Aloud Is Allowed

Most of my content origination happens when I am sitting in my room, laptop open and sticky notes unsticking themselves from my walls. Theatre, in my experience, has unfailingly necessitated collaboration. The oxymoronic reality of my own playwriting process is that I am most productive writing people when I have no people around.

My past work in dramatic writing has only had outside eyes on it after I’ve taken it through a few rounds of meticulous edits. Dr. Wolf (advising this project) and I have spoken about the drawbacks of this design. When I let a play grow in a tank, I am more likely to write characters that are more alike or more like myself than I intend. I can lose my sense of focus when I know nobody is going to read what I write, at least for a while. Or I can, perhaps most prevalently, abandon my target audience. Part of my vision for this thesis project is that I challenge my own writing process and identify the crutches I may be using that ultimately weaken my work. I decided that I would like to selectively invite responses on my work while in progress, my goal being to understand the impressions the piece makes and to compare those impressions to my own creative intentions.

Early this month I held a table reading with a team of actors I recruited and with Dr. Wolf present. I heard my characters aloud for the first time. Many of us are first exposed to dramatic literature in English classes, but plays are meant to be seen and heard. Being able to listen to my characters interact with one another was incredibly valuable to me. I heard more easily the exchanges that were awkward, out of context, or did not present as I intended. The most significant “take-away” though was the way my actors advocated for their characters.

Another goal of mine for this project is to present female characters that are complicated and multi-faceted. One of my actors raised a concern regarding the leading lady, saying that he thought a key scene left her morally ambiguous to an audience. One of the female actors present jumped in and said, “Why does her morality have to be clear?” I thought to myself, yes, this is why I’m writing this play. I told the actors that I was okay with that discomfort of not knowing who is in the wrong, and that I in fact embrace it.

I look forward to holding another reading in the future, when I’ve made greater progress.



  1. Jacqueline Keshner says:

    Sarah, I love this project and your reflections on your process. I love Renaissance drama and Shakespeare (so much so that I’m pursuing graduate study in Renaissance literature!), and it’s so cool that you’re not only giving voice to Cymbeline’s “mad queen,” but also gaining so much value from how your actors’ presence and conversations shape that voice–and complement yours. That must be such an exciting experience for you as a playwright!

    I can’t wait to see where else this project takes you–looking forward to your future posts!

  2. It’s a really interesting project. I think it is a pretty valuable experience to hear and see have what you’ve been writing which provides you a kind of audience position to reassess your play.

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