06 September 2012


I took a playwriting class in San Miguel - one of the highlights of the trip and of my life - and the instructor [Mark Saunders, lovely man, terrific teacher, successful playwright] advised us, in short plays especially, to keep parentheticals to a minimum. Parentheticals are those short stage directions provided to guide the actor: pause,  sigh, clearly upset, etc. A long list of options. And the thought occurred to me that this might be very good advice for life.

In our world of incessant self-examination and self-discovery and self-direction, there are a multitude of parentheticals in our heads and in our paths which could easily be obstacles as well. Some of these might be considered demons: the inner scolds, regret, the should-have or could-haves. Some might be the simple neurotic nature of the modern world: OMG what were you thinking? Or the way we tip toe on the egg shells of intimacy [pause: watch your words] often at the expense of simply relating to each other honestly.

Think about it. Other than those private moments while walking or meditating, driving,  slipping into sleep, at Yoga or Pilates class, where the instructor provides the parenthetical narrative, or immersed in a good book where other lives take direction, we are constantly hearing parentheticals in our heads. If we allow them to be heard. If we allow them to define us.

Parentheticals can be positive [she smiles with satisfaction] or negative [she groans with disappointment.] Either way, they disrupt, albeit momentarily, natural impulses, and they disrupt the genuine ebb and flow of our journeys.

The well-written play, I learned, permits the dialogue to define the characters and the action to define the conflict. The well-written play provides actors an opportunity to interpret and breathe life to the story. To take words on a page to new meaning on the stage. The fewer the parentheticals, the better chance for the play to come to life on its own. To flow freely. Permit spontaneity. To allow us to lead with our hearts, not those stage directions in our minds. Yes, best to keep the parentheticals to a minimum.