your friend, Marsha Norman

I studied and worked on a lot of Marsha Norman plays in undergrad (Getting Out / Night, Mother). One night in grad school, I ended up hiding in a corner of her massive west village loft apartment with some other writers from the program, staring in awe at her shelves and shelves of floor to ceiling books complete with sliding ladder, watching Edward Albee eat shrimp, imagining what it might be like to write a play that then bought you a whole apartment. We have never spoken I don’t think,  but I’ve called her my friend in my head, in that way that you do if you’ve been in someone’s house but never called each other by each other’s Names.  Today, she’s written a PHENOMENAL ESSAY ON HOW / WHY TO WRITE PLAYS, for Stage and Candor. Excerpt from my brilliant friend here:

If you know a story about a brave human in big trouble, write that. Write how the trouble started, what the person did, and how it turned out. Little troubles, for example, troubles that will solve themselves just by the person growing up, you don’t need to waste your time on those. Write about greed, revenge, rage, betrayal, guilt, adultery, and murder. When writing about softer troubles such as injustice, loss, humiliation, incapacity, aging, sadness and being misunderstood, just be sure to attach them to one of the more active troubles. Attach betrayal to loss and you have a play. Attach adultery to aging and you have a play. And let fear drive the whole thing. An aging woman is afraid her husband is having an affair, so she plots to kill him. Just kidding, but you see what I mean. We know we would watch that story, as stupid as it is in sentence form. Then you just add your great dialogue and your fabulous scenes and you’re done. Haha.

Seriously, what we are doing when we write for the stage is telling stories people need to see. We do it for the same reason we put up stop signs, because it is important, for some reason, for people to stop at this place and look around. Our place at the playwrights’ table is determined by how many people remember the stories we tell, and people remember the stories they feel they will need someday. Just like life. Urgency is the key to a good story, fear is the force that keeps it moving. The good news is that humans are so hungry for stories that our brains invent them even when we are asleep. So they need us. It is a great privilege to be a storyteller. And if it hurts, it hurts. We can take it.

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