Thrill Me With Your Acumen
I came across an interesting article a couple of days ago on the subject of whether or not playwriting can be taught. This isn’t the first discussion on the topic, nor is the argument confined to playwriting – one could ask that of any of the arts – but it is a good article and includes of lot of opinions from some very interesting people.
I have always been of the opinion that, no, it cannot be taught. Or perhaps I should qualify that by saying I don’t believe it’s possible for someone else to teach you to write a play, but if you have a natural affinity for it, it’s entirely possible for you to teach yourself to write a play. That, to me, is at the crux of the argument – that you have to have that inherent ability within you. It can be coaxed out under the right circumstances, but if it's not there to begin with, it’s impossible to manufacture or “teach” that ability. Yes, you can give anyone a pen and paper and they could string together some dialogue for a few characters and attempt to tell a story from it. You could similarly give anyone a paint brush and they could paint you a picture. But you could also put me in an operating room, hand me a scalpel, and I could perform brain surgery. It wouldn’t make me a brain surgeon, and in all three instances I think it’s a fair bet that the results would be pretty mind-numbing.
I don’t question that writing programs at colleges and universities can “enhance” one’s talent and technique, but again, the natural ability has to be there in the first place. And even then, many courses, as some in this article point out, can be fraught with danger. A tutor with an agenda of exactly how a play should be written can stamp out the natural voice of an aspiring young writer before they’ve had a chance to grow into the one they were meant to be. As an art school graduate, I can tell you this was very true of my college years. If your work wasn’t influenced by German Expressionism it was likely to be mocked and belittled or simply ignored. My own work wasn’t influenced by German Expressionism, but it was taken seriously by my tutors…but that’s only because I was a pretentious twat who could spin a convincing yarn (hence my natural evolvement into a playwright).
Anyway, you can read it here in The Faster Times if you should be so inclined. Give it a shot…you never know, you might learn something.