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 Steven Stack – the author of many popular plays including Ashland Falls.
What was your first theatrical experience? How did it impact you?
In 3rd grade, I played both Hansel and the Father in Hansel and Gretel. I was originally only cast as the Father, but Brennen, the original Hansel, got sick (onstage, in fact) and couldn’t be in the show. Our teacher realized that out of all the boys in the class, I was the only one who had already memorized all of Hansel’s lines as well as my own – so she cast me as both. I remember having so much fun performing that night, the chaos of running back and forth backstage (in my new boots) as I exited as Hansel, then entered as my own dad. That feeling stayed with me, and when my baseball career flamed out awesomely in high school, I was drawn back to the theatre. I remember walking into that first audition and seeing the stage. I felt like I was 9 again, and I knew that this was where I belonged.
Why do you write plays?
To be able to take a thought, an idea, a character and create a world that didn’t exist before is truly an amazing experience. In those moments when I’m writing, I get to remove myself from reality and enter a world where the possibilities are only limited by my imagination. That’s really fun. Another reason I write is because I’ve had the privilege of working with students in several different venues, including teaching in a public school setting, and I like to give my students something that connects with the issues they’re dealing with. I try to use my work to help them see that they’re not alone with their thoughts and feelings. Being in that position makes me feel very fortunate. The power of theatre, across all genres, is pretty incredible. Combining teaching and writing for a career is hard to top.
What’s the most challenging part of writing a play?
Staying true to the characters and the world of the play. Sometimes I find myself becoming obsessed with an idea, be it a line of dialog or a moment that I really want to insert not because they fit but only because I like them. A lot. In those cases, I have to force (and I do mean force) myself to save those ideas for another day. Doing that allows me to not disturb the reality of the play while still, at some point, getting to use whatever those ideas were.
How do you address/overcome those challenges?
By knowing as much as you can about the characters and the world that you’re creating. I very rarely make outlines, but I do take a lot of notes about the world of the play and I create character bios for most of my characters. I do this for a couple of reasons: 1) I find it amazingly fun, and 2) when I’m writing the play, my prep work provides me a map in case I ever get lost in the world. The cool thing is, I often don’t have to go back and look at the notes. The mere act of taking the time to write it out places in it the filing cabinet in my head (that sounds weird) so I can pull from it when I need it.
What advice do you have for young writers struggling to finish a draft?
Do the work. Get it down on paper. Realize that you are finishing a draft, not a perfect draft. I think so many times in life we make things way more complicated then we have to. We look for a magic bullet, when all we really need is to do whatever needs to be done. Once the draft is done, first, it’s an awesome feeling and second, you can now go back to the sandbox (your play) and tidy up your world that you’ve created. And avoid focusing on finishing. Focus on the process instead, on the story. If you do that, there’s absolutely no way you won’t finish because the end will be reached when the story ends.
Read sample pages from Steven Stack's plays here!