Playwriting

In my blogging experience thus far, I’ve been talking mainly of the things that I love and have an interest in. Today, I shall try discussing something I have neither interest nor knowledge in, and see where it takes me. I’m talking about plays.

I have tried reading one or two poems (though I couldn’t see why people had to complicate ideas in simple words; quite the opposite of what I see in prose), am okay with short stories, have a few favourite films and absolutely adore novels. However, theatre and plays are quite unfamiliar territory to me. That said, when we talk about play appreciation, we seem to encounter two different strands of thought. One is in watching plays being enacted on stage, which I do sometimes and enjoy once in a while. The other is in reading plays and admiring the meticulousness of the playwright in designing his script. When it comes to that, well, I admit that I have never finished a whole play script in my life.

But the true mark of a good playwright lies in the play script itself, isn’t that right? On stage, there are many more factors in play — the director, for one, as well as the actors. And yet, one can also argue in the other angle. Plays were written to be presented on stage, therefore the stage performance should be the actual ultimate product. In fact, the script is just one ingredient in the dish. It can be said that the script, cast and crew all form different elements of the same artistic/literary piece. It feels laughable to pick up a book and read things like “man walks to centre of stage” or some such example. It’s like reading an author’s draft notes, something that feels uncomfortably personal.

One of my childhood favourite authors, Agatha Christie, has written plays. Her most popular one was the long-running The Mousetrap, if I’m not wrong. This brings me to the question of not knowing how to define the length of plays. Do we measure them by the amount of time they take on the stage, or by the number of words, or the number of pages they use? The latter two sounds inaccurate, since some plays may comprise entirely of actions whilst others take up a lot of dialogue — and 1 block of dialogue by 1 character is surely more condensed than an interchange among a group — but does that matter?

When I read plays like the Mousetrap, or the play adaptation of her novels “Appointment With Death” and “And Then There Were None”, I find that her writing is different from when she does novels or short stories. For example, the play adaptations had wholly different sequences and even different endings. Are there certain storylines that are play-friendlier than others? Do audiences not understand plots that are too philosophical or introspective, or are there certain flaws in logic or logistics (such as prop limitation) that force certain stories to be edited for performance? But if a play is never put up on stage, do these practical restrictions matter then? Should critics, when reading play scripts, consider such restrictions as criteria for judging the quality of a play? Because really, I have no earthly idea how you evaluate a play, except by looking at its plotline, but then what sets it apart from a short story?

When I was a child, I used to write tales in play format, meaning I do away with the lengthy writing and descriptions and just write a story based entirely on dialogue. It was a lot less taxing on the hands, and I was always impatient when it came to describing actions and appearances. I wonder if this means I am cut out to be a playwright.

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