Stepping off the second day of table-work for Sarah Ruhl's Passion Play, I'm tempted to tie together the previous discussion about Monsterism, Doubt by Shanely, and Jose Rivera's 36 theses ... but maybe it's better to examine them individually for now.
I love this massive, crazy opus that verges on collapse every step of the way. The suspense doesn't come from the story -- we all know the story -- it comes from watching the grand architecture of the whole composition. Symbols and stage-pictures planted almost subliminally in Part One end up bursting past the proscenium in Part Three. Characters are reincarnated as themselves, but their relationships morph form epoch to epoch. Just when you think the iconography has been bolted down, Sarah inverts it when you're not looking. There are no simple superimpositions a la Terrence McNally (Corpus Christi), no doubter-in-disguise meta-narrative like Scorsese (Last Temptation ...) and no forensic fetishism like Mel Gibson (Passion of the ...).
Finally ... and best of all ... can ya feel it coming? ... the individual scenes play like parables, but they require the particular magic of live theatre to make sense! Amen! The Pirandellian elements stay within the confines of a pretty obvious premise -- they're never used as a back-door climax for lackluster plot mechanics. And when the fourth wall does get teased off its support beams, it's for the purpose of illumination, not deconstruction.
I know most of that's just vague insider gushing, but I'm not gonna write too much more about a script that's still being re-written and hasn't been put on its feet yet. Suffice it to say that I'm excited as hell to watch another crazy-big-shoot-the-moon project develop. Between The Tattooed Girl, columbinus and this, I haven't worked with a fixed text in almost ten months. And it feels great.
I'll trade you one Jose Rivera action figure for two vintage Artaud playing cards! I love most of the advice in this list (see post below). Much of it could apply to writers of any stripe, not just playwrights -- specifically, assumptions 1, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 20 - 28, 31, 32, and 36. Some I wouldn't pass on to writers of any stripe. Specifically, assumptions 15, 17, and 33. I think you should writer from your organs (#15), but the brain doesn't have to be last in the list. Especially if you're counting vestigal nipples. And while it's important to find your tribe (#17), most rites of passage come from courageously stepping outside the tribe into the wilderness. I love my fellow roundtable chums, but I wouldn't be half the writer I am now if I didn't hang with Dan Stroeh, who writes brilliantly from a completely different corner of the universe. Finally, I don't know who counts as "having a vested interest in my future" (#33), but I've gotten some pretty good advice from people who didn't give two shits about the shelf-life of my scribblings. I might be confusing Rivera's terms there, but it seems to say you should evaluate the person before you evaluate the advice. Sometimes good advice stands on its own. And it can tumble out of the mouth of the most cruel, unwitting sage.
Rivera's premium on structure is refreshing (#4, 20, 23, 26). As is his articulation of the medium (#2 and 5). The bits I like best are the ones that sharpen the writer's sense of theatricality (#9, 10, 14, 16, 19, 30, and especially 35). Yes, we should write at least one impossible thing in each script. Writing from your senses is crucial because theatre is the only place you can take in information from all of your senses at the same time. Re-writing the laws of gravity is just plain fun (although, I don't think realism is AS artificial as any other genre).
And last: writing in layers. Goes hand-in-hand with writing for all 5 senses because even most film-makers have abandonned the idea of placing more than one thought-per-frame on the screen. The gestalt in live theatre isn't merely handy, it's compulsory. That's why my eyes drift to the light plot when a writer makes me sit there to watch people conversing for three hours.