I am receiving great help from a playwriting course taught by Arlene Hutton at the Barrow Group. I have just read Arlene’s play LETTERS TO SALA, which also takes place in a forced labor camp. This play is immense and moving and exemplifies many of the principles she has taught us in the class, especially the need for ongoing dramatic conflict throughout.
This course has led me to reflect on connections between playwriting and psychotherapy. As playwrights, we are not giving a narrative to the audience, as a therapist might do with a patient. We are not trying to regulate tensions and be empathic. Rather, we are showing the story to the audience through heightened conflict and specific examples. For example, how do we know a guard in the labor camp is starting to develop a relationship with an inmate? Despite risk to himself, he saves a blanket and gives it to her. We are showing the ongoing dynamism of real life.
One of the most fun aspects of playwriting is the chance to say politically incorrect or absurd things through the characters. I have written a comedic 10-minute play that relates a psychotherapy session. The therapist, unbeknownst to him, has projected all of his own problems into the patient. The patient, in a turn-about, finally realizes this and is able to “cure” both herself and the therapist. In perhaps a bit of self-mockery, the psychotherapist is unable to use just insight – he says he “preaches but doesn’t believe”--and has to take psychedelic mushrooms to finally change.
Playwriting is a chance to create ongoing moments of life with words, much like a sculptor might with his materials. Playwrights build (initial drafts) and then chip away (edit) to create the product.