Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
I’ve been having a conversation with Brandon about my most recent draft of The Man Who Was Thursday, and one of the consequences of that conversation is I’ve been wondering, yet again, about the relationship between author and audience, and the continuing conundrum of how you write something that isn’t cheap and obvious without flying so far over everybody’s heads that nobody knows what you’re talking about.
To be vague; I’ve significantly altered the ending of Chesterton’s novel, as the point he was working towards with his story was not the comment I saw the opportunity to make1 with my adaptation. Brandon and I have yet to talk about it in great detail, but the comment he made to me in regards to the ending was that he didn’t quite get it. Brandon’s a smart guy, so if he didn’t catch what I was stating, it was likely because I wasn’t stating it clearly. I’ve gone back and tried to rewrite it. And the question now is whether I’ve overstated the case instead.
I wrestle with this problem all the time when I’m writing political or current event plays for TML. When I first started working with the company, the majority of my plays were heavyhanded polemics that may have been delivered in an artful fashion but were nonetheless opinion sledgehammers. And the audience would get it, sure, but the argument was clumsy and inelegant, like watching a drunken bar fighter try to be a martial artist. It has taken time to develop past that.
Recently, I wrote a play for the show titled Jack You Don’t Know, You Don’t Know Jack, Jack Knows You Don’t, No You Don’t, Jack, which was a brief overview of the Jack Abramoff scandal, focused primarily on the long list of Republican lawmakers who suddenly have never heard of that corrupt influence peddler. “Jack knows Tom and Dana and Conrad and Bob.” Etcetera.
As far as I could tell, the play all but tanked for the four weeks it was in; there might have been one or two people who visibly understood it, but most others were wondering what the point was for this obscenely long list of names, and who the hell was Jack anyway? I stand by the play as written, and perhaps it was just for those one or two people who got it, a sort of mash note to those following the events.
You can’t assume, of course, that all of your audiences are uniformly as intelligent or socially conscious as you might be. The rhetorical questions are many. Is there a way to write in such a way that you can still appease the spectrum? Or, if you decide to favor one half over the other, how do you decide? Is it elitist to write plays that only you can understand? Is it insincere to write plays that you yourself find overwrought?
Rhetorical. Don’t answer these questions. There is no right answer, and indeed you already sound a pompous ass for posing these questions.
The last play I gave to Brandon, Vox Pandora, is going up as part of New Leaf Theatre’s 2006-07 season. Before it goes up, I need to revise it, because apparently2 I repeated some of my points a number of times, and now I had begun to bludgeon the audience instead of speaking to them.
Any high wire artist will tell you–the most important thing is balance, and that’s the trickiest part of all.
Of course, when you’re a high wire artist, everybody can understand what you’re showing them.
1 What I ultimately see in Chesterton’s story is not the allegory against moral relativism, but a story of well-intentioned lawmen chasing their own tails while a terrorist threat is allowed to run free, largely as a result of absurd government thinking and useless machinations.
2 I still haven’t looked at the play in awhile. It may be better than I remember or much, much worse. I think I’m afraid of what either scenario would mean.