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Episode 11

TUESDAY MORNING:
A CREDO FOR A VIRGIN PLAYWRIGHT...


"Good morning. Coffee's ready."

In to work early two days in a row, are we? To what do we owe this strange sequence of events?

"I finished the book and -"

You read Catron's Playwriting last night?

"Cover to cover."

You must have liked it.

"That's putting it mildly. It's like somebody let me peak behind the curtain and go backstage to see how everything works. I never had any idea that writing a play could be so complicated!"

There is a school of thought that says writing plays well is the most demanding and difficult of all the forms of authorship. I think I agree with that. Good playwrights are very rare birds indeed.

"I really like the way he gets you all fired-up with the first part of the book and then goes into detail about the six elements of drama in the second part of the book! I almost sat down at the typewriter and started writing Neverland the minute I finished reading the book."

But, you didn't.

"No. I'm keeping our agreement. You said there were three books I had to read and I'll read them all before I start writing."

Good.

"I hope the next two are as good as the first."

They are.

"Okay! Well, what's the second book? I'm ready to read!"

Not so fast. We haven't finished with the first one yet.

"But I read it already! Ask me questions. I'll prove I read it."

Oh, I'm going to ask questions all right, even though I do believe you read it. You wouldn't be this excited if you hadn't.

"Shoot."

What are the six elements of drama?

"That's easy. Plot, character, thought, diction, music, and spectacle."

Excellent.

"See, I told you I read it."

Let's pick one of these elements at random. Thought would be a good one. What is it?

"Well, Catron says that thought can also be called the play's "subject," "theme," "message," or "idea" though he wants to save those terms to use more specifically elsewhere. One way of describing thought is to say that it's the play's spine, what the play is about."

Yesterday you said that the key to writing Neverland as a play is the fact that Billy never really feels that he fits in anywhere. Would you say that this urge, to fit in, is the thought you would use when you write your version of the play?

"Yes! You see how it all fits together."

Indeed. Let's go with this for a minute. How do you put it on paper? What are you going to write down that will guide a director, actors, and all the other interpretive artists to produce a work which, in performance, will clearly show an audience what you have to say?

"You mean the play's format? What a play script looks like?"

No. That's a technical detail. What words are you going to put in the actor's mouths? What physical and mental actions are you going to have them do to support or contradict those words? How are you going to structure and sequence your speeches and actions so an audience cannot help but understand what you are saying, even when you haven't said it?

"I don't understand."

Then you aren't ready to start writing your play yet.

"I know that. I've still got two more books to read. That's what I'm asking you, what's the next book?"

Have you written your credo?

"Do what?"

Your credo. Have you written it yet?

"That thing Catron was talking about in the first part of the book?"

Yes.

"But that's just an exercise for students. I don't need to do it. I know who I am."

Do you have the book with you?

"Here."

Let me read you something. Here it is:

Beginning writers often are uneasy when asked to write a personal "credo" before starting the first play. To them the credo is unattractive labor and they distrust the idea. Student's questions seem prompted by a desire to procrastinate until the credo no longer exists: "But we can't write everything we believe, can we?" "Well, how long does it have to be?" "Do we have to turn it in? If not, who reads it, and why bother?" Their reactions suggest the credo somehow is threatening. Nontheless I persist: "You should write a credo before you write your first play . . . A credo is, simply, a personal statement of convictions. A credo is the writer's beliefs concerning topics he or she feels are highly important. It is focused most especially upon those portions of life that concern the writer most. It addresses topics about which the author has a deep emotional attitude, a burning anger, a scorn, an affection. It is, then, "This I believe . . ." It is uniquely your own."

Yesterday and today you have said that "not fitting in" is the thought or theme of the Neverland play you want to write, correct?

"Yes."

Why do you feel so strongly about it? What makes "fitting in" the correct approach for you?

"I don't know. It just seems right, that's all."

That's why you need to write your credo. When you can put on paper why you believe so strongly that "fitting in" is the key to this story, you'll be ready to take the next step and read the next book. Until you complete your credo, every line of the play you write, no matter how clever or witty or dramatic, will be worthless because you won't understand why it needs to be there or what it means, both in itself and in the context of the whole play.

"You're not going to let me out of this, are you?"

No.

"It's not fair!"

Ah, but it is. We negotiated a verbal contract. I'm just enforcing it.

"A contract?"

Yes. You want to learn how to turn Neverland into a play, something which I already know how to do. In return for me teaching you what you want to learn, you agreed to read the three books and answer, to my satisfaction, questions on each one before proceeding to the next. Writing your credo will enable you to answer my questions.

"That's a contract?"

In a simple form. In fact, negotiating contracts is something you will be doing a lot of in the coming months. You might as well learn something about it now. The big thing to remember is that a contract isn't a good contract unless everyone involved gets something they want or need.

"Like I want to learn how to write plays?"

Precisely.

"What do you get out of it?"

Your learning how to write plays?

"Yep."

I get a partner who understands on a visceral level what a play is and what a playwright goes through to write it. I get a partner who will be able to communicate with playwrights because he is a playwright himself.

"You set me up. You set me up! Yesterday when you were going on and on about not letting me try to write Neverland, you knew this was going to happen! You f***ing bastard!"

I prefer to think of it as your first lesson in contract negotiations. Come on, get your coat and we'll go get breakfast, my treat. On the way back we can stop at the book store and pick up your next book.

"On playwriting?"

On contract negotiation. Common Sense Negotiation: The Art of Winning Gracefully by Donald C. Farber.

Common Sense Negotiation: The Art of Winning Gracefully is a volume of worldly philosophy masquerading as a nuts-and-bolts how-to book that also somehow also manages to be a chatty tell-all Broadway autobiography. Whew! Tough to categorize, but rewarding to read from any of those three perspectives. Theater and film attorney Donald C. Farber, author of numerous texts on entertainment law, has distilled his experience, explaining how actors and authors can most successfully bargain for the best possible contract; not just the one that gets the most money, but one that will stick and not cause problems down the line. He shows how to wed dogged self-interest with a larger sense that all parties in such a contract will be part of a collaboration for months to come, and will remain part of the same entertainment community for years to come, so why not do what's best for all? Can this philosophy be applied to life in general? You bet. Best of all, each point in the book is lavishly illustrated with anecdotes from Farber's real-life contract negotiations on behalf of his own starry clients including author Kurt Vonnegut.

The author himself wrote: A contract is good for both parties or not good for either. I wrote this book because my practice is entirely in the entertainment industry and I learned early on that I could not write a contract that took advantage of the Star, who would then either sing flat, or not sing at all. In the Entertainment Industry, as with some few other businesses, we have a continuing relationship that should be protected and not diminishes by the contract negotiations. It's possible to negotiate a contract that is so good that it is bad. If the other party isn't satisfied with the contract, it will not be good for either party. How to know and use your bargaining power is what this book is about. Of all my books that I have written, this is my favorite because it's a "philosophy"; it's about not taking advantage of another party, because it does not help your cause, it's about getting everything that you should, no more, no less.


Book Image

CLICK TO PURCHASE


Common Sense Negotiation:
The Art of Winning Gracefully

by Donald C. Farber
List: $10.95
Published by Bay Press
ISBN: 0941920453


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