From the Page to the Stage: A Playwright’s Journey

I have this theory that all writers are egomaniacs. Bear with me a minute while I explain. We write for an audience, in the hopes of impressing something of ourselves onto our readers in exchange for a few words of praise. We can’t help being self-centered in our work — we write alone with only our own experience to guide our pens. The result is always a self-portrait.

This past Friday, a play I helped to write opened in Tempe. It was exciting and worrying and terrifying and thrilling all rolled into one frenetic emotion. Every time the show starts, I feel a little sick. Those characters and situations are a part of me, after all. With that exposure comes a certain level of vulnerability. Because the work is so personal, I can’t help but be a little afraid when the curtain goes up. There’s a piece of myself under the spotlight. It’s open to public scrutiny and criticism, but when the cast takes their bows and the audience cheers, I feel validated.

Perhaps one of the most egotistical (and therefore most rewarding) written forms is the play. A play is the only medium that allows the writer to directly observe their audience’s emotional reaction. More so than the novelist or the poet, the playwright knows immediately if the audience is engaged; if the material works or if it falls flat. When it bombs, you know what to fix; when it sings, there’s no better feeling.

Now, I’m no Shakespeare — there wouldn’t be a show without the contributions of my talented co-writers, who were willing to commit to the madness of a 4-week writing frenzy — but this project has certainly sharpened my dramatic skills. If you’ve never written a stage play, go do it. Not only do you get to quench your inner thirst for applause and recognition, but you also learn some valuable lessons that carry over into other media. Nothing can teach you how to write dialogue, develop character relationships, structure a three-act plot or understand pacing quite like a play. Even if it only runs 10 pages, even if it is never performed and it languishes for all time in a dusty desk drawer, writing a play will make you a better writer.

Play writing is as much an exercise in storytelling as it is an awesome boost for the old self-esteem. The stage is a blank page just waiting…

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Thanks for reading! If you want to read more, check out my Twitter feed: @jonnyeberle. I promise all the attention won’t go to my head.

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