Blog Archives

Seeming is Believing

Guest Blogger: William Demastes is the editor of The Best American Short Plays 2011-2012, as well as the 2010-2011 volume. Below are some of his musings on the importance of theatre.

Seeming is Believing: The Best American Short Plays, 2011-2012

Sometimes an idea just has to be made into a play. It won’t work as a short story or novel. Poetry won’t do it justice. And making a film or video doesn’t do it, either.

Theatre does something no other medium does: it puts live (not virtual), three-dimensional (no need for glasses) human beings in front of a group of live, three-dimensional fellow humans beings. By itself, this action is pretty unique. But then the really unique thing happens: this gathering of humans play a game of make-believe. One group watches as the other group pretends to be people they aren’t, in locations where they aren’t, doing things that they really aren’t doing. Unlike poetry or fiction, we get to deal with real bodies and real voices. Unlike film, we can’t really be duped into thinking somehow we’re seeing “reality.” After all, we’re in a theatre, and that alone announces we’re in a make-believe world.

I point out the above as a sort of invitation to look into Applause’s Best American Short Plays series, of which I collected and edited the last two volumes. They offer a change of pace to the fiction and non-fiction we typically read in our free time on a number of levels. At the most basic, they’re “short”! Each can be read in those creases of free time that occur between the blocks of time that occupy the larger portions of our day. But they certainly do more than merely fill those ends and odds of free time with “something to do”: they exercise a part of our brain that other readings (or viewings) don’t exercise because they ask us to be active in what we’re doing. We are invited and encouraged to become directors in that theatre of our mind’s eye. There’s no narrator telling us what to think, no poet’s vision that we’re running after, and no camera’s-eye view telling us where to look. No, it becomes the reader’s task—our task–to envision set and characters; we need to imagine vocal intonations as we read the words on the page; we need to decide upon motivation, irony, tone. We need to create a make-believe world and populate it with characters of our own imaginings. We the readers become we the directors—we become imaginative collaborators with the playwrights who have so generously begun the process by putting words down on paper. When a playwright publishes her work, she is invited us to partner up and bring her words to life. Being a playwright is, of course, no small task, but neither is reading a playwright’s work. WE get to do so much more than other readerships get to do. We get to collaborate.

And in that act of collaboration, we work hand-in-hand with the playwright in creating a reality that is alive and breathing and teaches us just a little bit about living an active life of engagement rather than a passive one of observation. So, go ahead and give a short play a try. See if it really is any different than reading a short story or going to a movie. See what it does to the director, actor, set designer, costumer, techie in you. And see if playing with these plays changes your outlook on life, even just a little bit. I hear that it does.

The Best American Short Plays 2011-2012

Applause is proud to continue the series that for over 70 years has been the standard of excellence for one-act plays in America. From its inception, The Best American Short Plays has identified new, cutting-edge playwrights who have gone on to establish award-winning careers, including Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, Wendy Wasserstein, David Mamet, and Horton Foote.

William W. Demastes made his debut as series editor with the well-received 2010-2011 volume, a diverse collection revolving around the multidimensional theme of love. Blogcritics said of the anthology: “This collection is a bountiful of pleasing oddities. Each work offers something worthwhile…. The collection runs the gamut of the most serious drama to the most irreverent topical mental trinkets….”

Demastes returns and once again draws from works produced by some of America’s finest theater companies in an effort to capture the wide range of styles, topics, and regional tastes that typifies American theater. The compilation is slated to include works by John Guare, Neil LaBute, and A. R. Gurney, as well as contributions from a plethora of gifted, emerging playwrights.