Anthony J. Piccione
What is “greatness”?
In reality, defining a play – or any other work of art – as “great” is a matter that is entirely subjective. However, generally speaking, the shows that to be the most memorable are the ones that often evoke strong emotional or intellectual reactions from them. If a typical audience member leaves the theater with feelings of ambivalence, then the show is likely to be remembered as mediocre at best…if it is even remembered at all.
It is for this reason why I believe that there are three certain things that every show should force an audience to do in order to be considered a genuinely great work of art. It doesn’t have to be all three of these things, and it doesn’t really get too specific beyond this.
However, when writing a new play – and ultimately, when it is eventually selected for production – the goal should be to make an audience do at least one of the three following things, in one way or another…
Obviously, this mainly applies to great comedy. However, sometimes great dramas can also be helped by the inclusion of some light comic relief along the way. Either way, humorous moments often tend to be major highlights of a show that theatergoers tend to remember, thus helping the overall show itself. There are exceptions to this, of course. If audience members are laughing at parts of a show that the playwright or the producers did not intend to be comedic, then laughter might not necessarily be the best response you can get. However, for the most part, making them laugh is one of the best possible things that great theatre can do.
This can be especially crucial when writing a drama or a tragedy. When the play you are writing contains a major tragic event or a powerful social message or some other type of heavy subject matter, then the tears of a theatergoer – and whether they are even there, to begin with – are the number one indicator of whether or not it is a success or a failure. When you’ve gotten members of the audience to pull out the tissues and wipe tears off their face, that’s usually a sign that the story of the play can kept them fully engaged and that you have succeeded in creating a theatrical experience that they are bound to remember.
Now, the details of this largely depend on the nature of the play and its story. This could mean getting people to think about an important social or political issue. It could also mean forcing people to think about the deep personal or psychological issues that any given character could be dealing with. It could even refer to making people think consistently about what might happen next over the course of the story, leaving them on the edge of their seats. In any case, if you aren’t trying to get your audience to feel entertained or emotionally moved, you should most certainly be getting them to use their brains, if not their hearts.
If you’re writing a play right now, and it isn’t making you – or anyone else who might be giving you feedback on it – do any of these three things, then you might want to take that into consideration as you rewrite it, because if you don’t experience any of those things as you read through it, then it’s a safe bet that the audience won’t either as they are watching it. It is these three things that can help make a theatrical experience memorable, and given that every playwright wants his or her work to be remembered by the people who have the pleasure of viewing it, then there’s no reason why he or she shouldn’t do everything possible to make sure their work makes their audience either laugh, cry or think.
This column was written by Anthony J. Piccione: Student, playwright, actor, poet and blogger currently based in Connecticut. To learn more about Anthony and his work, please visit his personal blog at www.anthonyjpiccione.tumblr.com. Also, be sure to like him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AnthonyJPiccione.OfficialPage), follow him on Twitter (@A_J_Piccione) and view his work on the New Play Exchange (www.newplayexchange.org/users/903/anthony-j-piccione).
Photo: Brigitte Lacombe