Guest Blog: Brett Neveu–How Not To Relate

Hello, everyone, Larry here. From time to time, I am turning over my blog to a guest writer to hear their thoughts on, well, writing. Sometimes it’s going to be things that I selfishly want to know more about, and other times it’s going to be something that is on that writer’s mind. First up, it’s playwright Brett Neveu. He’s a fantastic playwright. You should read his plays. Or better yet. Go see them. More about him AFTER, but first: Brett:

How Not to Relate
by Brett Neveu

In a recent conversation with a playwright friend, she and I both concluded that our writing is getting weird. Well, weirder than it was. Years ago, she and I both started off writing plays that featured everyday folks with heightened everyday problems with less-than-everyday ways of figuring out these problems. The appeal, we both concluded, was the “everyday” aspect to the scripts. The stories were something folks could relate to easily and thus audiences didn’t have to reach too far to get at the meat of the drama.

I’m not saying this was (or is) a bad thing. In reality, it is a profoundly good thing. Being able to write “relatable” drama should be the goal among those wishing to be produced (and a necessity for everything Hollywood purchases). What happens when a playwright finds himself or herself no longer interested in relating in this “normal” way? What if a playwright wants to bury himself or herself in layers of unrelatable situations, dialogues and actions while hoping an audience is willing to bring a shovel to dig for the gold within? Is this a selfish need to sabotage a script to uncover ideas that no one else (besides the playwright) would care about? Is this the common career trajectory playwrights who need to move past what he or she has already written and search for new meanings between the lines? Is it a mix of both?

I’ve currently found myself in the “mix of both” area and I’m paying the price for it. The price is sometimes wonderful, but is often more like trying to show somebody an intricate path through a dark forest. Most wonder why they wouldn’t just stay on the worry-free, clearly marked trail instead of following your twisting, whirling map through the dark and dense underbrush. Most theatres (and they assume, most of their patrons) believe new plays should fit into a certain category, the category which I’ve stated above: RELATABLE. A term so broad, what it really attempts to mean is “something so easy to understand that I can imagine myself in the very same situation in my life if my life were somehow less emotionally/physically/psychologically comfortable.” By applying this term to season selection, theatres often miss out on the strange. The nonlinear. The odd-angled and the beat-sideways. What theatres give into is their belief that people “like what they like and that’s all they like, so let’s give ‘em what they (mostly) like.”

By theatres matching their selection tastes with popular television, film, the internet and books, audiences miss out on what live theatre can singularly provide: real people in front of other real people doing/saying/believing/making things that real people would never do/say/believe/make. Theatre can be shocking in that respect, because an audience chooses to look at these real people or chooses to look away. They cannot be led by camera angles or laugh tracks. An audience must decide to go on the journey, so why not make it a fun one? A weird one? An off-putting one? If plays stick to the “relatable” model, then the best we are left with are thin, stale arguments that through “relatability,” an audience feels heavily on a surface level, but disappears mostly overnight. If plays (and their producers) strive to reach deeper than their audience’s perceived experiences, then new arguments begin. An audience doesn’t just leave discussing the ideas in a play, but the entirety of the presentation. To leave an audience engaged with every bit of the theatrical experience, that should be a playwright’s true goal.

A mix of the weird and the normal. The strange and the routine. The everyday everydayness melting into a day-glow slime pool on the floor. There is much to be lauded about theatre’s desire for creative exploration and we, as theatre artists, should strive to reach beyond what others consider “relatable. We should quickly and readily dive headfirst into the awesomely new and bizarrely extraordinary, allowing this to become what the audience may just find themselves relating to (but just not knowing it until they suddenly and incredibly do).

Brett Neveu’s recent productions include Megacosm with A Red Orchid Theatre4 Murders with SkyPilot Theatre and twentyone with The Side Project.  Past work includes productions with The Royal Court Theatre, Writers’ Theatre, The House Theatre, The Inconvenience, The Goodman Theatre, The Royal Shakespeare Company, TimeLine Theatre Company, A Red Orchid Theatre and American Theatre Company.  He is a 2012 Sundance Institute Ucross Fellow and the recipient of the Ofner Prize for New Work, the Emerging Artist Award from The League of Chicago Theatres, an After Dark Award for Outstanding Musical (Old Town with Strawdog Theatre Company) and has developed plays with companies including The New Group, The Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre, Victory Gardens and is a resident-alum with Chicago Dramatists.  He is also an ensemble member of A Red Orchid Theatre, a member of The Playwrights’ Union and an alumni member of the Center Theatre Group’s Playwrights’ Workshop.  Brett has been commissioned by The Royal Court Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, The Goodman Theatre, TimeLine Theatre Company, Writers’ Theatre, Strawdog Theatre and has several of his plays published through Broadway Play Publishing, Dramatic Publishing and Nick Hern Publishing.  Brett has taught writing at Northwestern University, DePaul University, Second City Training Center and currently lives in Los Angeles.

IF YOU’RE IN CHICAGO: Check out the last THREE SHOWS of Megacosm at a Red Orchid Theatre: tickets can be purchase HERE.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted April 2, 2012 at 2:51 am | Permalink

    Great article. I think Theatre is going back to a raw state, taking an audience to an imaginative, inventive place. Audiences can get realism and naturalism from TV and film. The theatre should transport us to another world, where we witness horrors, fantasy, our darkest secrets and insecurities.
    Audiences in theatres want to be taken away from the everyday ….. just look at the current popularity of musicals ….. what could be stranger than a world where people can burst into song at any given moment!
    Naturalism is the world of the screen, Absurdism is the world of the stage.

    • Larry
      Posted April 2, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      I agree. I think theater is at it’s best when it offers something other mediums can’t. When what is on stage would make no sense as a movie or a TV show. And the same is true for film and TV, they are best when they are doing what could only be done in their respective mediums. It’s up to us as theater artists to figure out and explore what can the stage do that no other place can. Thanks for your comment.

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