09/26/06 - emotions

Today's encore excerpt comes from Arthur Laurents, acclaimed playwright and screenwriter of such works as West Side Story, Gypsy and The Turning Point. Here, he comments on two of his lessons in writing one as a student at Cornell University and the second immediately after:

"I took a playwriting course from the noted Prof. A.M. Drummond, a huge man on crutches who right off the bat delivered a ukase never to begin a play with the telephone ringing. I immediately wrote a one-act play that began with a telephone ringing. If I hadn't, there wouldn't have been a play. It wasn't just rebelliousness that prompted that play; Drummond was a casually overt anti-Semite. He had no compunction about beginning a sentence with 'You Jews'—there were two others in the class—and I was declaring war. I didn't win, not while I was at Cornell anyway. He advised me to give up playwriting.

"It wasn't until I was writing professionally for radio that I did happen on a good teacher: Ned Warren. ... bald and rosy-cheeked, Ned looked as though he got his clothes in London (he wore ascots). He sat me down one day to discuss the scripts I had been writing. He was so wry and sardonic that I was completely unprepared when he told me I had talent. Just that, in those words: I had talent. No one had ever said that before and he was definite. I wanted to run out of the room before he continued because I knew there had to be a caveat. As indeed there was. [He said] my problem was that I was too facile. Too often, I made transitions in a scene through words, not as they should be made, through emotions. Emotions precede thought, emotions determine thought; plays are emotion. The single best lesson I have ever been given."


Arthur Laurents


Original Story By Arthur Laurents: A Memoir of Broadway and Hollywood






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