To me, “playwright” is the biggest word in the world
. It scares me to even look at it. It rests on the paper, or computer screen with extra weight as if the ink were endowed with lead or platinum, or as if the word on my screen would remain burned there even after I turned the monitor off.
I want to be a playwright. I knew this at age 13. That was when I wrote my first play. It was called “The Plague” It was about how everyone was going to die of AIDS. (God, I was a morbid little thing back then--)
AT ANY RATE.
What is a playwright?
A playwright is a person who constructs plays. Notice I did not say “a person who writes plays” It’s playwright, as in wrought. That is, it is built, made manifest from existing matter--existing words-- like the work woodwrights do. Novels and poems are written, but plays are built. Good plays (mostly) have no narrator, so there is no objective voice telling you what to think. Instead there are characters and a plot and the sum of these leads to the artistic experience. The playwright assembles this structure. It’s like a jungle gym for the actors and the director and the designers--- through the structure you can guide their choices, but plenty of what goes on is completely out of your control. This drives playwrights nuts and can make them pull out their hair. But, it is also why it can be so rewarding to write plays-- it’s like making a paper airplane then throwing it: the thrill is in seeing if, and how, and where it soars.
Who was the first playwright?
Dammed if I know. I do have a hunch, though. The first playwright was probably a poet. He/She wrote epic poems and memorised them to sing about the history of the world and some local news. But, that got boring so the playwright turned the poems into dialogues set to song. The Hawaiian creation chants and the Zuni myths both contain dialogue and since they were performed they might be the earliest plays. We don’t know who wrote them because they are so godammed old that no one remembers. The first recorded plays are Greek. The Greeks held a playwrighting contest every few years. The plays that we have were not the contest winners. Depressing, no? But, it goes to show you even mediocre playwrights can be remembered and revered-- (ahh there’s hope for me!)
Is writing a play the same as writing a screen play?
No. Writing a play is much harder and pays less.
Can you make a living doing that?
Depends on how you define “living.”