This is a blog post from the Educational Theatre Association in USA by playwright and teacher Stephen Gregg. This is a post worth reading because he handily tells his disappointment when a play is not all he'd hoped it would be. It is also pretty funny.
The End of the World as I Know It by Stephen Gregg
June 6, 2012
I’m not sure why I thought the end of the world would be amusing.
I don’t know how I could have thought that having a comedy end with the destruction of our planet was a good idea.
It wasn’t a good idea.
Bakersfield High School, under the direction of Jacquie Thompson-Mercer, gave the play a great production, complete with lovely character work and high-end tech. But then the curtain came down at the end of the play and the audience applauded politely.
No playwright daydreams of polite applause.
This happened a few months ago, at the premiere of my one-act, This Is a Text.
The production was supposed to be the culmination of a development process, proof that the play was ready for publication.
Five minutes before the end of the play, I thought, “Huh, all these appealing young people will be dead in five minutes. This might be a problem.”
Lots of play scripts have notes about how the play came to be. Christopher Durang writes good ones. Peter Schaffer writes about the problem he struggled with with Amadeus.(Salieri had very little to do in the second act.)
One of my favorites is from Anatomy of Gray by Jim Leonard. Leonard describes writing and rewriting the play, getting it workshopped and then produced and then produced some more and still knowing it wasn’t right. And so he put it away.
For ten years.
But what all of these Notes from the Playwright have in common is that they’re written from a place of triumph. The play is being published. It’s out in the world having a life, which is really most of what you want for a play. These are the notes of the victor, recounting the strategy she used to conquer the monsters that were tearing at her plot.
I thought it might be useful to record that battle in real time, at a moment when the monsters have the upper hand.
A few weeks after the politely received production, I said to Todd, “So, is it kind of a downer that the world ends?”
He confessed that yes, the nuclear holocaust was a bummer.
So I took out the end of the world.
But, as you can imagine, it requires a fair amount of exposition—setting up—to explain why the world explodes. So that exposition came out. And when that exposition was removed some moments no longer made sense and some transitions went missing. Worst of all, some characters seemed irrelevant and the play had no sense of drive.
All of which made me realize that my problems had been bigger than the ending. (Among other things, using a character solely as an expository device is bad playwriting.)
The more I pulled at the apocalypse thread, the more my little throw rug of a play unraveled.This Is a Text is now about four inchoate pages long.
The moment when a project unravels is never a writer’s best moment. But it does happen, and I’m recording this now partly for myself.
It’s happened before. You examine the threads, see which of them might work, and start to weave again. Often you get a play that’s better than the one you started with.
But sometimes the play isn’t better. And sometimes—this is where the anxiety lies—you don’t get a play at all.
This Is a Text is scheduled to come out this fall. It’s in my publisher’s catalog already. (Let’s not mention this to them.)
Nothing to do but pick up those sad little remaining threads and start weaving again.
It’s not the end of the world.