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Posts Tagged ‘Broadway’

Aaron Sorkin is that rare breed of dramatic writers who has had success with Broadway theatre, Hollywood feature films, and broadcast television. But did you know part of his start was in small southern towns?

After he graduated from Syracuse University in 1983 with a degree in musical theater he moved to New York City, but he got work as an actor not off-Broadway, or off-off Broadway, but way the hell off Broadway.

“When I was twenty-one or twenty-two, I traveled the South with a touring children’s theater company called The Traveling Playhouse. When I say the South, we weren’t playing in Atlanta, we were playing Jasper, Alabama. We’d do six or seven shows in elementary school gymnasiums at about ten o’clock in the morning, then pile into a station wagon, and a van carrying the costumes and sets. We did The Wizard of OzRip Van Winkle, and Greensleeves. We were paid thirty dollars a performance.”
Aaron Sorkin
Zen and the Art of Screenwriting
Interview with William Froug
Page 31

Sorkin says he had no interest in writing until one day at a “Motel Six or something” somewhere in Georgia when, “I don’t know why, I all of a sudden felt like Sam Shepard. I felt like I ought to be writing something. That’s the first time that thought went into my head, and it just kept nagging at me and I just felt like a writer without ever having written anything.”

His first completed play was Hidden in This Picture, a single-scene one act play involving four characters. A few years later he found breakthrough success.

“His older sister, a naval lawyer, told him about a 1986 incident at the U.S. Marine base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, when an informal disciplinary action had gotten out of hand, resulting in the death of a young soldier. Sorkin immediately recognized the possibilities of a courtroom drama based on the event. In November, 1989, his play, ‘A Few Good Men,’ about two naval lawyers defending two Marines accused of murdering a fellow corpsman, began a 14-month run on Broadway.”
Patrick Pacheco
1992 Los Angeles Times article 

That led to Sorkin writing the film version of A Few Good Men (1992) with a star cast that included Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise, and Demi Moore. He would go on to win an Oscar award for writing The Social Network, and multiple Emmys for his work on The West Wing.

Now to come full circle, earlier this year NBC announced plans to stage a live version of A Few Good Men in early 2017.

I’m not saying all that wouldn’t have happened if Sorkin career path didn’t take to Jasper, Alabama and who knows where Georgia, but magical things can happen on the road—even in a Motel Six.

Dream big, start small.

P.S. Jasper, Alabama is also where stage and film actress Tallulah Bankhead spent some of her childhood, and where SciFy channels docuseries Town of the Living Dead was shot.

Related posts:
(Because I love writing about a sense of place, here’s some love I’ve written over the years centered around Alabama and Georgia.)

Alabama:
Tuscumbia to Hollywood
Muscle Shoals Music & Movie
Shooting a Feature Film in 4 Days
Postcard #82 (Selma)
Postcard #46 (Huntsville)
Revisiting ‘Highway 61 Revisted’
Bama, Bobby & The U
Screenwriting from Huntsville, AL
Martin Luther King Jr. & Screenwriting 

Georgia:
25 Links Related to Blacks & Filmmaking
Postcard #43 (Savannah)
Postcard #35 (Villa Rica)
‘Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus’
Writing Quote #40 (Harry Crews)
Writing from Rural Georgia…to Dreamworks
Screenwriting, Baseball & Underdogs
Truett Cathy–Bird by Bird
Screenwriting Quote #70 (James Dickey)
Writing Quote #39 (Writing in Paris)
Shrimp, Giants & Tyler Perry
‘Super-Serving Your Niche’

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

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“The idea for The Glass Menagerie came very slowly, much more slowly than Streetcar, for example. I think I worked on Menagerie longer than any other play. I didn’t think it’d ever be produced. I wasn’t writing it for that purpose. I wrote it first as a short story called ‘Portrait of a Girl in Glass,’ which is, I believe, one of my best stories. I guess Menagerie grew out of the intense emotions I felt seeing my sister’s mind begin to go.”
Tennessee Williams
The Paris Review interview 

Watching actors perform Tennessee Williams’ words on stage, TV, and in movies—or even on the Internet—may not make you a better writer, but I believe they can make you more human.  If you’re tired of, or need a break from special effect extravaganzas or high-concept schlock that, to borrow Shakespeare’s phrase, are “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” get a copy of The Glass Menagerie and read it slowly.

When I was driving through Mississippi last month I picked up a used copy of the printed play The Glass Menagerie for under five dollars at Square Books in Oxford. The pages had fallen out of my old original copy of the book and there was something poetic about buying the play again by the Mississippi born Tennessee Williams in the town square where Mississippi born William Faulkner used to wander. (And for what it’s worth Faulkner wrote a book titled The Sound and the Fury.)

The Glass Menagerie, a four character play, premiered in Chicago in 1944 and it debuted on Broadway the following year where it won the  New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play of that year. Critics championed the play from the very beginning. Even today when critics question a revival performance it tends to be in casting choices and stage direction.  I recall one reviewer who once wrote something to the effect that poorly performed Williams was better than no Williams at all.

One of the greatest creative opportunities of my life was doing a three month acting workshop with Arthur Mendoza working on The Glass Menagerie. This was back in the ’80s in Los Angeles shortly after Williams died and just before the Paul Newman directed version was released in 1987.  Mendoza had studied with Stella Adler for ten years before turning to teaching himself, and embraced the view that it was worth it for the actor to study the playwright as well as the play. (Some acting teachers stress importance only on the written word.)

Believe it or not we only worked on the opening monologue of Tom. Three months of working on a long monologue which begins:

“Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.”

I didn’t know much about acting, writing—or life—back then, but I knew that both Tennessee Williams and The Glass Menagerie were special. Beyond Williams’ poetic style of writing is a primal story. A story of loss and broken dreams. It’s an emotional story full of external and internal conflict that touches on basic human relationships between mother and son,  father and son, mother and daughter, husband and wife, brother and sister—can you get any more universal? Mix in themes of love, hope, and dreams and it’s no surprise that the play still has life today.

In fact, just two months ago The Glass Menagerie once again opened on Broadway (for a limited run through February) and the reviews have been outstanding.

“This production makes clear that ‘The Glass Menagerie’ belongs on the same exclusive shelf as ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night,’ ‘Death of a Salesman’ and Williams’s own ‘Streetcar Named Desire.’ It is not a lovely little memory play; it’s a great memory tragedy.”
Wounded by Broken Memories
NY Times, September 26, 2013

Below are some links to past productions of The Glass Menagerie, including the full 1973 version starring Katharine Hepburn.  Another thing that keeps The Glass Menagerie in circulation is there is never a lack of great actors who would like their shot at playing one of the four roles.

Scott W. Smith

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“(Scent of a Woman) is my favorite only because I feel like I matured and the movie reflects that.”
Screenwriter Bo Goldman

Before Bo Goldman won an Academy Award as a screenwriter he had to experience his own personal life of ups and downs.

His father owned a chain of department stores which afforded Goldman an opportunity to attend prep schools and prepared him for Princeton University. He spent three years in the Army. All of those experiences would come in handy years later in writing Scent of a Woman.

But in the meantime while still in his twenties had his first play performed on Broadway. He was on the fast track. “First Impressions ran about three months. Then I was ten years trying to get my second one on Broadway,” Goldman told William Froug in Zen and the Art of Screenwriting.

That’s when things got tough for Goldman. “I was young and had a large family. And you know the old story about Broadway; You can’t make a living, you can only make a killing. I was starving, and when my parents died around 1970, 71, 72, I kind of bottomed out…It was humiliating.”

He wrote for TV including a Christmas show for PBS that was successful, and at the same time wrote a screenplay about marriages he saw breaking up which was a new trend. It took nine years to get Shoot the Moon made but the script became a calling card and got the attention of director Milos Forman who was having trouble with a script for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Goldman stepped in to get his first produced film credit, as well as his first Oscar. (Shared with Lawrence Hauben, and based on the novel by Ken Kesey and the play written by Dale Wasserman.)

He won his second Oscar four years later for Melvin and Howard.  Scent of a Woman was released in 1992, 13 years after is second Oscar. Goldman explained to Froug where the concept for Scent of a Woman (1992) came from;

“I had been estranged from most of my family, and still am from the ones I grew up with and my long-lost brother, who made millions in mortgage brokerage, became an alcoholic, and had a terribly tragic life. Then I got this SOS from another brother of mine who said the once-rich brother was going to need conservator. He was living in a big expensive New York apartment, a year behind on rent, and had no money at all. I went there and found him living in a kind of shabby elegance. The skeletons of his life were riddled with moral cancer, to strike a phrase. A week later, I came back to California and got a call from Martin Brest, who showed me this sort of forgotten Italian movie, Profuma di Donna. I looked at this movie, and this character struck me as being exactly like my brother, who became the character in Scent of a Woman. The character was crossed with my first sergeant in the Army, a member of the famous 442nd Regimental Combat Team, who was the second man I’ve ever really been afraid of, and the first man I was afraid of—my father. The sergeant was a real soldier…So this character became a hybrid of all these people.”

Of course, Al Pacino brought that character to life (and, believe it or not, is Pacino’s only Oscar-winning performance)—a character forged from Goldman’s life in prep school, experience in the military, his father, and a brother who had gone from riches to rags.

That process that Goldman talked about is a perfect example what I wrote about in Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B=C).

And how about that phrase of Goldman’s—”The skeletons of his life were riddled with moral cancer.” Fine writing and good inspritation for you to write about the characters who have crossed your path who are living in their equivalent world “of shabby elegance” and riddled with moral cancer. Audiences will always find those creatures facinating to watch. (Noah Cross in Chinatown and Gordon Gekko in Wall St. come to mind.)

Scott W. Smith

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