Jeff Smith noon, March 8
Kushner on Playwriting
Tony Kushner's Angels in America (currently at the Lyceum Space) has been hailed as one of the finest plays of the last two decades. Here are some of his thoughts on the craft, taken from various interviews.
ON HIS PROCESS. "Of writing? Oh my God! I don't know. It's mostly sort of avoiding writing as long as I possibly can. And then when the play is really ready to come out, taking dictation. That's what it feels like."
"I've come to realize that the delaying process is an integral part. A lot of it is research and a lot is hard thinking. It usually takes about a year for a play to come together for me."
"There are these ideas. The best ideas I've had, I don't know where they came from, and I don't know what made them, and I don't think it was just force of will and discipline. And that's frightening."
ON REWRITING. "Become more familiar with yourself. Learn whether you're the sort of writer, like Whitman, who should never have rewritten anything because his first drafts were always the best, or whether you're the sort of writer who writes very, very slowly and needs to sort of grope his way. Most of us are in between. It's just a matter of becoming familiar with yourself."
"Rewriting is tricky - to be smart enough to recognize what it is in the original impulse that makes the work yours and what makes the work good, if it is good."
"It is difficult to be brave and daring in rewriting, while not being foolhardy, or betraying the original impulse. That's the impossible, terrible thing. People kill things with rewrites all the time. They also kill things by not being able to rewrite."
ON POLEMICAL WRITING. "A very complicated issue. I think that one really has to trust that the good cause will speak even through bad characters. It's just no fun to watch polemics. If you're telling a story, it has to be full of all the twists and nooks and crannies that people's stories are full of."
AUDIENCE. "There's an assumption that people's attention spans are very brief. I don't think that's actually true...People like being challenged. People like difficulty. I don't think its true that people always want the easy thing and the simple thing. They want food that's hard to chew, but nutritious. If you give them that, they'll be excited."
"I always like to believe that my audience is smarter than I am and more politically sophisticated than I am, and knows pretty much everything I know, and I have to work very hard...to keep them from being ahead of me."
"Audiences are just immense. When you get three hundred people in a room together the IQ level of everyone goes up about twenty-five points. And that's why live performance is so exciting."
ON SUCCESS. "Several writers who I think are much better than me who have simply not succeeded because they didn't have the break, the didn't get lucky. Luck shouldn't play as big a part of it. "Also, the education system kills a lot of artists, because it doesn't expose kids to art, it doesn't teach the tools to analyze art. And whenever you have a society that's under-educating or de-educating its population, the way America is, the arts are going to suffer both in terms of audience and creators."
"I really believe the world is doomed unless we can recreate ourselves as social beings as opposed to little ego-anarchists."
More like this:
- Interview with In A World... writer-director-star Lake Bell — Aug. 15, 2013
- A Primitive Heart: Stories — March 16, 2006
- Twilight of the Superheroes: Stories — Feb. 16, 2006
- The Secret Lives of News Anchors — May 13, 2004
- Interview with Oakley Hall — Nov. 8, 2001