In one important way Harley Granville-Barker and Paul Baker thought the same way about the creative process. The process, with all of its variations, is different for each individual. Both men stressed this. (See DIRECTORS ON DIRECTING edited by Toby Cole & Helen Krich Chinoy p.201 and INTEGRATION OF ABILITIES, EXERCISES FOR CREATIVE GROWTH by Paul Baker) Yesterday, after reading Granville-Barker’s essay DIVERSITY INTO UNITY, when I was very aware of my own limitations as a writer, I overhead a woman talk about how earthshaking the realization was to her that she would never be a great actor or writer (even though she said was “good” at both endeavors). She was very critical of herself. Her criticism seemed to have had an enduring effect on her and seemed to have limited her. This made me feel sad. But I’m afraid she is not alone. I’ve been there and was sympathetic, with my feeling impatient and seeking results, which means if I continue to think this way I won’t get where I want to go. Baker was against quick results. Granville-Barker wrote, “as related alike to the actor as to the play” (and I say playwright/writer), “it will be slow in coming to birth: the more unconscious the process the better…for it does not work alike with everyone, never at the same pace, never to the same measure.” “It does not work alike with everyone.” The phase is worth repeating. And even remembering, while we rush to become somebody. What are we trying to do anyway? Isn’t it enough to be involved with the creative process and see what happens? Or are we primarily after publication, recognition, fame, etc?
It is as mentors I look to Baker and Granville-Barker. And, as a teacher at Baylor University, Trinity University, and the Dallas Theater Center, Baker personally encouraged me, and his philosophy has helped me throughout my life. And it was as an innovator that he most inspired me. I highly recommend his INTEGRATION OF ABILITIES: EXERCISES FOR CREATIVE CROWTH. (Copyright 1972 by Trinity University Press Library of Congress Card Catalog Number 73-169606 SBN# 911536-38-8)
“The teacher is dealing with the god in the student. His creative self is his god, usually never exercised or given a voice. Each god has a different shape, a new sound; expresses itself in a rhythm, movement, color different from those of any other god. It is impossible to understand the mystic depth of that god, its background, its many facets, its beginning before birth, its relationship to the whole anthropological history of mankind. But you can know the student as god; you can enjoy with him discovery of the expressions emanating from that god. You can speak to that creative act with love and understanding. You can keep your own ego out of it. You can encourage when you feel or see a glimmer of something new.” Paul Baker
And that’s what Baker did for me; he encouraged me with “love and understand.” He produced my plays. Thank you.
You have to bring yourself up after you’ve found what you want to do. First assignment in drama at Baylor University, and even for someone with no theater experience like me, was to present something dramatic for the whole class. Other students, started in high school, and wanting to become actors, were used to getting up in front of people. They presented monologues from plays and had the benefit of having acted before.
I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t think of anything. I had to come up with something (“To be or not to be-that is the question). And after procrastinating until the last moment, I did what! I placed a chair in the center of the stage, sat down on it, and stared at audience members. I waited, and they waited for me to do something. But I did nothing. (I’ve since learned the importance of doing nothing for an actor on stage; however that wasn’t the object of that first assignment.) Eventually I couldn’t stand it any longer and did something; I started imitating people in the audience. I don’t think we were graded.
My point here is that the creative urge can come from anything; that makes everything a possibility. And there have been other incidents of this that I can point to: a trash can placed over someone’s head, from squash to rock-squash for a name of a piece, the lip of the stage as an acting area, sounds from the guts of a piano (and recently the idea of placing a three-story art piece on top a three-story building), all came from unexpected impulses. But you have to be open to them. You can’t cut yourself off from those instant flashes of creativity. You have to bring them forward or else they will be lost. You have to be interest in them as material, and also use them.
My thoughts this evening, Randy Ford
(As to Joyce’s method of working, Richard Ellmann quotes the author directly: such insight I think not only helps us understand a great author but also gives us ideas about the creative process. Here are a few examples recorded during the creation of ULYSSES.)
Joyce: “As regards ULYSSES I write and think and write and think all day and part of the night. It goes on as it has been going these five or six years. But the ingredients will fuse unti they have reached a certain temperature.” Ellmann: “His method was to write a series of phrases down, then, as the episode took form, to cross off each one in a different colored pencil to indicate where it might go. Surprisingly little was omitted, but no one looking at the notesheet could have predicted how the fragments would coalesce.” p. 416
Ellmann: “Writing a novel, he (Joyce) said, was like composing music, with same elements involved. But how can chords or motifs be incorporated in writing? Joyce answered his own question, ‘A man might eat kidneys in one chapter, suffer from a kidney disease in another, and one of his friends could be kicked in the kidney in another chapter.” p.436
Ellmann: “He (Joyce) hoped, as a rule, not so much to obtain the right answer (he would ask questions to get materal for his writing) from a friend as to stimulate his own imagination. As he said to Budgen (close friend), ‘Have you ever noticed, when you get an idea, how much I can make of it?’ Since the material of ULYSSES was all human life, every man he met was an authority, and Joyce carried dozens of small slips of paper in his wallet and loose in his pockets to make small notes. When he had filled up the front and back of these, he continued to write on them diagonally. At home he would decipher his notes with a magnifying glass, a hint of what he had written being usually enough. ” p.439
(Richard Ellmann’s classic biography JAMES JOYCE has been on the top of my must-reread-list for a very long time. I try to surround myself with the likes of Joyce, hoping I can learn from them. JAMES JOYCE New and Revised Edition Oxford University Press Copright 1959, 1982 by Richard Ellmann)
Good night, Randy Ford
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