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Posts Tagged ‘Eugene O’Neill’

What kind of theater has no actors? The theater of the mind, of course.

“I hardly ever go to the theater, although I read all the plays I can get. I don’t go to the theater because I can always do a better production in my mind than the one on the stage. I have a better time and I’m not bothered by the audience. No one sneezes during the scenes that interest me. Nor do I ever go to see one of my own plays—I have seen only three of them since they started coming out. My reason for this is that I was practically brought up in the theater—in the wings— and I know all the technique of acting. I know everything that everyone is doing from the electrician to the stage hands. So I see the machinery going round all the time unless the play is wonderfully acted and produced. Then, too, in my own plays all the time I watch them I am acting all the parts and living them so intensely that by the time the performance is over I am exhausted—as if I had gone through a clothes wringer.”
Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953)
New York Herald Tribune/1924
Pulled from Conversations with Eugene O’Neill, edited by Mark W. Estrin

By the way, one of the things that paved the way for O’Neill to become one of the greatest American playwrights is before he won the Nobel Prize for Literature and four Pulitzer Prizes for Drama, he was coming up in an era of theater that was immersed in the works of Ibsen, Chekhov and Strindberg. And like so many others great writers I have discovered through doing this blog he also had Catholic schooling (even lived in a Catholic boarding school while his father toured the country as an actor) and suffered from depression and alcoholism.

Unfortunately, that combination does not make for a peaceful life— but it’s a wicked formula for powerful writing.

Related posts: Screenwriting from Massachusetts

Scott W. Smith

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I wanted to find a quote for St. Patrick’s Day from a screenwriter with Irish roots. The quote I found isn’t about screenwriting but I got a kick out of it and I did find a way to tie it into what this blog is all about. It’s from actor/writer/director Edward Burns (Saving Private Ryan, The Brothers McMullen). I’m not 100% sure of the context but it appears to be in a reference to actors who are bothered by paparazzi popping up around every corner.

“If that stuff really bothers you so much, you should go do regional theatre. Go do Chekhov in Iowa. No paparazzi will be following you.”
Edward Burns

See Iowa is always the bench mark for obscurity. (Hence, the title Screenwriting from Iowa.) And speaking of theater in Iowa, congrats to Theatre Cedar Rapids for the renovations they just completed on their historic theater following the flood of ’08 that had the water as high as seven feet inside. It took a lot of time and money to restore it to its original state.

Fans of the movie Office Space may be interested that Ron Livingston was born in Cedar Rapids and has performed on the stage at Theatre Cedar Rapids.  A visit there as a teenager helped give him inspiration to become an actor.

“I remember being in 10th grade and being a part of Marion High School’s job shadowing program and being asked to pick something that I might want to do for a living. I told them I was thinking about being an actor—and in a lot of parts of the country they would have looked at me and laughed and told me to pick something else—but my guidance counselor was able to pick up the telephone, and a week or so later I was able to follow Richard Barker around as he held auditions and gave me a tour of the theater and told me what it would be like to be a professional actor…I’ve very proud to be a part of Theatre Cedar Rapid’s history.”
Actor Ron Livingston

While  paparazzi may not be following you while you’re writing or performing for regional or community theaters in Iowa (or wherever you live in fly-over country) but it sure could lead to bigger things. In fact, just to tie this back into St. Patrick’s Day, the Provincetown Playhouse (on Cape Cod in Massachusetts) not only had a part in the spread of the “Little Theater” movement 100 years ago, but they helped launch the career of  the great playwright Eugene O’Neill.

It would be fun someday to do a screenwriting seminar at the Provincetown Playhouse or Theatre Cedar Rapids and to tap into some of that history and hopefully inspire the next generation of writers and actors rising up from seemingly obscure places.


Scott W. Smith


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John Huston was born in Nevada, Missouri in 1906 and long before he died 81 years later he was a Hollywood legend. He won two Oscars, one for directing and one for writing The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. He also directed The African Queen, Key Largo, Moby Dick and The Maltese Falcon.

He not only was often a writer on many of the movies he directed but he also was an actor in over 50 movies,  including his classic role as Noah Cross in Chinatown. He was a man who hung out with Bogart, Hemingway and Arthur Miller. He studied art, was a champion boxer and directed his father Walter in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre  and his daughter Anjelica in Prizzi’s Honor —roles that brought both actors Oscar Awards. 

John Huston lived a full life. I actually saw him the year he died at a post production house parking lot in Burbank, but didn’t have the nerve to approach him. But I thought of him today and figured I might be able to find a fitting quote from him and found it in an interview he did when he was seventy five with Joseph Persico for American Heritage.

Persico:  As a young man, you watched your father rehearse Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms, and you met O’Neill. What did you learn from that?

Huston: I learned the shape and substance of a scene, what constitutes a scene, what makes dialogue. Scenes have to have beginnings, a crisis, a climax. And I observed in O’Neill’s dialogue a formula of contradiction where the character says something and contradicts it at the same time. The dramatic heat rises from this irony. And I saw lines on a page take on life. I was instantly fascinated.


Somewhat related post: Screenwriting from Missouri

 

Scott W. Smith

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