Playwriting Be Taught?
(published in The
Dramatist magazine 2006 -
Keynote address from the Southeastern Theater Conference in 2006)
The age-old answer to this question was always “No, playwriting
cannot be taught.” And like other age-old answers – abstinence is
the only way, father knows best, etc – it was not true at all, but
did serve a certain purpose, which was to keep young people from
trying stuff the grayhairs wanted to keep for themselves, or knew to
be fraught with peril. The “answer” also kept the grayhairs
from having to learn how to teach playwriting, or from having to
answer any number of other questions that would come up in a
playwriting class, such as why can a good writer write so many bad
plays, or why are Shakespeare and Sherlock Holmes so popular when
the plays by or about them are always so long.
I Live (O at Home
magazine column, 2006)
If you were
ever reading in a beautiful library and wished you could go pour
yourself a bourbon and climb into bed, well, that's what it's like
to live in my New York loft. It's 1,500 square feet of
rent-stabilized space in SoHo, complete with book-filled shelves, a
rolling ladder, a big desk, and a bed. You can't take a good hot
shower, because there's no water pressure; you can forget sleeping
well in the winter, because the steam heat clangs like Thor at his
anvil; and my neighbor's access to the fire escape is through my
apartment. But rent-stabilized means I can never leave, so that's
where I live. I don't know what they manufactured here in the 1890s,
but whatever it was, the loft has a smell my children love, like
paper; high ceilings; huge windows; and all the quiet a writer
needs, unless another commercial tenant leases the floor above and
renovates again, pounding night and day, breaking pipes and flooding
my space while I'm away.
Moonwriting: Adventures Outside My Day
Job (From the 59th Annual Writers Guild Awards 2007)
I am a playwright, and I also write for the musical theatre.
Color Purple is my latest Broadway outing, I teach at Juilliard
and NYU, and am the VP of the Dramatists Guild. I have a Pulitzer
for ‘Night, Mother, and a Tony for
The Secret Garden.
So given this record, people have assumed I’m who you go to for
stuff that’s hopeless, noble, and tragic. But it wasn’t always that
Not There Yet -What will it
take to achieve equality for women in the theatre?
Theater Magazine, November 2009)
Discussing the status of women in the theatre feels
a little like debating global warming. I mean, why are we
still having this discussion? According to the NYSCA report,
83 percent of produced plays are written by men.
On Playwrighting (published in
What are we doing when we write for the stage? Are we entertaining
ourselves? Entertaining others? Having our say? Trying to make a
living? Trying to make a point? Furthering the art form? Joining
the dialogue? Trying to save the ship? Trying to sink the ship?
Getting even? Getting ahead? Keeping our career alive? Completing
a commission? What?
with great sadness of your illness. As your fellow writers, we
wanted to make sure you knew how valuable you are to us, and how
immeasurable your contribution has been both to the American theatre
and the American culture as a whole. In pledging yourself to
complete such a profound body of work, you have challenged us all to
get our work done, without succumbing to the distractions of the
commercial world, or the voices of the critics.
August Wilson Citation
When August Wilson was
born, no theatrical tradition was there to greet him, there was no
path, there were no stairs by which he might become the August
Wilson we are celebrating tonight. He had to find it all for
himself, discover his own gift for poetry, discover that plays were
useful and then learn to write them.
(given at her memorial)
Hi. I’m Marsha Norman. I loved Anne Pitoniak. I would not be half
the human I am now, or maybe not even a writer now if it weren’t for
Annie. I certainly wouldn’t have written ‘night, Mother if I hadn’t
had her to write it for. I might even have left the theatre.. But
there she was, so here I am.
Every year, preparing to write these lifetime achievement award
citations, I read bios and interviews with our honoree, I make lists
of my favorite lines and lyrics. But I also think about the idea
of lifetime achievement, about what it is. Is it the
lifetime we’re honoring - the stamina required to do something as
hard as writing for the theatre your whole life, or is it the
achievement – the artistry, the grace, the power or the glory of a
body of work.
Of all the contests we hold in America – American Idol, Miss
America, National Book Awards, Soapbox Derby, Survivor, Great Race,
Best Bagel, the World Series, the Indy 500, on and on – do other
countries to this? What is wrong with us? Let me start again.
The Dramatists Guild of America has never given a Lifetime
Achievement award before. Not that our members haven’t had both
lifetimes…and achievements, but no American playwright has had a
whole lifetime of achievement like Arthur Miller. And while
other groups have honored his achievements, giving him his Pulitzer,
his Tony, his Oliver, his Emmy, his Drama Critics Circle, his
Kennedy Center Honor, and all his other truly countless awards, his
fellow dramatists want to thank him for his lifetime.
Edward Albee was probably not the first angry, young man. But he
was the first angry young man cool-headed enough to write more than
twenty-five plays, invent off-Broadway, and win three, count them,
three Pulitzer Prizes. His
1962 play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff, not only changed the
American Theatre, it changed America itself. Read