I've been meaning to come back to this post for a while. I said a little glib thing about it when it first made the rounds, but it really stuck with me, rattling around in my brain. Like Karl, I do kind of hate all of those techniques he mentions and, like Karl, I find I use them regularly. In the play I just finished, during the rewrites, I realized that I needed a nice, big set-piece for my central character, so what did I add? A drunk scene. Of course. It (mostly) achieved what I wanted it to, which is good. But was it totally necessary? I don't know. (There were some other reasons I used it, but that's for another post.)
One thing that struck me about Karl's list is that, once upon a time, those ideas, techniques, they were great. Beyond great, they were revelatory, some of them shocking even. When Mamet busted out the short, clipped back-and-forth of ping pong dialogue, it was like Knute Rockne rocking the forward pass. "Wait, what? You can do that? In a play?" When I first read Angels In America, the split scenes blew my mind. I wedged them into more than a few early plays of my own. Split scenes? Like in the movies? Holy shit. That Kushner's a freaking genius!
But that's the thing. Technical tricks and games become old hat. Sure, something's never go out of fashion, but other things do. Like star wipes. Have we hit a similar place in playwriting? Are there techniques that are just old hat now? How does playwriting evolve? A couple of years ago, putting a live band on stage was the shit. Now? Not so much. What's the next thing?
When we get bogged down in the old buggaboo of "realism vs. experimentalism," how much are just talking about technical tricks that are becoming standard? Is it the hard death knell of something we're seeing? I'm really asking, not just making rhetorical flips here. One thing that surprises me is the lack of focus on actual technique and how it evolves. Playwriting is an evolving, growing and changing art, but it seems to be treated like it's static. A good play is always a good play. Except there are plays that have fallen off the radar, despite great success in the past. How does that happen? And what does it mean to live, as a playwright, through that kind of shift?
I think that posts like Zack's show us that we are living through a change (maybe we always are). What does that mean for playwrights? And what's coming around the bend? I hear a fair amount about what theatre will look like in the future, but what will plays look like?