Playwriting

5 questions with Jeffrey Harr

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 Jeffrey Harr – the author of many popular plays including Close Encounters of the Undead Kind.

What was your first theatrical experience? How did it impact you?
When I was in junior high, I went to see my older brother in a production of Bye Bye Birdie. I don’t remember the details, but I remember the feeling–that feeling when you go home but the show’s not over ’cause the images are still in your head and the songs are still echoing in your ears. If it’s good, it just grabs you and doesn’t let go.

Why do you write plays?
Writing something that can be performed is the only way to go. Something that an actor can bring to life. I’ve written a lot of prose over the years, but I’ll never get a chance to see a kid take those words and breathe life into them through the way she says them, the way she scrunches her face or bites her lip when she says them. It’s infinitely more gratifying (and a ton more fun). I got a chance to see my daughter play one of my characters in Better Than the Movie, a play about an incredibly awkward first date, and it was AMAZING. She captured the essence of what it feels like to be that kid at that movie wishing against all hope that this boy will like her as much as she likes him. I SAW it happen. Felt it, because it happened right in front of me. As a writer, that’s as good as it will ever get.

What’s the most challenging part of writing a play?
Getting that voice right. That character has to be as real as a person you can sit down and chat with, and that’s hard to do. To have her come through those pages and TALK. You can’t just describe the crap out of the person until the reader sees the same person you’re seeing; all you’ve got is what comes out of her mouth. And most of the time, you’re writing, doin’ your thing, feelin’ pretty good about it, right up until the time someone reads it out loud. The second that happens, you find out exactly what you’ve got. And it’s not always pretty. Sometimes, lines you think you nailed just don’t sound right when they’re actually coming out of an actor’s mouth and you go, “Oh, crap.” Revision time!

How do you address/overcome those challenges?
My family thinks I’m insane, but I read it aloud, act it out, give it as much attitude as I can to see if it rings true. If I’m the one who wrote it and I can’t make it sound like there’s a real person in there, I know I’ve got problems. It also helps me “get into character,” just like an actor would. I’ll do the facial expressions, the hand gestures, the movement. Slap on an accent once and a while. Play with it until it just feels right. Until I either really like that character or totally hate her. If I don’t feel either way about her, I’m missing the mark.

What advice do you have for young writers struggling to finish a draft?
Keep going! An unfinished draft is like a lost dog; it’s just sad, man. It needs a home. Love. Attention. Even if it’s not exactly what you envisioned when you started (what ever is?) or it’s not quite working, get it done. Close the deal. Once you’ve finished, you’ll feel better, whether it’s perfect or not. You’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something. Then, after you give yourself some time to let it breathe, you can go back and explore the options for making it better. Let it sit on your brain for a bit. Magic can’t be rushed, my friends. You just never know when that perfect ending is going to come to you–usually, when you’re doing something stupid like making toast or taking a shower.

 

Read sample pages from Jeffrey Harr's plays here!

About the author

Lindsay Price