Friday, December 21, 2012

So, what are you saying?

(Originally published on December 23, 2008)

Everything that is created is made for a particular purpose. When an author writes, he or she does so for a certain audience. When you write a paper for class, the audience is your teacher. When you write an email to a friend, the friend is your audience. When you are writing your play, you are writing for a particular group. Do you know who that audience is? Do you know what your play is saying to them and what they might take away from the story?

The theme of a play is the message that the audience is left with after the story. Remember our friend, Penny from a few weeks ago? Well, let's suppose that she decides to steal the money to get her mother a present and she gets caught. The theme, or message to the audience, of that story might simply be "Don't steal." What would the message be if Penny doesn't get caught?

What is the theme if Penny decides for herself that stealing is wrong and as a result, isn't able to get a present for her mother? The theme might then come from how Mom reacts to Penny's decision. Let's say that Penny's mother doesn't mind that Penny didn't get a present, but is happy that her daughter made the right decision. There might be two themes there. First, the audience learns that stealing is wrong; a second message might be "it's the thought that counts." What are some others themes that you can get from this story?

Take a look at your play. Do you know what the theme is? When the play is over, how will the audience understand that this is the theme? Is there a moment where the theme is revealed, like when Penny learns a lesson?

Knowing who the audience of a play is will help a playwright select a theme and determine how it is presented to that audience. Obviously, this does not mean that a playwright will personally know everyone in the audience for their play. What it does mean is that when writing a play, a playwright has an intended audience. Who that intended audience might be can change how a play is presented.

Again, taking Penny as our example, the way that the theme is presented to an audience of 8-year-olds will be much different than how the theme is presented to adults.

A playwright should also consider how well informed an audience might be about a particular setting in the play, or references that the characters make to certain regions, pop culture, and other things. For example, there are things that are specific to life in New Jersey that people from other parts of the country may not understand. I recently spoke with one young playwright who was writing a play that takes place at the beach. There were some terms in the play that people who don't live near a beach may not know, which could lead to confusion about what is going on. To help avoid this kind of confusion, find some friends or family members who may not be familiar with your play, or these specifics, and ask them to read the play. You can use their feedback to find creative ways to include more details in your story without making it too unnatural to the dialogue. It is difficult to do, but definitely worth the try. But the results are very exciting!

Happy writing!

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