At the start of February, I was fortunate enough to have my play “Prima Donna” included in CATCO’s New Works Festival. I’ve previously written plays for CATCO’s season for families and young audiences, so audiences primarily knew me as a writer for younger audiences. During the talkback that followed the staged reading of “Prima Donna,” someone asked if this was my first play for general audiences. Instead of answering quickly with “No, I’ve written many others,” I thought about the progression of my plays and suddenly charted a connection from the plays I was writing in graduate school to “Cowgirls Don’t Ride Zebras” (my first play for families and young audiences) to “Prima Donna.”
Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about my theatrical “voice.” I remember years ago, I was at a Dramatists Guild event, talking with a group of people between a session. There was a young writer who asked about “voice.” Specifically, she asked if writers had the goal of writing dialogue through the individual, specific voice of each character, how does “our voice” as author come through? I had never really articulated my thoughts on this, but I came up with an answer.
Your voice is how you use theatrical tools to tell the stories you choose.
It sounds simple and obvious, but sometimes we need to be reminded of these things.
Starting with the second part: the stories you choose. The stories that resonate with me will be different from the stories that resonate with you. So, right away your voice is heavily influenced by the stories you choose to tell.
Next, looking at how you use theatrical tools, I’ll start with a list of theatrical tools, some from Aristotle, some from me.
The theatrical tools
Each of these tools could be deconstructed in their own blog post, but the point is: the way that you use these tools is the fingerprint. In other words, how you tell the story you’ve chosen is the second part of your voice.
So, how do you find your voice? There are two things that can reveal your voice: the stories you love and the stories you’ve created. Here are two exercises for you.
I invite you to take a look at two things: your favorite stories (tv shows, movies, plays, musicals, books) and the stories you’ve created.
First, make a list of your favorite tv shows, books, plays, or movies. Include the stories you loved when you were a kid. For example, I included the movie “Popeye” starring Robin Williams and Shelly Duvall. God, I loved that movie. Now that you have that list, what do you notice? What are the similarities? What do you love about them? What makes them work for you? Then, look at the list of theatrical tools and see how each is used in the stories. Are the characters grounded? Is the world realistic? What is the tone? How is the story being told?
Next, make a list of the plays, novels, poems, or projects you’ve created. Circle the ones that feel pivotal, the ones that have the strongest feeling of accomplishment. Which are the projects that you felt most connected to? Which feel full of discovery? Which projects were turning points for you?
After you’ve done this, I invite you to journal about what you’ve noticed. What discoveries did you make? What did you learn about the stories that you enjoy watching? What did you learn about the stories you enjoy telling? Was there anything you had forgotten about?
Hopefully, you’ll come away from these exercises with a new understanding of your voice, and you’ll approach your next project with this new understanding!