Playwriting

5 questions with Robert Wing

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 Robert Wing – the author of many popular plays including Just Girls Talking.

What was your first theatrical experience? How did it impact you?
I remember having a small role in a school skit; I played an old man. I don’t remember anything about the skit now, but I remember being bored out of my mind during blocking, something that I still find very hard to watch when my excellent colleague, Cheri Skurdall, takes over the reins of one of my plays. It takes such enormous patience and a sort of physical and emotional agility that I don’t possess. Directors like Cheri do. (I like to think that my words possess these qualities, but I’m never sure until they’ve been tested by a director. Directors are enormously important; I don’t know what I’d do without Cheri.)

So, did my first theatrical experience impact me? No, not really. It would take years for me to fall in love with the theatre, but when I did, I fell pretty hard.

Why do you write plays?
I write plays for two reasons. Foremost because I am a teacher, and I feel that writing validates my instruction. So, when I say to a student, “Look, I think your essay/short story/poem/ play needs to go in this direction,” I know what I’m talking about because I have encountered the same thing when I write. Not twenty years ago when I was in college, or when I was the student’s age, but the week before, or the day before – or the night before. I think my students pick up on this.

I also write because there’s a creative need inside of me that, until I became a teacher, I never knew existed. There’s something about being a teacher that inspires me to create more and more and more. I design sets for plays, sew costumes – and write plays. I adore all three creative outlets. Or, rather, all four creative outlets because, in the end, that’s what teaching is too.

Why plays? Simple. I love to listen to people talk. For quite a few years now, students (and sometimes colleagues) have asked me, “So, what’s your next play about?” I’d respond, “Oh, it’s just girls talking.” And there you have it “Just Girls Talking” – one of my favorite plays. And, yes, it’s a play on the word “just,” but it is also exactly what it says it is: just girls talking. Talking intelligently, talking realistically, talking powerfully – just the way I like it.

What’s the most challenging part of writing a play?
Writing a play is easy. Rewriting it is murder – and I rewrite a lot. In fact, a play of mine sees, on average, eight rewrites before I hand it over to Cheri Skurdall, the head of my school’s performing arts program, who then assembles a cast and “works” the script for three months. During the three month rehearsal period, the script will undergo, typically, three more rewrites. So, by the time the play is staged and sent to a publisher, it has been rewritten eleven times – and this is just for a one act play.

How do you address/overcome those challenges?
I am very fortunate because I adore my job; I love teaching. I think of myself as a teacher who writes, not a writer who teaches. This enables me to walk away from a play when I’m experiencing writer’s block; this enables me to luxuriate in an idea, to “play with dialogue” in my head for months. As a matter of fact, just last week I revisited the seventh draft of a play I started almost three years ago and hadn’t looked at in eight months – and I was delighted! The ideas had “held-up” after months of not looking at the script. I’m going to prepare an eighth draft and, before school is out for the year, I’ll hand it over to Cheri to read at her leisure over the summer.

What advice do you have for young writers struggling to finish a draft?
Put it away. Put it away for twenty-four hours, or twenty-four days…or, if permissible, 24 months. And, while that draft is “maturing,” start another project, something completely different from the other one. (I call these “sherbet plays,” plays written to “cleanse the palate” between “bigger” plays, and they often become the nucleus for bigger plays later on.)

 

Read sample pages from Robert Wing's plays here!

About the author

Lindsay Price