What is it about writers? ~ theatre notes

Monday, November 05, 2007

What is it about writers?

Ms TN has never understood the concept of "writer's block". I agree that sometimes one can't write and, as Orwell said, if a writer can't write, he's not being lazy: he really can't write. Being a devout believer in the work of the subconscious, I think that so-called writer's block means that the work isn't ready to be written. It can take a long time - sometimes a work can take thirty years' gestation. (It's true! I speak from personal experience!) So you wait, and feed that monster within, and one day out it pops, fully armed, just like Athene from Zeus's brow. Well, there's a bit of sweat involved and, as poor Zeus demonstrates, it can give you a bit of a headache. But, as one of the greater writers commented, ripeness is all. For a writer, patience is more than a virtue. It's a necessity.

So I see with a mixture of puzzlement and alarm that Michael Gow has written a play about writers block. Toy Symphony - which "attempts to capture that terrible thing that stops the act of writing" - follows his 1991 play Furious. Furious was about the same playwright (Roland, presumably Gow's alter ego), this time in the throes of inspiration. I don't know about you, but when I saw Furious it confirmed my growing suspicion that plays about writers ought to be banned. Writers are not good dramatic material. Let's face it, all that fussing about with paper and keyboards isn't exactly exciting. A play about a writer not writing might be even worse than one about a writer writing. I don't know. (One shouldn't, of course, prejudge, but I'd be trotting along to Belvoir St with some trepidation). I'm more interested that Gow is directing Heiner Muller's adaptation of Titus Andronicus for Bell Shakespeare later this year. Heiner Muller. Now, there's a writer.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've read Toy Symphony, and I think it's breathtakingly good. The play isn't really about writer's block. It's about grief, longing, and loving. I'll be trotting along to Belvoir Street not with trepidation, but with a full and eager heart.

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Anon (you know, you really can disagree with me and have a name and no umbrage will be taken...) - well, I still remember Furious with a shudder. Everything that makes me cringe about plays about writers. But I'm more often than not happy to be proved wrong.

Bardassa said...

Another adapted Titus Andronicus. How come it is only ever staged in adaptations here?

Simon said...

Hmmm...I tend to agree about works that try to squeeze dramatic tension out of a story about someone thinking of a story (unless that writer is working on writing "In Cold Blood", which just may be the exception that proves the rule). I just saw the premier of a new Canadian play here in Vancouver called "His Greatness", about a stay Tennessee Williams had here in '81 to open a new play and deal with the waning of his genius and growing reliance on drugs and drink. Great concept? Yes. Execution? Zzzzzzz...

And I couldn't agree more on your take of work gestation, I'd much rather get started on something totally fresh until the continuance presents itself than to push out something for the sake of just getting it done. I've a drawer full of scripts waiting patiently for their muses to return.

Born Dancin' said...

Hear hear. Plays about writers, along with films about filmmaking, are more often than not utterly lacking in interest. The old "write what you know" maxim is rubbish anyway, but when a writer's life is leeched of anything but, well, writing, they often end up turning out these dull exercises in navel-gazing.

I guess there are some exceptions, though, and Toy Symphony has a nice name at least.

naive theatre goer said...

More generally I personally find that biographies/films/plays about talented people (whether they be writers, athletes, politicians, actors, etc.) usually score high on the my Dullness Meter. Too often it just seems to be assumed by those behind such productions that talented people must be interesting people and lead interesting lives. That assumption seems false.

On the flip side, I saw Ross Mueller's "(the Pilot Version of...) SOMETHING TO DIE FOR" at the Storeroom last week. For something that was advertised as a work-in-progress, it already seemed pretty interesting to me. And a lot of it revolves around his experiences as a writer, taking part in a 6-week writers' workshop in London with David Hare, Martin Crimp, etc.

Bardassa said...

I was just about to write I hope Ross Mueller isn't reading this as he his play about writing plays is on.

Troubador said...

"...plays about writers ought to be banned. Writers are not good dramatic material."

Would The Seagull be a better play without Trigorin and Trepliov?

Alison Croggon said...

I think The Seagull would be a much better play if Trigori were, oh, a plumber. Or at least a bank manager. And Nina should have been a check-out chick at Coles.

And, well, if you tickle me, I'll admit to saying some very nice things about Ross Mueller's play Construction of the Human Heart. Which was about two writers, and so therefore might have been twice as bad.

Alison Croggon said...

Actually, checking out my review of Mueller's play, I see that my prejudices remain intact: "On the face of it, a play that is about a play - worse, a play about two writers and a play - sounds like a sure recipe for unbridled narcissism. In Mueller's hands, it becomes a desolately moving meditation on human helplessness in the face of overwhelming grief."

So you see, I can be persuaded.

genevieve said...

I don't dare ask you about Emerald City, Alison (the film of which has recently come out on DVD).
However I do admit to more than a sneaking enjoyment of Barton Fink - "I'll show you the life of the mind!"

Mark Friend said...

Wow, I'll be travelling up to Sydney to see "Toy Symphony" in a couple of weeks as a part of my 40th birthday celebratons. Damn, I do hope it is good. I don't want to remember my 40th as the day I saw that crap play about writer's block.

Anyhow. Now, reflecting on the topic of writer's block, I was wondering whether it is more a matter of a personal pyschological perception rather than a universal clinical condition. I will most probably sound like a post-modern wanker but if someone identifies their predictament as writer's block, then might it not be writer's block because they identity it as so and that is enough.

I'm sure the term brings up different connotations for different people but is writer's block just one name for someone's struggle / inability to successfully express and communicate some unknown ideas or stories despite their desire to say something.

Whilst I've know some people who write / paint/ create/ like turning a tap on and off, I'm quietly jealous of this instant flow of creativity. I have "this friend" who finds the physical act of sitting down and starting to actually put pen to paper / fingers on keyboard the most difficult part of the writing process. "My friend" needs to get on a roll, to build up some momentum, get confident, to be in "the zone" before the writing flows. Sometimes "the zone" is just around the corner with a big flashing light and rock music blaring but other times, the zone has disappeared off the map and can not located despite the most aggresive and intensive search. Maybe, upon reflection "this friend's" inability to get into the zone is another way of saying writer's block

Ok. to get back to my original thought, I was wondering about the possibility of how a play about a playwright could be engaging if you focused on the conflict and tension behind the writer's block - the reasons?. "My friend" often gets so worked up about the disappearance of the zone that he becomes afraid to look for it in fear of another disappointment.

I reckon you may have set us all a blog challenge to "wright" the good short monologue about a writer's block - a tropfest for playwrights?

Thanks.

Mark Friend

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Mark - don't let my comments put you off - the proof is always in the play. I've been known to be wrong, after all, and more than once! Happy birthday, and I hope you have a great night. If you feel like it, pop back in and give us your verdict.