Starting this month, we students at Ruth Asawa School Of The Arts Creative Writing department are working on a six-week unit in playwriting, thanks to our current artist-in-residence Hasti Jafari. In this unit, we are being taught a plethora of new playwriting strategies; I found it appropriate to talk about some of my favorite learning opportunities which I have gleaned from these lessons.
For starters, thanks to this unit, I got the opportunity to write a variety of new scenes in new formats that felt refreshing and new all at once. One example of this was the “haiku plays” our artist-in-residence had us create. These unconventional little scenes were, like their name suggests, made up of only three line of dialogue in the entire play: the first, a five-syllable line from one character, the second, a seven-syllable line from the other character, and finally another five-syllable line from the first character. This lack of dialogue may seem limiting at a first glance, and many of us thought so when Hasti introduced this exercise to us. But as we would soon learn, the true storytelling elements of this exercise came in the form of expanded stage directions, of which Hasti encouraged us to make far more descriptive and elaborate than what normal stage directions would encompass. With this new format, we were allowed to go all out in these stage directions to compensate for the lack of dialogue. In writing mine, I spent most of my time developing the scene with the free reign I was given in the stage directions. I was taking my time as I worked; I obviously didn’t want to turn in and of my work half-baked. It didn’t take me very long to have a scene in mind, and I was allowed to be as expressive with my work as I saw fit. However, it was only as I was struggling to find what I wanted to write for my dialogue did I realize the true purpose of this assignment: to find a balance between showing and telling in playwriting. While I had placed a lot of detail into the stage directions, it consequently left me unable to find what I was looking for in the dialogue. After I realized this, I went back and edited all of the stage directions to be more realistically achievable and this gave me the space I needed to write my dialogue. I’m grateful for being able to learn this valuable skill so soon into playwriting!