Plays and the theatre have always had a prominent role in my life, even from my very earliest memories of Mom taking me to the Theater for Young America. And of course, plays as a written form aren't far behind in the grand scheme of things. After all, I knew from an early age that the greatest miracle worker of the English language was in fact known mostly for his plays--the great SHAKESPEARE.
Now, as a kid, I really loved creative writing. I know, big surprise. Actually, I was rather a fanatic about it--I remember one time lying to my mom that I'd gotten the same writing assignment as my older brother because I had a good idea for it and wanted her help writing it out. At six years old I wrote and illustrated a book about S.T. the invincible invisible man (S.T. stood for "See Through"), and sold copies of it around my block for a dollar each. It's quite safe to say that I was bitten by the writing bug early on.
So theatre and writing were both coursing around in my veins and...absolutely nothing happened for a while. It's hard to put yourself in that immature state of mind, but there is a time when realizing that writing and plays combine is a nontrivial task. What happened, eventually, was something I'll call "fourth grade."
My fourth grade teacher was not exactly someone I'd call a good teacher. She played favorites (and this was a problem because I wasn't one of her preferred kids) and sorted the class into categories. There were the popular people, there were the white trash in training, and there were the social misfits. Unsurprisingly I was seated with the kleptomaniac, the ADD kid, and the guy with one leg. Regardless.
I would say that this Mrs. Bergstrom wound up teaching me all about playwriting, but this is only the case for a very liberal interpretation of the words. Her contribution actually ended at the beginning of the year when she was talking about our creative writing time and that we would be learning to write plays by the end of the year. This never *actually* happened, but she said it would anyway.
What really ended up happening was that we were given almost no guidance whatsoever during creative writing, but I got impatient with waiting for this vaporware course, and decided to try my hand at writing a play on my own.
The eventual result was surprising in many aspects. For the most part, I hit the nail on the head as far as format is concerned. I correctly started by writing the speaker's name, a colon, and the stuff they said. I never put in a "says Susan" and I put all my staging directions in a neat little set of parentheses to indicate that they weren't spoken lines. I think I even remembered to set up the location. It even started with a character receiving an enigmatic package in the mail, and trying to figure out what it was and why it was sent. Really, a perfectly developed play from the first go, right?
Well, there was one niggling little detail that I missed. Stagecraft. The ability for the play to be even vaguely possible to put onstage. The plot...well, it started with a girl coming from school and her mother saying that she got a package. The package contains a model of the pyramid on the back of the dollar bill (you know, the one with the floating eyeball--what the heck?), which grew around the characters and in which the rules of physics were severely bent if not utterly broken.
I promise, I was not dropping acid as a fourth grader.
But whatever. I wrote in the stream-of-consciousness/flight-of-fancy manner that kids always write in, and eventually I went on to write plays that could actually get put up and which made some vague level of sense (not that that's so essential an element of a play: my favorite theatrical movement is probably the absurdists).
Actually, this talk about stagecraft reminds me of what prompted a major decision in the play I just wrote. The idea of the play involves the idea of an "elephant in the room." And, this being a play, there's an eccentric millionaire who decides to throw an elephant in the room *party.* One where there's a big pachyderm and no one's allowed to mention it and has to avoid any sort of allusion to it (and the room's filled with peanuts, and political posters, etc).
The trouble, of course, is that it's hard to get an elephant onstage, and a mockup just wouldn't have the appropriate *presence.* And this prompted a twist that delights me and which makes everything about five times more effective: due to problems with PETA, there's no actual elephant in the room, and the party-thrower is furious--thus making the biggest elephant in the room the fact that there's no literal elephant. How very very droll.