by Marsha Norman
from The Dramatist: Master Class (2009)
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 playwright's 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 it if hurts, it hurts. We can take it.
A few nights ago, I watched the film Rabbit Hole again, this time with the commentary track. The playwright and screenwriter, David Lindsay-Abaire credited his fellow playwright, Marsha Norman, with the subject for the piece through advice she had given him. She told him to write about what he was most afraid of. I remembered that advice from an essay Norman had written for a "Master Class" issue The Dramatist magazine that I had read a year and a half earlier. So, I went back to the journal and re-read her piece on finding a subject for a play.
She describes the advice SHE received from theatre director and playwright Jon Jory - "Go back to a time when you were really scared and write about that. Being afraid makes you remember details, and details convince people a story is real. And chances are, if you were scared by this, other people will be scared of it too, and that will make them pay attention." You need to look no farther than Norman's BRILLIANT Pulitzer Prize-winning play 'night, Mother (or Lindsay-Abaire's Rabbit Hole) to know that this works.
It's had me thinking about what scares me the most ... and I had no trouble whatsoever defining what THAT is. Unmasking it, facing it, and making it real on stage ... that's another story. But, that certainly is what makes it a perfect subject. I need to think about it some more.