Tag Archives: playwriting

Randy-Eugene McKinney: “Playwrights are made…”

     “Playwrights are made, not born” was in more than one sense true for most of us in Eugene McKinney’s playwriting class. (See Mr. McKinney’s chapter by that title in the book PAUL BAKER AND THE INTEGRATION OF ABILITIES, TCU Press, Robert Flynn and Eugene McKinney, 2003) And, to stress his point (and to “Prof’s” credit), McKinney begins his chapter with the statement “Paul Baker produced more bad plays than any theater director in American.” I was one of those playwrights but lack the perspective to judge the merit of my plays.

 

     But one thing I do know is that we were lucky to have been produced. In his day Paul Baker invested in hundreds of writers in that way, as McKinney says, in “raw young talent” with “their callow scripts.” I know that if Prof had not made his investment I wouldn’t be writing today. But I owe Paul Baker (and for that matter Eugene McKinney) so much more. I use his way of looking at the world everyday (as conceptualized in his Integration of Abilities) and it has broadened my perception.

 

     His was a playwright’s theater. Young playwrights had been ignored in other theaters (I’ve been ignored when I’ve introduced myself as a playwright in theaters today: oh, my, how dare they!) Baker’s theater, however, spawned a “multitude of produced and published plays and dozens of published novels.” I walked into this Mecca for writers when as a high school student I walked into Mr. McKinney’s playwriting class at the Dallas Theater Center. What did I know? Very little. But I hear I’ve stuck with it longer than most. Encouraged from the beginning, no one told me I couldn’t. (Oh, but there was a high school teacher who told me “I had a long way to go.” And how about that college dean who said I would flunk out of Baylor?) Instead I was given a chance. And after all these years (I’m sixty-five), I’m still learning, still striving but feel I have a long way to go. Rather than discouraged, I’m hooked and get joy from typing words on my computer, like in the old days, when I put words on paper.

Good day, Randy Ford

 

 

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Randy-material for a play, personal and impersonal

More than three years ago my father died of pancreatic cancer. I was involved in this process for over a week, or at least it seemed that way. I spent a good deal of that time cleaning out his garage, and was avoiding my grief, trying to stay out of the way, and, inside, seething over how no one was listening to me. But more importantly I felt sorry the whole time that there was unfinished business between my dad and me.
He died at home. Three or four times he stopped breathing. Each time my family gathered around him to pray and help him make the transition. My only piece of luck that whole week was when I lingered outside the room the last time and missed his death.

The conflict here was between my two younger sisters and me. This conflict stemmed from something inconsequential, a tape of praise hymns-to me that got awfully old, but the fact that my father probably enjoyed the tape never mattered so much to me as the fact that my sisters insisted on playing it to him over and over again. That he might’ve preferred Hank Williams or Nancy Cline never occurred to them; and low and behold, some of his final words proved me right and proved them wrong.

The situation didn’t encourage harmony. Traumatic to me, it later became part of a play of mine. Some things about my dad’s death remain in it (it is the mortar that holds the darn thing together); but thank goodness the play is not about him. It was about a dying father who physically and sexually abused his kids. It was about a mother who did nothing about it. It was personal when I conceived it; but about a not-very-nice man while my father was exactly the opposite.

That was how I put the play together. Pieces came from various sources; I used my total experience base to write it. A large family is brought together by the imminent death of the patriarch, all together for the first and probably the last time. They are educated people, a physics professor, very troubled indeed, and this is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity for them to lay to rest all the hurt that had divided them; and this opportunity came in the form of conflict: for Daddy’s Party isn’t the easiest play to watch. It is one of three plays I have written about child abuse.

My wife was molested by her grandfather. He wasn’t a very nice man; and he told me I wasn’t worth a tinker’s damn. But he taught at Columbia. He was never prosecuted. In those days abuse was rarely talked about, wouldn’t have been brought before a court, and was overlooked for many reasons: yes, a good reason to write the play. All of this is in it. I didn’t though stick to the facts, or write about family members; and though I lived part of the play (and the characters were taken from a variety of sources), the play wasn’t about my wife or me.

Good night, Randy

 

 

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Randy-the impetus for writing-courage

I started reading plays because I thought it would be easier reading than reading other things. I didn’t know about subtext or that if a play were any good action had to be inherent in the dialogue. In drama there is always more to it than what is on the page; of course it is inclusive of all the creative energy of all the people (actors, director, technical people) involved in a production of it. I had to visualize the piece staged; but that might seem impossible for someone who had never seen a stage play. (I grew up on television and AS THE WORLD TURNS and GUIDING LIGHT.) So if a play doesn’t really come to life until it is mounted on stage by a combination of artists, how did I get very far? Well, I got as far as I could; and I didn’t associate until later the written play with theater. (It wasn’t until later that I learned that theater was the one place where all the arts come together.) I actually read very little. My ego got in the way; I showed off by writing. Luckily a teacher confiscated my work (“stuff” then because I dashed it off) and didn’t know what to do with it. The writing was alien for Irving High School; so the teacher pointed me in the direction of the Dallas Theater Center, and I had the courage to go.

Creative work, according to Frank Lloyd Wright, is a combination of “the hand, the heart, and the mind.” To have discovered that on my own would’ve been impossible for me; walking into a Wright designed theater had to have been a start for me, though I’m sure I wasn’t aware of it. It was in fact the beginning of a very long journey that continues today, a journey full of surprises. Even this morning when faced with the task of writing this blog, I didn’t know what I was going to write and it required courage and faith to start with “I started reading plays because…” It was stepping into that building and my rejection of the familiar that led to drama and my going to Baylor and Trinity; and the rest, as they say, is history, my history.

With all the options available to me then, why did I choose drama? I certainly didn’t have a desire to perform on stage, though performing in other ways wasn’t out of character for me. Those snippets of dialogue, which I wrote during study hall, I’m sure didn’t survive (though I honestly I don’t know because I have boxes of unrelated scribbling). It was through my teachers that I gained the insight about the creative process that I have (Paul Baker and Eugene McKinney in particular). Now I know I owe more to my dad than I have readily admitted; he enjoyed making things with his hands from scratch and later after retiring enjoyed creating skits for his travel club (I didn’t have the privilege of seeing any of them.) But besides these influences, by and large, I have been on my own. Even today my family doesn’t read what I write; but I can’t afford to read too much into that.

Good morning, Randy Ford

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Randy Ford- A playwright’s dead end and his short play HIM

I couldn’t get the attention of many theaters. I remember knocking on those doors, just arriving and introducing myself as a playwright.   And later when I toured part of Texas and New Mexican trying to promote a play of mine, I had the same trouble, trouble with people in the theater not giving me any time. (There were a few exceptions and one exceptional afternoon-long conversation with the artistic director of Theatre Three in Dallas.)

I know theater people tend to be very busy, extremely so. I hope all theaters thrive and are bustling. And when, without my not having a recognizable name , such as a Tennessee Williams, I didn’t get the attention that I thought I deserved I should’ve accepted it. However, if I had, I wouldn’t be writing this blog tonight. I vowed then that I wouldn’t run my theater that way. I would operate a playwright’s theater…where playwrights get the time of day, the recognition they deserve, where they can try out their work, and have the freedom to succeed or fail.

My resistance to instituting this idea (I have the space and can get the actors), and my knowledge of the market based on the Two-page Play Contest I entered, has to do with my fear of being overwhelmed by the response. And though I don’t have a lot of resources, money or staff, I am naïve enough, as I have always been, to give it shot. I’m crazy too, because I don’t read that quickly and have tons of other things that occupy me.

The idea is if you’d like to come to Tucson to work on a play and have a reading of it or have it produced (simply), I will help. I will have to charge you something for expenses and staff time.   Tucson can be quite nice, even in the summertime with the monsoons.

I see a need. I know there is one. As a playwright, I needed it.

By the way here is my two-pager that won a production in Sacramento.  It is called “Him”

HIM

Copyright by Randy Ford info@randyfordplaywright.com (2005)

(Along with him, two girls are waiting for a school bus)

Kay: Him.

May: Him?

Kay: Yes, you know… Him.

May: I see who you mean. (Frowning) Ooooo! Him again.

Kay: Don’t look at him. Ugh!

May: Yes, it is….

Kay: You’re looking at him.

May: Am not!

Kay: If it’s not him you’re looking at….

May: I’d rather die.

Kay: Yep, it’s him.

May: Are you sure?

Kay: Everyday it’s him. You know it is.

May: Him and no one else.

Kay: And that other guy.

May: That other guy is not as bad as him.

Kay: Or worse.

May: Or mean.

Kay: I hate him.

May: I could do without him too. The other guy. You’re staring.

Kay: I can’t help it.

May: What is it about him?

Kay: I don’t know. He’s… You know. Him.

May: I don’t fancy being like him.

Kay: You don’t have to worry. You can’t be like him.

May: Him or that other guy?

Kay: You’re right, May. If I was brave, I’d go over to him and….

May: What?

Kay: I’d tell him, tell him to mind his own business. Write down his name.

May: You wouldn’t do that.

Kay: You don’t know. There’s something not right about him.

May: Just looking at him you’d think….

Kay: What do you think? What is it about him?

May: I don’t know. But it’s there. Something. Kay, you’re way too obvious. If you keep staring,

he’ll…he’ll say something to us.

Kay: I’m not staring at him.

May: If not him, who then? Boy, you’ve done it now. He’s staring back.

Kay: Who’s winning? Him or me?

May: Him.

Kay: Huh!

May: I can’t believe you’re flirting with him.

Kay: Oh, what am I doing? (She slaps her own hand.) I wouldn’t want him to think…. No! He’s more

interested in you.

May: His eyes aren’t directed at me. You’re the one he’s looking at.

Kay: No, you’re wrong.

May: It’s certainly not me.

Kay: Gosh!

May: What?

Kay: Look at him!

May: I wish he’d stop. Oh, he’s…turning this way. I told you, don’t look at him. Now you’ve really done

it.

Kay: It’s not me.

May: You turned around, and…. Gosh! You’re way too obvious….too much makeup…too

much….everything. He’s going to think. Him! He’s the creepiest!

Kay: Him!

May: The scariest guy!

Kay: Him! I don’t know what!

May: Him, him, him! He’s coming…coming… Oh, no! No! He’s walking this waaay! Him!

Kay: Let’s go.

May: It’s too late.

Kay: He’s going to say something to me; I know he will.

May: No, he won’t.

Kay: Yes, he will.

May: Not to you.

Kay: Yes, me.

May: No, no. Never in a million years. You’d never…. Never, with someone that ugly.

Kay: Yes, he’ll… Him! Then I’ll ignore him.

May: You can’t.

Kay: I will.

May: You won’t?

Kay: You’re right. I won’t. I’ll put it out of my mind. He’s too ugly.

May: Pretend you don’t see him. Walk right through him.

Kay: Sail by him. Walk! Look stuck up. Boy, that was close.

CURTAIN

To me the most significant thing about this work was how quickly I wrote it. There was almost no forethought. It was dialogue driven, a single build…not that the play has only one build in it. That decision is the director’s. Here I am talking about the mechanics of writing.

By the way, if you’d like to produce this play, email me to arrange a small donation for the right to produce it in 2008. Or if you would like to support my efforts by a $50 donation, send me an email at thebrainpan@gmail.com .

That’s simple enough.

Goodnight, Randy

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