Monday, April 15, 2013

The Play's the Thing... Classes in Playwriting

I'm planning a series of playwriting class modules.  I come from the theater, and long before I started the Broad Humor Film Festival, I wrote, directed, produced, taught and won awards in theater. Broad Humor may be about screen writing and directing, but the root of those arts is in theater. Having read every Broad Humor screenplay submission for seven years now, I think there is a great deal that screenwriters can learn from playwriting. I want to share some of those insights and offer some tools. I'm planning on limiting class size to 6. Let me know if you want to take part.

So why plays and not screenplays?

For writers, plays are the best form to learn about creating character and conflict, and to understand the shape of both comedy and drama. Their scale keeps the focus on the human element of the story. A play is also complete in a way that a screenplay can never be. In a play script, the writer controls not just plot and dialogue but setting and the crucial element of time. The timing happens on the page, not in the cutting room.  The build of drama and the release of comedy remain in the writer’s hands.  This is why many film industry leaders prefer to read plays rather than spec screenplays as a way of measuring a writer’s skills.
Plays can be performed in front of an audience in a way that lets the writer gauge their work's effect instead of imagining it. The writer can rewrite to hone the script, and test the results in real time again and again until it works. This permits both the play and the writer to grow. Screenplays, not being finished until they are long out of the writer's hands, do not allow for this kind of development for the script or for the writer's craft.

Which leads me to my idealist reason for teaching playwriting. Plays, unlike movies and television, are not fully in the hands of the marketplace. This permits them to value qualities that may be ahead of the cultural curve. They start with something the writer wants to say about the world.  Plays are first and foremost about ideas both in form and content. Ideas about how we occupy ourselves in the world. Emotional, human, social and individual identity ideas.  Plays aim to transform the audience by connecting them to their lives in new ways.

If I teach a screenwriting class, I would need to be focused on teaching what sells.  People taking it couldn't help but dream of Hollywood six figure deals.  There's nothing wrong with that, but I feel deeply that we have lost our way by handing story entirely over to the marketplace.  I believe we are as malnourished in story as if we had handed our daily diet entirely over to market forces.  I want to use the classes in part as a way of feeding other narratives, ones that nourish our spirits and help us see ourselves in ways that enrich our lives and our society.

If you want more information about this, either post a question here or just email me at susan at


  1. Anonymous10:56 PM

    Susan, the classes sound fantastic. Would they be on- or offline? And if offline, where are you?


    1. Hi Shaula - This class is taking place offline in Los Angeles. If you are not in LA, I can let you know when there's an online class scheduled.

  2. I'm not in LA at this time (I'm something of a moving target) and I'd love to know about any online classes you schedule. Thank you!