Who are the artists in your field that you love? If you’re a playwright, what plays do you love? Why do you love them? Do your loves change over time? Knowing who you love and what you love can be helpful when you’re contemplating the kind of writer you want to evolve into. What genre you respond to. And this is not about copying the work of others, but finding work that energizes you, encourages you, makes you realize that the way you think and formulate words isn’t crazy – that’s good to know. It’s always good to know that the way your brain works is shared by others, especially if you think that you write weird.
Notice that I didn’t say “what’s your favourite play?” Or, “who’s your favourite playwright?” I was going to, until I realized that I myself couldn’t just name one play or one playwright. Impossible. I have to pick my way through – there are so many different aspects that I respond to. And there are many playwrights for whom I love one play and don’t care for another. To say definitively without question, “this is my favourite” seems kind of limiting. For example:
I love absurd work. Rhinoceros, The Bald Soprano, The Birthday Party. But it’s my no means my only love. I also love snappy character driven comedy like Barefoot in the Park by Neil Simon. I love that play, and I can’t think of two more opposing writers than Pinter and Simon. I would have to have to choose one or the other. One genre or the other.
I love plays that acknowledge the world of theatre as Our Town does. As Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine does. As Lemon Sky does by Lanford Wilson. Another play of his Burn This used to be a play that I loved, loved, loved. But I went back to it recently and it no longer grabs me. It has catchy dialogue, it has interesting characters, but my feelings have changed.
I also love work outside of my direct field. It’s not just plays that I love, I love musicals. I think sometimes that I write straight plays like musicals, always thinking of rhythms. I will say, and most emphatically at that, I love the work of Stephen Sondheim. And if I was going to go down favourite street, my so-called favourite theatrical works would be from his canon. But even that changes. When I was in high school it was Sunday in the Park with George. Right now, it’s Follies. And it’s certainly not an across the board love. Passion does nothing for me. I cannot believe it came from the same composer. But it does, and that’s important. It means that Sondheim is not circling one theme, one way of writing. I appreciate that and it’s something I strive for as well.
On the other side, I admire Sarah Kane as a playwright but I can’t actually say I love or even like her plays. I’m very glad they’re in the world, I’m so glad that she chose to write her works, but I don’t know if I love them.
If you want to step into a career in the arts, one of the best things you can do is immerse yourself in your field. Read, see, involve yourself in the works of others. And don’t limit it to what you think your favourites are. You may find that even though you enjoy abstract absurd that you find something in a kitchen sink play that speaks to you. You may surprise yourself and find a new work to love. This is how we grow as artists.
Who do you love? What words do you love?