Do we have to get even more dramatic?

It used to be that cheating husbands and bankruptcy scandals were the stuff only whispered about at parties.  No one talked about the dark intimate details of others’ lives in public.

So, when you went to the theater to see a “slice-of-life” show that featured one of these events, it was dramatic.  Because it was something the audience didn’t hear about every day.

Now, we have cheating politicians and broke celebrities on the cover of every paper, blog, twitter, and all the other types of media that has been invented in the last 50 years.  We’ve had Presidents getting serviced while serving our country.  We’ve had Congressmen spending more time on CraigsList than in Congress.  We’ve had ball players like Brett Favre playing games with their . . . (I’ll stop here.)

My question is this . . . since dramatic events have become much more apart of our everyday lives, does the drama we create have to become even more dramatic?  Do the events we show on stage have to be even more shocking?  Do the characters have to be even more extreme?

Is that one of the reasons why God of Carnage was a hit, but the Simon plays failed to take off?

The definition of “dramatic” changes over time. And the playwright doesn’t define it.  The audience does.

– – – – –


– Need a writing partner?  Come to our Collaborator Speed Date!  RSVP today!

– Enter this Sunday’s Giveaway!  Win $100 Cuban dinner and 2 tickets to see Colin Quinn!  Click here!

– The next Get Your Show Off The Ground seminar is Saturday, March 19th.  Register today.

  • Kile Ozier says:

    Or…perhaps…would the more compelling response be to go deeper? Is the answer in nuance and profundity rather than the arena of emotional spectacle. Draw then in rather than blow them away? Just askin’

  • Janiska says:

    The examples you mentioned are not dramatic, they are sensational. The dictionary says “Drama” is characterized by arresting and forceful expression of emotion and thought. Sensationalism on the other hand, is defined as arousing strong curiosity, interest, or reaction, by exaggerated and lurid details. Why on earth would Broadway ever want to compete in that arena?
    The American public is overdosing on sensationalism. More of us recognize it for what it is. Just an attempt to attract attention by those too lazy and untalented to construct a story that will inspire thought and also touch the heart
    I am sick of the lurid details of the sex lives, legal encounters, drug problems, and other disgusting events in the lives strangers, including celebrities. In fact, I’m sick of celebrities too.
    Broadway is better than that. Broadway should go back to what it does best, touching the heart and minds of its audience with true drama.
    P.S. And “Everyone is doing it” may be an excuse for the lazy and untalented, but it is not a reason.

  • Carol 2 says:

    Drama is created by conflict. For me, the kinds of conflict that are most satisfying to watch are ones that in some way involve multiple levels – inner and outer conflict.
    Robert McKee (author of STORY) comments, “characters in conflict with their social or physical world, in personal relationships with friends, family, lovers, and an inner conflict within their own natures between themselves, their subconscious mind, their body, their emotions, and so forth.”
    The conflicts are most dramatic in situations like in WICKED. The central protagonist Elphaba faces a conflicting choice between what she had longed for her whole life and what her moral principles supported for her to do. She makes a rapid decision at a moment of truth, but a considered one.
    If somebody makes a rather foolish and almost unconscious mistake like a married man showing off his body online, it may put him into conflict with his principles or social status, that doesn’t carry the dramatic weight that something considered has.
    I believe that theatre audiences will continue to respond to what well-trained dramatists offer us.

  • James Lantz says:

    I think you see this hyper elevation of drama happening in television already. If you want to see one good example, watch a show called ‘Shameless’ on Showtime starring William H. Macy. As a writer, I’m amazed at how much territory the writers of this show cover in 45 minutes. Last night it was grand larceny, an illicit gay affair by an Islamic shop keeper who is then found out by his wife, a faked suicide, an agoraphobic mother who loses a child, mobsters looking for money, a deadbeat dad using his kids names to run up credit card bills, a homophobic bully who then has sex with the subject of his bullying … oh, and a really cool sex scene in a pool. Whew.

  • Interesting and stimulating blog post. It made me think of something I´ve discovered here, while living and working in Europe for the past 3 years with my theater company.
    Context is important in this discussion, about what is “revolutionary” or fresh in the live theater. For example, for many Norwegians, the plays of Henrik Ibsen are considered “classic” or old fashioned. The Ibsen Studies program here rarely has a single Norwegian enrolled, based largely on this view. However, many of those who are enrolled come from other countries and regions, such as the Middle East, where examining gender roles (such as in “A Doll´s House”) are still revolutionary. Equality between men and women in society and in the home are still not universal rights and privileges.
    Further, there are many places in Eastern Europe where human rights are not only not supported, but censorship and totalitarianism continue to reign. Thus, theater companies such as Belarus Free Theater of Minsk are considered “revolutionary”, simply for the fact that they are practicing free speech and free assembly (in a theater). Their members–as well as their audiences–have been arrested frequently over the past 6 years, and the company is currently living in exile, since the recent crackdown on human rights activists (teachers, students, journalists, as well as filmmakers and theater practitioners) in late December 2010. If BFT were to return to Minsk today, they would instantly be arrested and sent to prison for 15 years. Why? Because they do plays that discuss content not approved of by the state.
    In the US, the most successful shows seem to be the ones that celebrate the experience of live theater. Rather than competing with the naturalism done on television and cinema, successful theater tends to offer a spectacle. Blue Man Group has had an uninterrupted run in NYC for nearly 20 years; Cirque du Soleil is now a household word around the western world; and many musicals from “American Idiot” to “Fela!” do things onstage that cannot be replicated onscreen in terms of excitement and entertainment. Part of the pleasure is knowing that these men and women are doing this right before your eyes.
    However, other theater productions succeed with other strategies, such as doing theater that is “impossible”, such as Elevator Repair Service´s 7-hour production of “Gatz” at the Public last autumn; or site-specific theater; or improvisational theater of many stripes. Again, these artists are crafting works that accentuate the elements which distinguish this art form (theater) from others.
    Brendan McCall
    Director, Ensemble Free Theater Norway

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *