Wheat Only, Please

Last night was the launch of Writing Is Rewriting, a new workshop facilitated by me through East West Players' David Henry Hwang Writers Institute. In order to cut the wheat from the chaff*, Jeff (EWP's literary manager) and I devised a complicated application process, complete with short essay questions; asked for a writing sample; scheduled the workshop on inconvenient Tuesday nights (instead of the usual Saturday mornings, when traffic is much easier to deal with); and raised the fee. Despite these tactics, people signed up anyway, and the class is full at the cap of six students, all of whom I've worked with before. Gluttons for punishment or serious writers? How about: both.

My first words: "No more screwin' around!" During the course of 13 weeks, they will take their plays to the next level and get them production-ready.

The first session sparked lots of lively discussion, and I sort of wish we recorded it because we talked about issues that people in theater talk about all the time, but no one's committed any of it to paper or audio, as far as I know.

You have to give me cash, of course, for me to reveal the worskhop's valuable trade secrets, but here are just a few bullet points that may whet your appetite:

Trying to make scenes more active does not necessarily mean adding actions. "Active scenes" and "scenes with action" are two different things. For example, look at Edward Albee's The Zoo Story—a play that's very active, but doesn't rely on action to be so. How do you destroy a production of Zoo Story? Over-block it.

All plays have a set of "rules," not just plays set in fantasy worlds.

During the rewriting process, we concern ourselves with four journeys: Thematic Journey, Emotional Journey, Character Journey, and Narrative Journey. If you think of these elements as a pyramid, the Thematic Journey sits on the top, and will inform every aspect of your play.

While the narrative and characters are very important, it's your play's Emotional Core and Thematic Core that will give it resonance and longevity.

In writing, as in life, there are no absolutes.

[*Prince's Note, 09.05.07, 9:41AM: This is, of course, not meant to slight anybody. On the application materials, we informed: "Applicants should also note that the application process isn't necessarily an evaluation of their work, but rather of this particular instructor's ability to improve it."]


  1. Very cool.
    That was also helpful advice for beginners of creative/non-play writing, like myself.
    Thanks, Teach'!
    (man, am I piling up the residual fees that I owe ya?)

  2. I love how you distinguish between "active" and "action." I was in a writing group that sometimes did not, and we ended up with a lot of novels about people searching for people (mine included). Damn, I wish I was a playwright right now.

  3. People searching for people is all the rage these days. Y'all should've stuck with it.