At least once, writers should attempt theatre. In school, a community class, anything of the sort. I took theatre in high school and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for almost every aspect of my life, writing included.
Here are the reasons why theatre broadened my writing and can also help yours.
- Characterization. Theatre can do wonders for characterization. Actors spend weeks, sometimes months, delving into one character’s psyche and every aspect of their being, from their walk to their talk to their greatest fears and worst nightmares. Not only will you see a wide array of characters (along with their different interpretations), but you will gain a better understanding of how characters react with each other and how people (the actors and audience) react to those different types of characters.
- Confidence. In theatre, you must be bold. Even when you are playing a shy or sly character that may not be in the large scenes, everything you say and do must be a statement. This will help your confidence wildly, and make you more sure of yourself, which often writers need.
- Decision Making. It will also help you with making decisions. If you’re caught between pushing your hair out of your face and adjusting your bag, under the spotlight you must make a decision. So when you’re at a crossroads in your writing, now you are less concerned make a decision, because you can fix it later. Maybe one night of the performance you push your hair out of your face, but in the moment realize you didn’t like it. In that moment, it’s already done, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Writers have more leeway because no one will see the decision until the final draft, by which time the writer had plenty of opportunity to change it. Next show night or rehearsal, however, you can try adjusting your bag, but the moment the decision is made onstage, it’s made. There’s always room for little changes in both areas, and theatre will help you make those split decisions without letting them catch you up.
- Plot. Plays have a lot of twists and turns because, in only a few hours, the playwright has to keep the constant attention of the audience. Even just studying scripts and plays is great research, but actually going through the movements gives an actor a better understanding how the plot advances and why characters take certain actions. It’s like a step by step class on how a plot moves along, which is invaluable to writers.
- Audience Feedback. While writing, there is no immediate award. Even once you’ve finished your work, other than the personal joy you feel and the congratulations of a select few about you, there’s no immediate pay off for the hours, weeks, months, sometimes years it took for you to write what you’ve just finished. In theatre, the response is immediate. As soon as words spill out of your mouth, you know exactly what the audience thought of your words, tone, and actions. Clapping, laughing, “ooh”-ing and “ahh”-ing (okay maybe not exactly those last two) all let you know what the audience thinks of the current scene and characters. This gives you a good gauge on what people think is funny, or what they emotionally connect to the most. Even silence has its tells; the tenseness when two characters are arguing, the curiosity when the plot thickens–the faint sniffling when a character dies. They’re all immediate responses that tell you exactly what you need to know.
Try theatre. Maybe even just sit in on a class of a friend who’s in it; you don’t necessarily have to participate yourself. But actors and writers are (though it might be surprising) of a similar breed. Both are story tellers and character creators and interpreters; they benefit from each other, and should occasionally peer into each other’s worlds to get a better understanding of their own.
Find my completed serialized novelette Trust Me here.
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