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      Those who can,

      *Creative Writing Article*

      David Johansson..page2


      Whether on the stage or the screen, dramatic writing has one essential core: conflict. This may seem obvious, but if it were, we wouldn't be subjected to the endless barrage of "one-man," or "one-woman" masturbating in public, which also accounts for the uncomfortable person on the stage, the audience is deprived not only of action, but also of inter-action, the high and low pressure cells which combine to trigger thunder and lightning, the "business" on the stage which keep us occupied. Consider the climactic scene in "Death of a Salesman" when Biff whips out the rubber hose his father has hidden in the basement in order to commit suicide: slapped down on the table, the whole family stares at it, appalled, ashamed, aghast. No one is speaking, yet it's one of the most dramatic moments in theatre. The actors are re-acting, and we are swept into the scene, forgetting ourselves and our lives as we merge with those of the characters.

      Now imagine the same scene if it were simply narrated by Biff -- one actor sitting alone on the stage in a spotlight -- interesting, perhaps, but only in an intellectual sense, and that's not why people pay money for theatre tickets. They want to be moved, hurt, angered, saddened, elated, amused; they want their hearts racing and their blood pumping, and to get to that animal brain the simplest plan is to put two or three people on the stage at the same time and let them have at it. Make them want different things, and this is the gist of it: who's doing what to whom? What do they desire? And what are they willing to give up to get it? Each actor should pull the dramatic rope so tightly that the others can walk it, then the author can slice it in half, let the characters fall in a bloody heap, and retire with the audience into the lobby for drinks and the intermission.

      Ultimately, the caveat the dramatist ought to cling to as if it were a Titanic life-preserver is this: don't put an actor onstage and have him think out loud. Have him act, move, fulfill a need, even if it's only to empty his bladder, as Sam Shepard has a character do in the opening moments of "Curse of the Starving Class." One thing is certain: the old-time directors never hollered, "Lights! Camera! Think about it!" Yet this is what we have in so much theatre today: overly-intellectual, talky productions which are the result of writers who've gone through entire MFA programs without ever wandering over to the drama department, preferring to nest instead inside their comfortable academic pigeonholes -- where they are more likely to end up teaching Composition at East Blowfish Community College than they are writing for Off-Broadway.