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The Play’s the Thing
From:
American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA)
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: New York , NY
Wednesday, September 18, 2013

 

Susan Shafer
During downtime from writing for the education market, I sometimes vary my time by working on a play. Does playwriting offer an income stream? Hardly. But I find that it offers other benefits that enhance my writing life.
I started writing plays through an unexpected assignment. For 15 years, I had been earning my living by writing for the school market. I might write a biography of an astronaut for one children?s publisher or a lesson on synonyms for another.

But one day I received a call to write a play for a new company. The idea was to create a 16-page play with roles for kids in a typical fourth grade class.  Reading the play aloud would increase students? fluency and phrasing. As a former teacher, the assignment was right up my alley in some ways. But I had never written a play before.
In creating the dialogue, the assignment forced me to think about writing in a different way. It pushed me to hook the reader using dialogue alone. And it compelled me to use dialogue, not description, to set a scene or advance the plot.
Before long, I had caught the playwriting bug. Soon, I began writing plays for adults. Since there was little financial reward, I wrote when paid assignments were few and far between. Or when I needed a break from regular work.
Sometimes I developed a play about a theme of importance to me, such as care of the elderly. For that theme, I wrote about an old man in an ER who resists help from a friend. Other times I wrote to turn a difficult situation in my real life into a theatrical experience. In that case, I didn?t have to search for a conflict. It was inherent in my own life. More often than not, I used screenwriter Nora Ephron?s mom?s advice that ?Everything is copy.?
Over the years, playwriting has provided many benefits.
Builds connections with new community of writers. By attending productions of my and others? plays, I?ve made scores of new friends and colleagues.
Provides diverse contacts. I now network with generous and informative playwrights about all sorts of theatrical issues.
Fights writer?s block. When stuck in a paying project, I take a break and edit my play.
Recently, I had a bad morning. I was angry with the editor of a work project. But, as a professional, I couldn?t express that over the phone.
Fortunately, a character in my play-in-progress was mad, too. How should she express it? For a scene in a kitchen, I had the woman hurl a dish across the room at her husband.
It was a good day after all.

 
Alexandra Owens
Executive Director
ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors)
New York, NY
212 997-0947
212 937-2315