“A couple of years ago, I went to my son’s pre-school classroom to teach a small lesson on playwriting. I was probably more nervous for that than I ever was about the opening of a show of mine.”
Want to become a playwright? Award-winning playwright Elana Gartner’s how-to on this uniquely rewarding and challenging career path.
How did you get into playwriting?
In first grade, I wrote a play, and my extremely supportive and awesome first-grade teacher arranged for the whole class to put it on in front of our parents in the auditorium. I, of course, was the writer, director, and played one of the roles. My parents took me to a lot of theater and I just kept being inspired and writing.
Daughter, Great Plains Theater Conference, Act 1, Scene 3
What do you think the hardest thing about being a playwright is?
For me, there are probably three hardest things: one, it is a solitary sport and I am an extrovert so, sadly, my deepest passion doesn’t match so well with my personality and that is very hard. I have had to seek out playwriting groups to assist me with this (and, of course, with editing and feedback).
Two, and this is bizarrely controversial, playwrights don’t get paid the same way that other jobs do. It is controversial because many playwrights feel that they should just do this for art’s sake and be happy if they get produced.
On the contrary, I and many others feel that, if playwriting is truly a career, one should get paid for the work. Playwrights are often the last ones to get paid in production and this is ironic, of course, because, without the script, there would be no production at all.
The third hardest thing and this is has gotten more challenging since having children, is managing to see all of the theater I want to see. There are the plays that my friends are involved with and then shows that are on off-Broadway or Broadway that I’d really like to see. Time and money become precious commodities when you become a parent and the prices for high-scale shows are very expensive.
Because of Beth” Act 2, Scene 1 (Workshop Theater, New York)
In what ways do you think kids can benefit from the practice of playwriting?
Oh, lots of ways! And more that I’ve found as they get older. A couple of years ago, I went to my son’s pre-school classroom to teach a small lesson on playwriting. I was probably more nervous for that than I ever was about the opening of a show of mine.
It was the first real introduction that my son had to understanding what I do. I taught them the basics of action and dialogue. They acted out an orally written script. Being a playwright has helped in explaining the structure of the stories of some movies during which the kids might be getting nervous at particularly dramatic moments.
I’ve explained about characters needing obstacles to make a story more interesting and then the audience gets to see how it is resolved (ie. In “The Muppet Movie”, there are many obstacles to them getting across the country to Hollywood).
We gave my son a book children’s plays to read for Hannukkah last year that were mixed up fairy tales so he could see the different ways in which stories are told. We have taken the kids to puppet shows and are hoping to take them to full productions of plays.
Finally, my son, who has been very frustrated that he can’t read my scripts because they are not appropriate, wrote three scenes of a play with me, inspired by his pronouncement of being King Gauze after slamming his head into the corner of a bookcase, needing staples and coming home with his head wrapped in gauze.
The play had a huge cast and had some clear inspirations from “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “Sleeping Beauty” (a curse was placed when I told him we needed some conflict).
We have since also started a script inspired by his trip to the Statue of Liberty about the four ferries. In this one, I have encouraged him to think about the different voices of the characters.
Do you have any resources (websites, magazines, books, etc) that you’d recommend to moms interested in pursuing a career as a playwright?
Get a support network. Fast. I’m a board member of the International Centre for Women Playwrights. They are very supportive and understanding of the challenges facing women playwrights, particularly as moms.
There are, increasingly, a few theater companies that are offering subsidized childcare for conferences or who are offering childcare onsite. If you are able to take advantage of these opportunities, do it.
Playwright Elana Gartner has been produced in New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Georgia and has received recognition for her scripts by many theatre companies as well as the Great Plains Theatre Conference. Ms. Gartner recently had two monologues published in “Audition Monologues for Young Women #2: More Contemporary Auditions for Aspiring Actresses” by Gerald Ratliff (Meriwether Publishing, Ltd.). She is the founder of the EMG Playwriting Workshop, a member of Manhattan Oracles and a board member for the International Centre for Women Playwrights (ICWP). To learn more about her, please visit her website elanagartner.com.