Writing A Stage Play Versus A Screenplay by Gary Goldstein
Film Courage: Gary which do you prefer, writing screenplays or actual theater (stage) plays?
Gary Goldstein: You know, they are both very different. The big differences is when you write a play, a stage play, the writer is the boss. It’s one of the few mediums that you actually get a possessory credit. You’ve seen Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite. I mean occasionally you’ll see a Lee Daniel’s movie and so forth, but by and large the words are really so much more the focus and the writer is really respected so much more in theater. It’s a different kind of medium altogether. In theater you get to write stories that are very personal and very intimate and very small and really character driven where the words are just important and it’s all about dialogue and all of that.
I had a funny experience when…well I taught screenwriting for many years for a group called Writer’s Bootcamp. I had a student who was a great woman. She was an actress but she was always kind of bucking me about structure and like “Why do I have to structure things this way?” and “Can’t you loosen up in terms of this and that?” and I just tried to explain to her that structure and storytelling worked a certain way.
“People say ‘How do you get the idea to write this?’ or ‘Where did you come up with this? Who thought of something like that?’ Well you know, we are writers and we write. We’re storytellers or creators, but sometimes they come from strange places. It can be from something you’ve observed. It can be from people that you know. It can be from just coming up with a phrase or in this case a title. So it’s just one of those weird things.”
So she came to see the play, my very first play (it was a long time ago) and she walked out and said, hugging me “I loved the play but I loved the words. I love that you who is teaching me structure, you wrote these amazing words that were just words. It was all words and character.” And as an actress that was her priority. And it was really very eye-opening to me that really how different words are when it comes to theater because movies are about showing not telling very often because you have the ability to show a lot of things without having to explain a lot of things. Whereas in theater, it’s much more limited in terms of what you can show so you end up telling more and that can be very interesting. Writers enjoy telling stories (in which you can do on stage). So I like that.
The live part of it…I write a lot of comedies and to be in a live audience where they are laughing and responding or crying or whatever and to be around them live…even different from being in the theater watching people watch your movie, it’s different. There is something about the live experience that’s very moving and compelling. So that part is great.
I think as a writer I always encourage screenwriters to write plays as well. I wrote my first play at a time where I had a little time and I needed to get something done that was mine. I didn’t have to worry about selling. I didn’t have to worry about it fitting any particular paradigms. I could tell the story that I wanted to tell. And it just happened to have worked out. I was very proud of the play. We actually had a stage reading of it and I was surprised at the response to it and then I was encouraged to get the play produced. And we did and it was a fantastic experience.
You also (as the writer) get to deal very directly with the actors and the director in a very different way that you do in TV and film. It’s really more of that team effort at that particular moment. Particularly the new play, that you are still discovering the words, working on the words as you’re in rehearsals.
Whether it’s a film I’ve written or a play, I’m very interested in hearing what the actors have to say. Just because you write a piece of dialogue a certain way doesn’t mean that somebody who has to say it, can say it that way or a comfortable way. In my head, I hear it a certain way and what comes out of somebody’s mouth, may be different. It’s always fascinating to see which lines really don’t play or are too tongue-twistery or really don’t make as much sense as they should. You have that option when you’re in rehearsals live at that moment and it’s kind of an evolutionary process.
Film Courage: We understand you have a stage play that you’re producing coming up in Beverly Hills?
Gary Goldstein: Yes. I have a play. I’m not producing it. It’s a theater call Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills. They’re producing it and have been there a long time. It’s a really good 99-seat theater. And they have a subscription and they do a season. This is the fifth out of the sixth plays of their 2016–2017 season. It’s called April, May and June. It will run March 16th through the middle of April (16th).
It’s the story of three adult sisters named April, May and June in their forties (they’re a year apart). And they convene at their late mother’s house, which is the house they grew up in to go through the very last of her things. And in doing so they discover something about the mother that blows their mind. It’s a surprise but in a small way connected to them and their own past. And it’s kind of how they come up coming to terms of the image of their mother and the whole idea of we never quite know people as much as we think, particularly parents. And the sisters who are very different and very connected close women, their relationship is really improved by this afternoon they spend in their childhood house. It’s just how they come to terms with each other and the image of the mother and they can finally close up the house and move on.
Film Courage: When you sat down to write that [stage play], were you in the same mindset of ‘I just want to do something that is my own’ or was there some other impetus?
Gary Goldstein: In this particular case, and this happens every so often with a film script particularly, I’ll come up with a title. And the title April, May and June just came into my head for some reason. And I thought “That’s a good title, I should do something with that.” And I don’t know? I just started writing it and it ended up becoming a stage play. I wasn’t exactly sure where it was going when I started. At a certain point I realized it was going to be this revelation about the mother. I realized the revelation I wanted it to be and it kind of evolved from there. So it was kind of a unique process that way. As opposed to having it completely structured and a full outline and knowing where it was going. I mean I wrote it and edited it and ultimately got it to the place where I felt comfortable sending it out or showing it. But it was a very different process from the screenwriting that I do.
Film Courage: Is that common where you will just come up with a title and work backwards?
Gary Goldstein: Once and awhile I do that. Once and awhile. You know it happens. This play is comedy drama and I hope some good laughs in it, but there are also some tears as well. In a lot of the straight comedies that I do, you know just higher concept comedies, I’ve come up with titles and then figured out the story to do with it. If there was no story attached, I wouldn’t continue writing it. There are movies that I’ve written where I’ve ended up changing the title many times over things, so it just depends.
People say “How do you get the idea to write this?” or “Where did you come up with this? Who thought of something like that?” Well you know, we are writers and we write. We’re storytellers or creators but sometimes they come from strange places. It can be from something you’ve observed. It can be from people that you know. It can be from just coming up with a phrase or in this case a title. So it’s just one of those weird things.
Question for the viewers: Have you written a stage play? What inspired it?
Find out more about Gary Goldstein’s play APRIL, MAY and JUNE here.
Gary Goldstein is an award winning writer for film, TV and the stage. He has written numerous films for Hallmark Channel and its sister network, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, including the comedies “The Wish List,” “Hitched for the Holidays,” “This Magic Moment” and “My Boyfriends’ Dogs,” and the first two films in the “Flower Shop Mystery” series: “Mum’s the Word” and “Snipped in the Bud,” starring Brooke Shields.
Gary’s feature film “Politics of Love,” a romantic comedy set during the 2008 U.S. Presidential election, was released in theaters August 2011. He also wrote the feature romantic comedy, “If You Only Knew,” which starred Johnathon Schaech, Alison Eastwood and James LeGros.
In addition, Gary has sold or optioned a number of original screenplays, has a string of episodic TV credits and has sold half-hour comedy pilots to both NBC and Warner Bros Television.
On the L.A. stage, Gary has been represented with the comedies “Just Men,” “Parental Discretion” and “Three Grooms and a Bride.” His family drama “Curtain Call” premiered in late 2008 at Carmel, CA’s Pacific Repertory Theatre. His newest play, the three-sisters dramedy “April, May & June,” will have its World Premiere in March 2017 at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills, as part of its 2016–17 subscription season.
Gary is also a freelance film reviewer and feature writer for the Los Angeles Times.