My name is Richard and I am a member of InViolet Rep – the only member of the company who is not an actor. I am a writer. In theatre, playwrights are simply actors who don’t have the sack to get up on stage. I am also a screenwriter – and it occurs to me what a massive difference there is between the disciplines of writing for the screen versus writing for the stage. I have a question to pose to you: Are screenplays and stage plays pieces of art? I have written over twenty screenplays – I have always considered myself an artist and considered screenwriting an artistic pursuit. But strangely I do not consider a screenplay a piece of art. So what have I been doing if not creating art? It is often remarked that a screenplay is a “blueprint” for a motion picture. I think this is true. Screenwriting is such a scientific, almost clinical document (the way Hollywood demands it to be). Just look at the industry standards for screenplays the way Syd Field and his fellow gurus define them. Look at the litany of rules laid out so that film executives can figure out in the first ten pages if they can “market this property.” You must thrill the reader in the first ten pages. There must be an inciting incident, a clear plot point at the end of act 1 on page 30, an active, likeable protagonist with a clear goal, a set-up, confrontation in act 2, resolution in act 3, etc, etc, rappeta, rappeta, blahhtey, blah.
Has anyone snuggled up in bed on a cold night with a cup of chai tea and paged through a screenplay from the bedside table for pleasure reading? NO. Because a screenplay is not a piece of art (though I think it does qualify as a piece of drama).
However, I think playwriting is an artistic endeavor. It is not unheard of for someone to read a play, and actually derive satisfaction from the storytelling. The theatre community does not burden us writers with such a stringent list of industry standards for writing a play. That being said, a play is subject to the difficult rules of creating a good piece of drama. You must have compelling characters, palpable conflict, and solid dramatic structure. When I am writing a play, I feel that artistic rush! I feel that I am in the act of creating art, whatever that is. I do not feel restricted by a set of arbitrary rules and I do not feel that pinprick in my back side – the pinprick that is the motion picture production company executive standing over my shoulder trying to figure out how to market my screenplay to all four quadrants and establish a tent-pole motion picture franchise, etc, etc, business blabbety blah.
Of course, you can’t make any money writing plays. Art and commerce at odds once again. It’s the price of being an artist in a capitalist society. In Hollywood, a screenwriter can get paid tens of thousands of dollars for doctoring a few pages of dialogue on some action script (but never see the movie filmed.) But no amount of money can match the exhilarating rush of sitting in an audience that is laughing at a line in a play I wrote – or an audience with teary eyes, feeling empathy for a character I created. God bless theatre.