Style & Theatrical Conventions
'I'd been writing plays for nearly 30 years when I wrote SERIOUS MONEY. . . . When I went off to write the play, the newspapers went on being full of City [Financial District] news and in particular the scandals involving the takeover of Guinness, and Boesky, the American arbitrageur. When I got the idea to write the play in verse, it gave me the theatrical purchase on the material that made it possible to write it.'
-- Caryl Churchill
Audiences will accept almost any theatrical convention as long as you establish the device early in the play. No matter how bizarre it may seem compared to what's "real." Once the audience sees in the opening scene that those horses in EQUUS [Full image link right] are actors wearing openwork masks of aluminum tubing and hoof-like platforms on their shoes, they react as though real animals are on stage. That's part of the creative freedom that comes with being a playwright as opposed to laboring in the mines of Hollywood.
The key to the audience's heart in this is introducing non-realistic devices early in the play. Once having taken the trouble to introduce something like this, most playwrights continue to use the device throughout the remainder of the script, at least partly because the audience expects to see it again.
Saving these devices for the end of a play doesn't seem to work as well -- or at least contemporary playwrights practically never do it. But then there's Ariel Dorfman's final sort-of-ghost-scene in the otherwise realistic DEATH AND THE MAIDEN: there's no early preparation for this device, but it works.
Stylistic devices usually requiring early use in the script . . .
- Short Formal Scenes
- A Narrator addressing the audience
- Non-realistic Symbolic Devices
- Language Style
- And that tightrope nearly everyone's walking . . .
All of these techniques are at the other end of the plank from that style some playwrights and all those Hollywood types still love . . .
And the other key decision you face with Style is whether you want to actively admit the audience is sitting out there . . .
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