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Episode 14

AN EPIPHANY IN NEW JERSEY . . .

No. You take a right here on Millburn Avenue and then turn left on Main Street. Then, a bit further on, you pick up I-78 East back to Manhattan.

"I know the way."

If you know the way, why did it take us almost three hours to get out here?

"I missed a turn, all right?"

We had to skip dinner.

"I'm aware of that. I'm just as hungry as you are."

We were almost late for the show.

"I'm aware of that too. But, we made it, didn't we?"

Just. Here's Main, turn left.

"Do you want to stop and find something to eat before we get back on the interstate?"

No. Let's wait until we get back to the city. The way you drive, that should only take about twenty minutes.

"Did you hear that?"

What?

"A rattle. Sounded like a rattle in the back."

I didn't hear anything.

"You pay a fortune for a new car and you get a rattle! I know I heard a rattle."

You're imagining things. You've been out-of-sorts all evening. What's the matter?

"Nothing."

Yes there is.

"Nothing at all."

I know you better than that. What's up?

"Nothing. Is this the turn?"

Yes. You want I-78 East, not West.

"Got it."

So, what's the matter?

"You never give up, do you?"

No. It's stress, isn't it? We're both swamped with work, not getting enough sleep, and now that the first rush of excitement about the play and the new theatre is beginning to wear off, you're beginning to burn out.

"I'm fine, thank you."

No, you're not. Something is getting to you. What is it?

"You want to know? You really want to know? Okay, I'll tell you what the problem is! I work a 12, sometimes 15 hour day, seven days a week, trying to get the theatre ready. I'm exhausted from that, but that's not the problem."

Then, what is?

"You. You dragging me out to these bloody plays and musicals every night of the week! I've had it. I need some time to myself."

You like going to the theatre.

"I did when I only went every week or two. I did when I only had to see the good stuff. But, damnit, why do we have to see every single show that opens in a hundred-mile radius of Times Square?"

It's part of the job.

"But every single night?"

A lot of shows have been opening lately. It won't be so bad after the Tonys.

"Why couldn't we just see the stuff that's going to be nominated, and skip the rest?"

First, if you happen somehow to know what's going to be nominated, I wish you would tell me. And, second, even if something doesn't have much of a chance at a Tony nomination, you still need to see it. As a producer, you need to be aware of pretty much everything that's happening. And frequently you can learn more from a bad production than you can from a good one.

"Like Herbal Bed?"

And Golden Child and Cripple of Inishmaan.

"And Follies?"

You didn't like Follies?

"I don't think I understand it. You've been telling me for weeks about how it's this great landmark in American musicals; I guess I just expected something more than what we saw tonight, that's all."

Paper Mill did a fairly decent production.

"It wasn't the production values. They were great. It was a hell of a lot better done than Cabaret. And, what was her name, the actress from all the old movie musicals you wanted me to see?"

Ann Miller.

"That's her! I'm still stunned. I've never seen anything on a stage that even came close to what she did with that song."

It's called star quality.

"All I know is I'm going to remember her standing on that stage singing that song for the rest of my life."

Are you sure we're heading in the right direction? I don't recognize any of this stuff.

"We're making good time."

Did you finish that second Catron book?

"Elements of Playwriting? Yes, it was pretty good. You were right about reading both that and his Playwriting together. They definitely complement each other. After I finished it, I decided I knew enough to start writing Neverland."

I wondered why you hadn't mentioned anything about it lately. So, you're already working on the first draft? How's it going?

"It isn't. You were right. It was a stupid idea for me to try to write Neverland in the first place. I gave up on it a couple of weeks ago."

Why?

"I can't do it. I've read the books. I've read dozens of plays. I've seen dozens of plays. I know what I want to make happen on stage. But, I just don't have the knack for it. I guess writing plays takes an instinct you're born with. I don't have it, whatever it takes. Do me a favor and don't rub it in. The last thing I need to hear right now is you saying I told you so.'"

Is that what's really bothering you?

"It's so damn frustrating! I know what should happen in each scene. I can hear it and see it in my mind. I just can't put it on paper!"

Is that why you've been on-edge the last couple of weeks?

"I guess. I'm sorry if I haven't been easy to get along with. It makes me so mad, not being able to write this play when I want to so badly."

I wish you had said something before now. I could have saved you a lot of aggravation.

"You know, I'm getting sick of your know it all' attitude. Okay, Mister Expert, what's my problem now. Why can't I write this play?"

Technique. Or, rather, lack of it.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Do you seriously think you're the only playwright to ever face this problem? Talk about an ego! I can tell you exactly what your problem is and how to fix it.

"You have three minutes to do that or I'm stopping this car and you're walking the rest of the way back to Manhattan."

Was that a threat? If so, you can stop this car and let me out right now. As far as I'm concerned our partnership is over! Finished. Done with.

"Sounds like a plan to me. I'm pulling over right now."

Good!

"Don't slam the door."

I wouldn't dream of it.

"One last word of advice. If you ever team up with anybody again, and you want to continue to work with them, take a good long look in the mirror. Nobody appreciates being treated like a child all the time!"

And one last word of advice for you too. If I were you I would run to the nearest bookshop and get a copy of George Pierce Baker's Dramatic Technique.

"What?"

Remember when you first started talking about writing Neverland? I told you there were three books you needed to read.

"Books! I've had it up to here with your books! I'm never gonna read another book again!"

And you'll never know if you could have written the play or not. It's no skin off my nose. Begone!

"I will write this play! And I'll produce it myself if I have to, to prove you wrong."

Fool. If you knew enough to write the play, words would be pouring out onto the page. You would have a first draft by now. But, you don't have a first draft yet, do you? You don't have a first act. You don't have a first scene. You don't have anything.

"I've got a ride home, which is more than you've got right now."

You've got too much. That's your problem. That's why you can't manage to put anything on paper.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

You see the whole play in your mind; the sets, lights, costumes, what the actors look like, everything! You hear the lines, exactly how the actors should say them, with every little nuance of emphasis, every delicate shading of meaning, don't you? You know how the actors should be moving around the stage, what bits of business are necessary to set up every last scene, right? Your instinct tells you how the audience will react to every conflict, every twist and turn in plot, doesn't it? You know every last thing there is to know about this play, don't you?

"Yes, I do!"

And that's your problem. You're trying to put everything on paper and you can't. It doesn't work that way. That's why you have a problem getting started, there's so much going on in your mind that you can't find anyplace to begin.

"Meaning?"

What you need to do is get rid of all the details. If you do your job right, the director and the actors will rediscover them later. Each scene, each bit of dialogue needs to be reduced to its absolute minimum. Ninety percent of what you see in your mind won't and shouldn't end up on paper. That is what a good playscript is.

"But how do you tell what needs to be on paper and what doesn't?"

Dramatic Technique by George Pierce Baker. If I had to name just one book that clearly explains what a play is and isn't, this is the book.

"So why didn't you tell me to read it in the first place?"

Because there is one very big problem with the book. Unless you had done the appropriate background reading, the two Catron books at a minimum, you wouldn't be able to make heads or tails of what Baker wrote.

"I don't understand."

George Pierce Baker died in 1935. His book, Dramatic Technique, was first published in 1919 and based on a series of lectures he gave at Harvard.

"It's 80 years old?"

Yes. And his writing style dates from the turn of the century. Added to which, when he references a play to make an example, in most cases it's a play that a contemporary reader will have never heard of. And when he quotes a scene from one of these old plays, the contemporary reader has a difficult time relating to the dated dialogue and situations. Simply put, it's an effort to get through the book, but an effort well rewarded. This is the one book I know of that does explain exactly what does and does not need to be on paper. Read it.

"Ugh . . . it looks like it's going to start raining. Don't you think you should get back in the car?"

Should I?

"I'll say I'm sorry for what I said if you say you're sorry for what you said."

Agreed. Let's get going. I'm starving.

"Want to stop for a burger or something?"

I can wait until we get back to New York.

"Should be just a few more minutes."

I do have a question.

"Which is?"

Why did that sign we just passed say Welcome to Pennsylvania?


Book Image

CLICK TO PURCHASE


Dramatic Technique

by George Pierce Baker
List: $16.95
Published by Da Capo Press
ISBN: 0306800306


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