t even mind terrible reviews that much. But at the beginning of the process, one tiny little thing can throw me off–Like, I have a play about online interaction that I’m 15 pages in, which is halfway for a competition script, and I mentioned the idea to someone who said “Oh, well, that may not be timely in a year, because technology changes so much,” and even though they weren’t trying to be mean, it was someone I love and respect and it was like they stepped on my little flower sprout. I don’t know why I’m so dainty at the beginning–honestly, it’s easier to take “sorry, we don’t want your finished script” than to have the idea criticized at the beginning, even in a well-meaning way. At that stage of the process, all I want is reinforcement. Maybe it will suck, but let me write it and find out.

How do you address/overcome those challenges?
I stop talking to people about what I’m going to write, or I only tell people about it if I know they’re cheerleaders for me. Which is a bit of a shame because I live a pretty solitary life right now in Dubai, and there aren’t a lot of people I can bounce ideas off of.

The editing thing is much easier to deal with. I’m an editor myself of mostly fiction, and it’s a genuine pleasure to help authors improve their work, so I can really see the other side and the motivation. Plus, it’s happened enough now that I’m comfortable with the notes-sulking-rewriting process.

What advice do you have for young writers struggling to finish a draft?
Just write anything. No really, it’s way easier to improve on a crappy first draft than to write something from nothing. So if you don’t know what to do with your meaningful romantic scene, let aliens invade and fix it in the second draft. So yeah, that’s my advice. When in doubt, send in the aliens.

 

Read sample pages from Allison Williams's plays here!

About the author

Lindsay Price