The Art of Playwrighting: It’s in the Words
Defining playwrighting as just writing would be the simplest way to do so. However, this particular form differs from others. No play comes to life upon being written, unlike books where the reader is immediately immersed in one’s world. This distance between the acts of writing and staging is the reason why a playwright’s work does not end on a script’s final dot.
Every piece of live performance goes through a writing process, some being more literal than others. There is something within a text that necessitates creativity and being shared to feel complete. In spite of some creators affirming an artist’s work is never finished, the first performance in front of an audience is an important step to some form of a finish line. Much like musicians’, a playwright’s work is very much about rhythm.
“Writing allows audiences to understand time in a piece. It’s about tempo, creating momentum, and balancing the pace.”
That is how Julián Mesri describes an art form where plot and structure create the right balance to take the audience somewhere. Four years spent in Colombia University’s Playwright program has allowed him to push and define his voice. This course taught him to write despite facing a deadline and lacking inspiration. Writing no matter what. That is what playwrights do. They write, re-write, and write some more.
“One must learn to take the notes that come with each step of the process. A piece can be tremendously impacted by the way they are used and understood. It’s okay to disagree with an opinion, but it can give a different perspective in re-writing phases.”
Re-writing can be about making changes without doing exactly what was suggested. A playwright must trust their voice and that re-writing won’t diminish it. Being unafraid to re-write is the best way one can use their voice if they’re confident about what they’re saying according to the Buenos Aires native.
Having just finished a musical’s first draft, Julián sees the excitement of creating a new world as one of the best things about playwrighting. The goal is to engage people with his work as ideas are manifesting themselves. Whether the final product shall be seen on stage or the big screen, playwrights create something bigger than themselves while learning to let go of their ego.
Collaborators, collaborators, and collaborators keep coming back in the New Yorker’s speech and infuse his voice with more enthusiasm each time. Those behind the words must surround themselves with people who believe in the material as much as they do. Even if some like to do it all, from writing to directing, and from light to sound design.
These entrusted individuals are there to think through the show and highlight what’s best as much as what still needs work. A show cannot solely be about a single person’s views and this distance that collaborators have on the material beneficiates those who wrote it. Dramaturges, directors, designers, and interprets are some of the helping hands and voices that one relies on to bring words to life.
Hearing about permanent American residents being deported for crimes committed in their youth troubled the 34-year old and planted a seed in his creative mind. These images of people sent back to countries that are no longer theirs inspired him to write a musical with deportation as its main theme. That and the fact that most musicals center around white men with little to no space for cultural diversity
“This piece tells the story of two young Latin Americans, jumps before and after their deportation. I want to give opportunities to great actors who are working in coffee shops and not on stage due to the lack of roles available to them.”
Having just finished the musical’s first draft, this playwright is well aware that his work is far from over. An awareness that makes him insist on “first draft.”
A reading shall follow the completion of a script’s initial version. Only by hearing those words can an author strengthen a piece’s rhythm. Other voices need to be thrown into the creative mix so that sentences can be trimmed and intentions clarified. The workshop following a reading is the transition from talking to making. That is when those voices come into play and truly make the show a reality.
“Remember that any creative process is a collaborative one, even when you’re writing alone. Being a good collaborator and not precious about the material is essential. Know what you want to do with your writing and be disciplined about it.”
Discipline asides, Julián evokes playfulness, not being precious about certain things, and the willingness to move around or remove oneself as qualities that contribute to a one’s success.
A playwright’s work never really ends. It goes through a range of production steps and somewhat graduates when first seen by an audience. Most shows still change past that point. One will keep on cutting, adjusting, and rephrasing until the show is “frozen” as producers say. A long process throughout which the words are no longer their author’s.
Looking ahead, the young man aspires to write for American musical theaters and make his work accessible to all people rather than exclusive and privileged ones. A deep desire to go back to Argentina and contribute to the Latin American scene is another high priority of his. First thing first: going back to his musical’s first draft for one of many re-writing sessions.
Remember, That is what playwrights do: they write, re-write, and write some more.