Saturday, October 11, 2008

5 Things to Learn from Beckett

1. Symmetry. I've always admired Beckett's ability to design symmetry in his plays. It's theatre of the absurd, but its architecture is methodical. Look at your plot, and ignore the linear. Find elements that create a balance in the tension.

2. Metaphor. Make your metaphors well defined. A metaphor must be sharp, or it'll lose its potency. Godot is one of the most defined plays. It's about waiting for God.... Of course that may be a little too simple, but we all get the point of Godot.

We all want to show the world that we're deep. We know. Your play is pretty deep, dude. Just make sure it's not confusing. (And yes, some Beckett plays that are still f***ing confusing.)

3. Space. Beckett's texts (say that 5 times fast) control the spatial relationship between characters. You don't have to put characters in an ash bin, but you control the environment. Lots of plays take place in living rooms. There's a reason for this choice.The fewer exits on stage, the more tension. Of course, putting a character in an ash bin leaves no exits.

4. Edit. There's a reason why he's a minimalist. All good playwrights are minimalists - even Tony Kushner. New playwrights tend to write fatty dialogue. You can portray the character without her expressing everything. See an early post about the power of silences. Actors are brilliant at filling silence with characterization. Beckett understands this.

Check out An Act Without Words II (from Beckett on Film.)


5. Humanity. In a weird way, Beckett has put humans on his stage not characters. A Beckett character can be more human than real people. I say this because we often ignore the truth of our existence - both in reality and drama. Beckett's theatre reduces the importance of plot in order to emphasize the importance of character. If you're going to tell a great story, ignore Beckett. His theatre is instead a compelling display of humanity. Perhaps we're relying too much on plot and not digging deep enough into the human condition (especially in the 21st century.)

In conclusion, Beckett deserves his Nobel Prize in Literature. Theatre of the Absurd had its time, and we must start creating something new. But there's plenty we can still learn from one of the masters.

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