CMU School of Drama

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

I Wrote That? Playwrights Look Back at Their Teenage Work

The New York Times: How mortifying would it be to page through the creative writing you did as a teenager? And then, years or even decades later, actually see it in print?

That’s what we recently asked a set of notable playwrights to do. The inspiration: A rare New York engagement of Shelagh Delaney’s 1958 kitchen-sink drama, “A Taste of Honey,” which she wrote when she was a mere 18. Not only had she never written a play before; she’d never seen one.

19 comments:

Lia Jennings said...

People also talk about where stars have come from, their backgrounds and how normal their lives were when they were little. So, this article made me laugh because you get to see the insight of these playwrights younger years. Their work when they were younger seems so amazing and truthful to the fact that they became well known playwrights, but would we think that about someone who is not famous or known that they work is amazing and worth an article written about them? We put people on such high pedestals that we don’t ever see them off of it. Even when we see pictures of famous people when they were young we still think they are the cutest and destined for fame at that age, but we don’t think about others that way. It is cool to see what these playwrights wrote about when they were younger but all the work people have done in their life is important not just those in the spotlight.

Rachel said...

I find it interesting that there are a few shared ideas that appear in several of the playwrights’ comments: some of the authors early works were written about things they didn’t understand and some were heavily influenced by the styles of other playwrights (Beckett comes up several times.) There is also an interesting acknowledgement that their early works were already their own and contained the seeds of the writers they would become, but that their early works were also a place from which they did a lot of growing. They were good writers then, but they weren’t yet the great writers they are now. And that’s heartening. It’s a nice reminder, especially as someone still in school who is consistently reminded of how little I know (which is good and right,) that even when you’re reasonably talented, your earlier work isn’t your ceiling and it isn’t unusual if it’s heavily influenced by the style of those you admire (you haven’t found your own style, yet.) You are supposed to and will grow.

Sarah Boyle said...

If in the future I was asked to look back at my teenage work, I am certain that I would find it to be cringe worthy. Although the introduction to this article suggests that it would be mortifying, none of the authors seem to feel that way. Maybe they are internally cringing. I am not saying that these authors are discussing their teenage work like it is among their best, but they all seem to appreciate and respect their own process. The authors don’t really talk about the quality of the end product. Instead they reflect on their influences, the opportunities that came about because of it. I think these authors have a fantastic attitude about their early works, both in understanding how they have grown as playwrights and not being hyper critical of happy memories.

Xinyi Wang said...

As a young writer, writing plays or stories are more like "imagining." Last semester when I took an introductory playwriting course, I made up characters that are basically dramatizations of parts of myself and put them into weird situations that no one is ever in. It has only been a year, but when I look back at these plays, I can already feel the lack of maturity, but I still like them because it showed some raw, interesting intuitions about myself that I couldn't notice back then. In this article, the writers reflected upon the characters they wrote as if they were reflecting upon their young self. They traced what little moments inspired them to write those crazy stories. These inspirations might not be apparent back then but now it is clear that they are fundamental for their continuous exploration in storytelling. Young writers might not have been through a lot, but it is interesting to see what they create out of the small pieces of experience.

Liz He said...

This posting reminds me of another article which presents some of the really early immature drawings from some of the most talented and successful artists. It really surprised the readers because the then seven-year-old artist drew just like you did when you were seven! But most of us kinda just stopped there. The biggest difference between us and an artist is that they never stopped practicing and exploring and honing their craft. And I believe it is the same with all these talented playwrights.
I bet their childhood journal might be just as funny and silly as yours. I mean when I read my early journals I would feel really awkward and be like "what the hell did I write". I'm sure a lot of people would feel the same way. But somehow some of us just kept writing and writing whether they were deliberately practicing it or not. It is the perseverance makes them good writers; but the self-reflection and self-improvement through which they found their own unique styles are what make them great.

Jason Cohen said...

I think that is super interesting! Reflecting on your previous work from any point in your life is always a great thing. This is because reflecting on past work is almost like looking back at the trail of breadcrumbs that has lead you to exactly where you are right now. These playwrights probably found some really interesting things during this. I know that if I were to do this activity with my first few prompt books I would learn a lot. Not only would I see a ton of growth, but I’d also be able to reevaluate the way that I format my paperwork. One of the things that I have discovered is that for better of worse once we find a formatting style we like we get stuck in it. Back in the day when I had no clue what I was doing I did whatever work. Looking back at the evolution will be a great experience.

Kat Landry said...

I absolutely love this article, and the fact that so many playwrights participated! I used to really love creative writing (I still do, I just have much less time for it), and whenever I go home, I search through all my secret spots to find old things that I wrote. I find that the voice I wrote in and the things I wrote about are both very telling of my age and viewpoints at the time. When I was very young, the first stories I started to write were "survival" stories, based on a trilogy of stories I read about a boy who ends up stranded on an island. Like the playwrights in this article, I tried to mimic the things I liked about the stories I already read. So these stories (one of them a 55 page book! at eight or nine years old!) often started with my brother and me going out on a scuba trip and losing track of time/our whereabouts. We end up on a deserted island and then have to live off the land and fend for ourselves. These stories involve all kinds of childlike assumptions of "the wild," like banana trees that are full of fruit and easy to climb, and trees that are capable of being lived in, and fish that are easy for children to catch with sticks... In any case, it's a truly ridiculous read. I imagine I have improved at least marginally as a writer since then. But these things are always interesting to revisit, because they contain fragments of our younger selves.

Delaney Johnson said...

Thank you so much for posting this article!! I look back now on both my night before poetry assignments in twelfth grade and the five hour long sonnets I wrote determined to be a Poe look alike. What was I thinking?! Not to mention grammar, my writing was sloppy at best. I was so insane to think those writings were works of genius let along enough to get me an A. Yet, when I read this article I begin to question whether those terrible writings were really that bad at all or were they merely unpolished gems of a dormant artist? Maybe I'm some hippie with a floating mind, but I would like to believe that every pen stroke I made in high school (and now) was breaking away at the creative part of my mind in order to open me up to more. These playwrights are certainly notable artists so maybe those terrible moments of their teenage years were nothing more than stepping stones to where they are now... Nonetheless this article gives me a sense of hope. I smile as I think: just keep on writing or drawing or acting or whatever you do because its just building you up to be the artist you need to be.

Claire Farrokh said...

I really enjoyed reading this article, primarily because in most cases the playwrights were not actually embarrassed of their early works. It was very interesting to read about each playwright's early influences and what exactly got them into writing for theatre. A lot of them were influenced by family, or drew on themes from specific aspects of life. Several were inspired by other famous playwrights. I really liked the first playwright, Neil LaBute's, story. He was inspired by other playwrights whose work he had read, and he actually took steps to see if his own work was good at all. I think the steps he took are very inventive and also very ambitious. It was nice to see how many of the playwrights did not regret or try to hide their early work. Though their work has obviously improved, they still are not ashamed of where they started. In fact, they embrace the work with which they had started, and acknowledge their improvements.

Sarah Battaglia said...

I loved this article, because I think it shows that artists all start somewhere. Often we look at successful people and think that they were alway that way. We forget that they also struggled and had to work very hard to become as talented as they are now. When I was a senior in High School we watched a documentary in my AP Lit class about what "good writing" meant. The gist of it was a bunch of professional people reading other writing and then saying whether it was bad or not, and why or why not. Some it was funny, and obviously poor writing but I found it to be incredibly interesting that they didn't consider all of the "bad writing" to be bad. They would say things like "this person has a good idea of structure" or "this person uses imagery really well" so even though they weren't calling it good, they were talking about the improvements that could be made. I am a firm believer in that this is what makes people successful. Demanding more from themselves, and the people around them. Not being content with the fact that something is not good, instead thinking about how to improve it. The authors in this article are the same. Most are not ashamed of the work that they did years ago, but happy that they did it, because it got them to where they are now.

Helena Hewitt said...

I had a writing book when I was younger, Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine, in which she talked about how saving the things you wrote as a child is incredibly valuable not only as a writer but as a person. When you move into adulthood, she said, you cross over a bridge that you cannot cross back. However, saving writings from your youth allows you to look back across the river and wave at your former self. I haven't opened that book since I was in fourth grade but that image has always stuck with me. We tend not to want to keep the things we create in our childhood, because we think they are childish and bad. But the art we create when we are young are some purest forms of expression we have. Being able to even just catch a glimpse of that simple and honest creativity can be revitalizing for an artist.

Lucy Scherrer said...

I think the idea of revisiting your teenage self through your work is very interesting, because I think that we're at our most raw and unfiltered selves at that time. Not necessarily our best or most talented selves, by far, but I think the things that we create when we are younger perhaps say more about our innate selves than anything we make later in life. One of the stories that stood out to me was Halley's Feiffer's "Easter Candy", because she said it marked her discovery of her own ability to write things that were both complexly profound and darkly funny. This article makes me wonder if, years from now, I will look back at the things I've made this year and think if they reflect innate truths about me or if they seem completely terrible. I guess either way, what matters more is where I'll be years from now and less what I'm currently producing. Overall, I think this is a really interesting concept and would love to see it repeated with different groups of artists-- painters, photographers, and directors, for example.

Monica Skrzypczak said...

Anything you write (or draw for that matter) when you were in high school is nearly automatically terrible because you were simply just so much younger and inexperienced. It has been said so many times before, but as an artist, writers included, you only get better through practice. You won’t just wake up one day knowing how to do something perfectly. And with practice there will be, for lack of a better word, a paper trail of all your less than stellar works. And being reminded of that can be a hilarious experience and it can also be really enheartening. I love looking back at my old work because I can see the growth even though I might be feeling like I’ll never get better. And sometimes there really are gems in your past- something that showed a glimpse of your future growth and finding those is a great feeling and really pushes you forward to create more.

Natalia Kian said...

My whole life I have had art teachers and design mentors telling me to "NEVER get rid of anything you make EVER!" I have gone through phases of taking this to heart and wanting to throw it all in the garbage, but ultimately I have learned far more from their commands than the old scribbles in my seventh grade algebra notebook. What they seem to be saying to me is "Never forget the last step you took." I believe they see a future for me of wondering if I am good enough, just as they have countless times, and they want me to be able to look back and see that either (A) I am certainly good enough compared to my former self, which is all one can really as for, or (B) I was never all that bad in the first place. Either way, what I think these playwrights love about reminiscing on their old work is the opportunity to realize that the future is never as far away as it seems, and it doesn't have to be anything in particular for it to be good. They are still growing, still changing, still getting better, just as they were when they wrote the pieces mentioned, and that is never going to stop, so they might as well enjoy their careers for what they are: ever-changing. Maybe I'm way off base, but who cares? I'll know what my teachers were really trying to tell me one day, and that's all that matters. Until then, I'll march ahead.

Mary Frances Candies said...

This article was so inspiring and rejuvenating to read! As playground proposal were due this week, I feel as though a lot of us have been doubting our work. We all have these ideas and we've been editing proposals over and over again in hopes that our ideas will be selected. Of course not every piece in playground will be earth shattering, but that is what playground is for. Playground is to have fun and try things out. Reading this article really reinforced that for me. Seeing this semi-crappy work these incredibly established playwrights did at my age was so refreshing. This article is really a testament that you have to constantly work at your craft.

Sophie Chen said...

Looking back on the work we've done when we were younger can definitely be an interesting experience. I used to do a lot of art in middle school, but once I reached high school I just completely stopped doing art until my junior year. I remember rediscovering all the art stuff that I did in middle school and being surprised at how much I liked it back then but just stopped doing it. I expected to cringe at the work when I was digging them out of the attic, but surprisingly only some were cringeworthy and some weren't. We're learning new things and growing every day. A big reason why I enjoy watching or being a part of experimental productions by people our own age/in an educational setting like here at CMU is that unlike commercial theater, we don't really have to worry about whether our ideas are going to make a lot of money. This is when people aren't afraid of failure (or at least they shouldn't be), and is when we're most concerned about expressing what we feel is important rather than what other people will think of us. This is not to say that all adults care about is making money. With age comes knowledge, but at the same time just like how kids create some of the most imaginative drawings, we lose a sense of innocence/creativity as we age.

Emily Lawrence said...

This was a fun article to read because of all the stories these well renowned authors had to tell. This article proves that everyone has to start off somewhere, not just being fantastic. If a person never starts something new because of the fear of failing, they will never be able to get far in their life. It is generally stated that the older a person is the smarter they are, and that is simply because they have had more experiences and more time to experience them. In an article I read recently, it stated that most playwrights are old, white men. While I do not entirely agree that it should only be white men, the old part is true because they have had time to master their art. Someday I will look back at my designs in high school and think what the heck was I doing there and why. Everyone simply becomes better at their art as the years go on and as they have experienced more in the world, it does not just apply to playwrights.

Cassidy Pearsall said...

Often I look through my old sketchbooks my mother has saved, and I cringe. I had draw many a messed up looking dog, a girl with too big boobs and crooked eyes, and other messed up stuff. My mom looks back and says "AWWW," but I look back and say "wow, really, Cass?" We have talked about it before, and where I see embarrassment, she says she sees my growth before her eyes. She will often pull out the drawings I did when I was 7 or 8, and laying them all out is really eye opening. 10 years of artistic development laid out in front of my eyes makes me hopeful in times where I think I have hit an artistic roadblock.

Having this article showing that not every genius was once a genius is really inspiring to me, as I often feel I will never get past the point I am at. But, with some elbow grease, and determination, I can make another 10 years of progress! And I can repeat the whole process.

Claire Krueger said...

As someone who had a deviantart of horrible plot less fanfictions as a middle school student this article spoke to me.

Neil Labute is my spirit animal, I found his trick hilarious and cunning. It reminds me of a story the vocal teacher at my high school told. There was a guy in her class who had to present an entire monologue in french to a particularly picky teacher. He performed beautifully and the teacher gave him a rare compliment and praised his performance. He sat down next to my vocal teacher, leaned in and whispered, "I didn't memorize anything, that was all just gibberish". So lesson of the story, fake it till you make it.

Overall the article reminded me that you should only judge your work based on your previous work, not on those around you. Find merit in your progress not in your superiority or inferiority within a group.

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