photo: Joseph Moran
I attended the Master Class Series at the Cherry Lane Theatre in Manhattan last night. This wonderful series gives an inside view of the creative process from masters of the craft of playwriting in an intimate setting. It was a terrific experience!
Charles Mee, the playwright and author, led the talk and offered many gems to our group of about twenty-five playwrights/actors. Mr. Mee has a diverse background. He's a Harvard graduate. He's written many plays and books. He's an historian, a political activist, a husband, a father and a friend of the theater world. He's currently teaching at Columbia University's School of the Arts.
As a new playwright myself, I enjoyed listening to Mr. Mee. He said to trust ourselves when writing. His goal when writing is to please himself only and not an audience. This was a hard concept for us to come to terms with because most writers want to be liked by their audiences. We sometimes don't feel validated unless someone tells us our work is good or professional enough or "ready"to be seen. Mr. Mee says otherwise. He said instead to trust our voice, our talents and write what we like as lovers of art. Our own sense of what is long, slow, boring, untrue, off the mark or useless will speak to us. We don't necessarily need a workshop, a staged reading, a producer, an agent or an audience to validate what we've written.
How freeing is that concept?
Mr. Mee also advised to take in all sources for sparking our creativity. He encouraged us to visit museums, listen to music, see plays or read them, see the composition in everything and the artist's style in all forms of art. His ideas are to start with the classics, the Greeks and go from there up to modern time. His website http://charlesmee.org/indexf.html is amazing. He puts his work up online and encourages others to "steal" from it or to add to it. Mr. Mee says no play is an original. Most of us are "stealing" or "borrowing" from other artists all the time by what speaks to us, or influences us, and I agree.
Who has influenced your voice or your work? We don't literally steal their work, but their structure or tone or voice may appeal to us and inspire our own creations. How many playwrights try to mimic Neil Simon, David Mamet, Sam Shepard, or Arthur Miller? How many actors steal from Marlon Brando, James Dean or Meryl Streep? We study and learn from the masters and then add our own nuance. One generation influences the next and on we go.
The Master Class continues weekly until April 19th. I highly recommend it. The Cherry Lane Theatre is a wonderful place tucked in on the side streets of Greenwich Village.
Special shout out and big thanks to Nancy McClernan and her NYC Playwrights group http://www.nycplaywrights.org for giving me the opportunity to attend this great talk.
Until next time.