Previous: Storm Large or Storm Home

Next: On the Gleason Rant (1)

Never Produced to Order

Post #1495 • January 13, 2012, 11:53 AM • 3 Comments

From The Crafty Art of Playmaking by Alan Ayckbourn:

Ideas are never produced to order, they cannot be summoned on demand. They simply arrive and present themselves. Or they don't.

The knack is to recognise them when they do occur, for very often, they don't come ready formed—behold, here I am, a full-length play complete with first-act curtain. On the contrary, they come as scruffy disjointed fragments, their potential barely visible. Nonetheless, you would do well to welcome them, for they are too precious to ignore, even the most unpromising of them. Examine an idea, any idea or theme with respect and diligence. Maybe in the end it is not for you but for someone else to write, But be careful what you discard. Store it away. It may be that later this unpromising duckling will re-present itself as a thing of swan-like beauty. ...

Before I arrived as a the Cameron Mackintosh Professor of Contemporary Theatre at Oxford, I had invited playwrights of any age or experience to submit work, either still in progress or recently completed. From the forty or fifty entries I received, I selected about a dozen writers whom I felt showed some sort of promise. I had an idea in may head that during the year I would coax them and their work to fruition and, using the funds available to me, direct two or three of the best of them using professional actors. In the end, apart from one, no one seemed to write anything further of any significance during the entire year. The exception was a student who wrote, apparently in the space of a few days, a fifty-minute play of considerable promise which I did produce at the Old Fire Station Theatre. Well, perhaps a on-in-ten success rate wasn't so bad, I reassured myself. But the day after my sole triumph opened its young author broke it to me that he wasn't at all interested in writing anything further and saw his future in television as a researcher. Ah, well.



Walter Darby Bannard

January 14, 2011, 11:41 AM

You are finding some excellent remarks from very creative people about basic craft and what it is like to make art, and, in this case, the frustrations of teaching it. You can make their art better, but you can't make it good, you can't make them make it good and you can't force them to carry on. It is up to them to keep the engine running.

Ayckbourn is a genius. The Norman Conquests—just to point to one comedy—may be the funniest thing I have ever seen. I am puzzled why his work does not show up on PBS or elsewhere in TV.

I was out of commission for a few days and missed commenting on the very nice Scott paintings and the Vendettas post, which struck me as exemplary of what you are up against, though I really did not completely understand what was going on.

I am not sure how you are going to deal with people who are so sodden with nonsensical ideological bias that they have lost the ability to perceive even the simplest facts correctly. I mean, for example, the blinkered assumption that a panel member's mild and basically constructive disagreements about the panel's decisions and direction (isn't this what they are there for?) were damaging and destructive and instrumental in bringing down an organization which was very busy self-destructing on its own.

You are dealing with them at some length and being reasonable and diplomatic, but this stuff is really tribal-like religious belief and thinking that being right and even-handed is going to get anywhere is a delusion. I wish I had some kind of constructive suggestion but I don't. I guess you just keep tilting at their windmills. But keep it short. Don't waste a lot of time at it.



January 15, 2012, 9:39 PM

One hopes to persuade. The original assertion at AFC now looks like this:

In case you missed it, there’s been some controversy over Helen Frankenthaler’s role in the NEA. The Abstract Expressionist painter, who died last Tuesday, had purportedly tried to block funding for artists whose work was different from her own. Her voice in the 1990s “culture wars,” as well as her position as advisor on the board of the NEA, led to deep budget cuts and a ban on grants to individual artists. In a piece for the Times, she warned that the Federal government was supporting work of “increasingly dubious quality”– this, in reference to Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano. [LATimes, Wiki] [EDIT 1/9/12: Frankenthaler's essay and position as advisor on the board of the NEA were not singlehandedly responsible for deep budget cuts, though budget cuts ensued.]

This is what I want—to move the discussion from "tribal-like religious belief" (well put) to doubt, where it belongs. And yes, it's important not to spend too much time on it. My main concern is providing worthy examples of art, writing, and things worth thinking about here at But it's important to do it sometimes, just to let certain folks know that they ought to plan for my showing up periodically.


Walter Darby Bannard

January 15, 2011, 10:27 PM

Well, I wouldn't say that this modest (and awkward) reworking exactly moves the thing to objective accuracy, but, yes, it is an improvement, and if the image of Franklin showing up with his cloak and his hood and his scythe keeps dancing in their heads there may be some broader effect. The hearts and minds may not change, but the poison pen may scrawl with some hesitation.



Other Projects


Design and content ©2003-2022 Franklin Einspruch except where otherwise noted