Playwriting

Reading Sarah Kane

Fabulous week. Lots of writing, Lots of Theatrefolk work, Lots of submissions for the binge, and now I’m just getting ready to head to Buffalo for the NYSTEA (New York State Theatre Teachers) Conference. I’ve never been to Buffalo, even though I feel I’ve seen so much of it growing up since those are the US TV stations that we get. There always seemed to be a fire in East Tonawanda or Cheektowaga.

Just as when it feels so terribly awful when the creative wheels are stuck in the mud, it feels wonderful when everything is moving along clickity click. I have a whole pad full of writing for a full-length Greek myth adaptation, and a fleshed-out description for another Christmas Play. I think one of the reasons I like writing for this market is that the ideas are endless.

I was in the library yesterday working on our next newsletter and read two plays by Sarah Kane. Ms. Kane was a young British playwright who committed suicide in 1999 – I had heard about her but never read/seen her plays. She was both critically acclaimed and slaughtered because of her plays. I’m always interested in material that creates such a diverse reaction. It’s not about writing something that sits in the middle of the road, it’s about putting a wild, bold piece of work out there and letting the chips fall where they may.

I read Blasted and Phaedra’s Love. I’m still somewhat in shock over them. And that’s what she was mostly criticized for – it was assumed that she was writing for pure shock value. Her work is shocking: In Blasted alone there is rape (both female and male), intense vicious swearing, a war, a dead baby is eaten, brutal solider violence – at one point, a solider sucks the eyes out of another guy’s head and eats them. I can’t say that I like this play (I’m not sure that’s a word that anyone can use…) but as a writer, it’s fascinating to see a play’s thesis so thoroughly developed. The whole thing is blasted – from the war metaphor, to the blasting of social morals, to the blasting of the structure, to the blasting of the set (a huge explosion rips apart the set at one point) to the blasting of the dialogue. The play moves from realism to fractured nightmare in a dizzying spiral.

I had to look away from the page when I was reading the play. I can only imagine what it’s like to see it in front of you. I can’t even imagine how some of the events would be staged. But so often writers are ‘encouraged’ to write for that commercial audience, that general crowd, that light, breezy summer stock feel, the idea that people want to be entertained, they don’t want to think too much. This is one writer who certainly didn’t think too much about the summer stock crowd.

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Lindsay Price

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