Darn it, why’d I waste a “the play’s the thing” reference on the last, unrelated post?
I’ll come out with it right now: I am a (recovering?) drama geek. I’ve been in over 50 theatrical products, and worked backstage… and directed… and even written a couple. I haven’t done any acting since a few student films in college, but I really miss it.
When people discuss great literature, I am always genuinely hurt if plays are omitted. That is really the only point of this post. So I suppose it won’t be very long. But really! We only read plays in one of my English classes in college, and that was Shakespeare. Everyone gives Shakespeare his due, and then ignores the hundreds and thousands of truly amazing plays. Why do people do this?
Here are a few of the excuses I’ve heard, and my not-takin’ it responses:
1) You can’t read plays to someone. Perfect your voices. It’s good acting practice, and acting is just sort of like lying. If you are a bad liar (like me. I am truly horrendous) you should really try to get better, in case you ever plan a surprise party or drink your roommate’s expensive tea. Which, for the record, I never do.
2) You need to see plays to understand them. I am a visual person and even I don’t buy this. It does help to see them, but you have to picture everything you read. What are you doing when you read books? You’re not creating little movies in your head? With plays, you can create those same movies and have specific stage directions. They’re handing it to you.
3) It’s harder to understand characters just through dialogue and action. This is legitimately true of bad plays. But in good plays, there are those moments- the two words a character stays before he stops himself, the lingering look cast over a shoulder – where you can understand things more clearly and more precisely than you could in 50 pages of a novel.
The theater down the block from me just started a run of the Pulitzer-winning August: Osage County, and you can’t keep me away. No really- I went straight there from the Phillies game, even though I had to come in halfway through the first act, and hadn’t eaten in 8 hours, and I’d seen it the night before. It’s really freakin’ good. The acting is fantastic, but the play itself is so beautifully written, I can’t help but think how underrated the whole theater experience is in our literary canon. Lots of people love theater. But it still doesn’t make its way into many classrooms. And that’s just a missed opportunity, if you ask me.
Were plays featured in your literature classes? And teachers, do you teach plays? What plays do you all find the most thought-provoking?