A Playwright’s Perspective: Creating a World

by Ariel Mitchell, playwright

I’m not a playwright who really pictures things. If you asked me about any of my characters, I would be able to tell you all about what they think, who they are, and how they sound, but ask me what their hair color is and I stare at you like you have three heads. I am one of those people who will read a book and picture the characters as faceless blobs until the movie comes out to tell me what they look like. It’s terrible, I know. Especially when it came to casting. I’m just glad I didn’t have to make the final decision.

I find that this attribute is actually a talent in some ways. For example, because I didn’t have a specific image of each character, it didn’t break my heart when the director’s, dramaturg’s, and stage manager’s opinion on who should play a part all differed with mine. I just figured they knew what they were talking about and I trusted their judgment.

It also came in handy when director George Nelson approached me with the idea to set the play on a turntable. A turntable?! Usually world premieres are fairly true to script and not very conceptual, so when the idea of a turntable was mentioned… well, to say I was surprised would be an understatement. But I nodded my head and urged George to pursue his vision for the piece.

And it is fantastic.

The ideas that each member of the cast and crew have contributed make the words come to life. They create the world. And although I may not see where everything is headed or I may hear the characters deliver a line differently in my head, I love what this team has done with the script they were given.

I look forward to seeing what the next production will be like.

A Playwright’s Perspective: Writing vs. Collaborating

by Ariel Mitchell, playwright

One of the greatest things about being a playwright is that after you have ‘finished’ writing you get to hand over your words to a team of people and watch them bring them to life. Many people ask, “How can you do that? Doesn’t it bother you? Do you have any say in the production process? How much?” A lot of writers find this unattractive because they want to spell out every thing from the way a character looks to what they do to the very thoughts that go through their mind as they live their lives. I have one answer for these people: write a novel.

With this art, writing for the stage, the author/playwright is often dead (either literally or symbolically — i.e. they are so far away that they can’t have any say in the process). When you are putting on a show you can’t worry about pleasing the playwright. That isn’t art.

Personally, I find that the greatest work comes from people working together and discovering and suggesting things you would never have thought of on your own. A Second Birth is stronger because of the amazing suggestions I’ve received through workshops and performances. Even when we are so close to the performance, I have made changes to accommodate the actors’ insights. Chances are when an actor is having trouble, there is often a problem in the script. This causes me to revisit my words, ponder the piece, and make it stronger. There are some advantages to having a living, breathing playwright in the room. Of course there are also times when I have to put my foot down. After all, when everything is said and done, my name will be on the script.

I have been very blessed to work with a director (George Nelson) who is also my playwriting mentor who has been working with me on this play for over a year. I’m very confident that he understands the characters and what I am trying to say through the play. But that isn’t important. He has taken the script, analyzed it, and come up with his own vision for the piece. Yes, some of it is different than I pictured. But most of it is more incredible than I could ever have imagined. My joy comes from seeing others discover, share, expand, reinterpret and embrace my ideas and insights. Isn’t that what playwriting is all about?