To write a play in which the first scene was written by a character in the second scene, Stoppard’s protaganist would necessarily have to be a playwright, a fact that left Stoppard in a state of dread. “I didn’t want to write a play about a playwright. That seemed to be the end of the rope: you write a play about someone who’s trying to write a play.”
And so, Stoppard didn’t write a play about writing a play. Instead, he wrote about the intersection of life and art, demonstrating the ways in which the characters’ onstage worlds repeat in their lives.
Though The Real Thing isn’t about the act of writing, it is filled with discussions about the craft of writing: What makes it quality and what makes it hackneyed? Who gets to be a writer and for whom should they write?
Stoppard is not the first nor the last to ask these fascinating questions. Below are some examples of the many other plays, musicals, and movies that explore the craft of writing, some daringly tackling the premise Stoppard so dreaded: a writer trying to write.
Written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze, this film follows a screenwriter (played by Nicholas Cage) struggling to adapt a non-fiction book, The Orchid Thief, for the screen. Cage’s character is, in fact, a fictionalized version of screenwriter Kaufman. When (the real) Kaufman was hired to adapt The Orchid Thief, he found the task nearly impossible and decided to instead dramatize his herculean adaptation effort. The fantastical result features Kaufman’s (fictional) twin brother, Donald (who is credited as a co-writer on the actual screenplay), a love affair between The Orchid Thief’s writer and subject, a deluge of writing angst, and an unlikely chase scene.
“Writing is a journey into the unknown, not building a model airplane.”
-Charlie to Donald, Adaptation
Theresa Rebeck’s 2011 play delves into a fiction master class presided over by a cynical literary icon, Leonard (Alan Rickman in the Broadway premiere). As his four students vie for his attention and approval, Leonard ruthlessly attacks their talent. An examination of success, ambition, and ego -- and the need that underlies all -- the play unmasks the desires of both the overeager students and their callous teacher.
“What else do you have? And don’t tell me nothing, I’ll know you’re lying. How
much writing have you got stuffed in drawers and jamming up the circuits on your
computer. How many pages do you have that you haven’t shown a fucking soul.”
-Leonard to Martin, Seminar
Written by Zach Helm and directed by Marc Forster, the movie follows IRS agent Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) who realizes he is the main character in a novel by Karen Eiffel, a writer who tends to kill off her protagonists. Luckily, Eiffel is suffering from writer’s block, giving Harold time to find her -- and try to convince her to keep his character alive.
Nurse: “Are you suffering from anything?”
Karen: “Just writer’s block.”
-Stranger than Fiction
BULLETS OVER BROADWAY
Woody Allen and Glen Kelly’s 2014 musical (based on Allen’s 1994 film) follows David Shayne, an earnest and ambitious playwright whose Broadway debut spirals out of his hands thanks to a coercive producer, a talented hit-man/dramaturg named Cheech, and an overbearing star.
Cheech: “My father used to listen to the Opera. He loved the Opera. If a guy stunk… “
David: “What, he'd kill him?”
Cheech: “Once. In Palermo.”
-Bullets Over Broadway
Writer-director Lena Dunham’s take on millennial life in Brooklyn centers on the travails of Hannah Horvath (Dunham), an aspiring novelist who struggles with both finding the material to write about and finding the discipline to write. In the show’s second season, after a few years of low-paying, post-college angst, she lands an e-book deal, but her exultation quickly turns to dread at the thought of delivering on the deadline.
“I don’t want to freak you out, but I think I may be the voice of my generation. Or at least a voice. Of a generation.”
-Hannah to her parents, Girls
The Real Thing plays on Broadway through January 4, 2015. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.
2014-2015 Season, Education @ Roundabout, The Real Thing, Upstage