Insert tiresome cliché: “This is why we call ourselves 'playwrights' and not 'writes'.”
I always joke that this is really because playwriting in the 21st Century is like wheel-wrighting or coopering or candle-dipping: just as absurd and precious and irrelevant, something I’d be better off doing in some quaint little shop in Williamsburg, Virginia; but I’ll put my bitterness aside momentarily.
Plays are things— objects of the world— much more so than say novels. It’s telling that plays are kept in the non-fiction section of the library. I’ve always assumed that this was to say, “These things are real, even if the stories they tell are not.”
Plays can be damaged, worn out and repaired. (My favorite example of this is the fact that through much of the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet was produced with a happy ending.)
Plays are constructed, built, torn apart and rebuilt, in a collaborative process that is enough to drive your average prose writer to postal rages. I remember back in the ‘80’s reading a column by Jimmy Breslin in which he moaned about how hard it was to participate in the production of a 10-minute play of his in Louisville, because the actors and directors—gulp!—actually had comments on his dialogue. Oh woe is Jimmy! and by extension, any other prose writer who thinks the process of fully staging a play is anything other than an all-out, goin’-to-the-mattresses-type gang war in which the playwright needs to be as ruthless and supreme as Don Corleone, (i.e. both willing to bloody one’s hands but also appear grandly above the crimson spray.)
Our work is much closer to that of a composer than a prose writer. The notion of me sitting at a keyboard for 10 hours straight tapping out text is both appalling and absurd. I have to talk when I write, out loud. I have say the things my characters say in the actual open air to see if they sound right, or funny, or right and funny. The longest I’ve ever spent working on a play without a break is maybe six hours, and then I needed to spend another two stalking the sidewalks of Capitol Hill trying to bring my mind back to the actual rather than the phantasmal, as my muttering gradually subsided. (Hell, at least people didn’t bother me for change.)
Plays are strange gifts to the world, especially in this age when the world is mostly unwilling to give anything back for them. Plays are plain portable cardboard boxes that spring all sorts of flowers and flashes and knives when you open them. They are meant to be tinkered with. When a play is adapted to film, there’s a lot less hand wringing about whether or not the movie captured the original intent of the playwright. Why? ‘Cause you can always stage a play again. They’re the original recyclable story delivery systems.
So truth be told, plays are made, and remade, but never finished. Inshallah!