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Writing: When Art Imitates Life
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I went to see the Broadway show, “Seminar.” http://seminaronbroadway.com/

In the play, four aspiring young novelists sign up for private writing classes ($5000 for 10 weeks) with Leonard (Alan Rickman), an international literary figure. 

As someone who’s taken my share of writing classes, I enjoyed it. Like the groups I’ve been in, the fictional one is a mix of clichés and revelations. The students were all too familiar: There is Douglas, the well-connected one who already has an agent as well as a story under consideration at The New Yorker; Kate, the Bennington grad who has been rewriting the same story for the past six years, to avoid trying to write another, which she doesn't think she has in her; Martin, prolific and talented, but afraid to show anyone his work; and Izzy, who people (re: men) want to help along in her career because she not only writes about sex, but is sexy.

Leonard is sarcastic, intimidating and abusive under the guise of “honest,” yet helpful in his own manipulative way.

It’s easy to only really focus on the students because they have the lion’s share of stage time due to their laments about the “writing life.” I spent most the play thinking that these people better toughen up if they’re going to actually pursue writing as a career. But the real inspiration was the teacher. (Figures doesn’t it?)

His monologues showed me that even experienced, successful writers can get beaten up (and down) by the business of writing. He talks about how his skin isn’t as thick as it used to be. It seems he’d rather instruct and inspire, as well as insult others, than go back out there with new offerings of his own.

The show also reminded me that if you’re serious about writing, you just have to write. But that’s not enough. You next have to send it out to be read (re: judged) by others. Then move on to the next piece. In other words, just keep going. Because the surest way to NOT get published is to not write and/or not let anyone see it.

 One of the things that I liked best about the show was that there was no intermission. Just like the writing life.

 

 

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Lorraine,I enjoyed reading

Lorraine,

I enjoyed reading your lucid, incisive review of SEMINAR.  If I understood you correctly, the various seminar participants illustrate different functions/needs "creative" activity ITSELF fulfills for, in this case, aspiring literary artists. Would it thus be "reasonable" for one to assume (1) the play was clearly more about human behavior or psychology than about the nature/purposes of art and (2) the "imitation" in your title refers to the play's realistic portrayals of actual "types" if not specific individuals?

Another perspective for more "fundamentally" evaluating this play as an art form is whether its (I gather) rather straight-forward dramatic realism constitutes a work of signficant artistic worth not only in content (insights) but also in dramatic technique or style.  For example, would the play have been more artistically interesting if  "enhanced" with, for example, expressionist or absurdist elements? (You did mention sarcasm.) Of course, any answer will "turn" in part on one's  individual preferences.  In short, in what ways was this play different from the "reality" shows mainly  lacking any artistic "touches" other than editing and camera angle/focus.  

Any additional insights on these issues from an accomplished literary artist like you would be of obvious interest and value for Red Room readers. My perspective, in contrast, is that of  a dabbler or amateur in aesthetics.

Brenden

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Response to Brendan Allen

Dear Brendan,

The difference between the play and reality shows is that in the TV shows the drama is manufactured and although some of the fights, affairs, friendship, etc could happen in the lives of viewers everything to plays to the shock value of the episode.

The play doesn't go for shock. It just touches on the many different types of people who choose to call themselves writers. Yes, it is more about human behavior: those just starting out and who are excited but scared; those who have already grabbed the brass ring and are now too tired to keep reaching for it.

As an artistic work, it is very well done. 75% of the show is played out in the apartment of the woman who hosts the class. It allows for the environment to not take away from the action. The four students turn in fine performances. The last scene is played in the apartment of Alan Rickman. The way the set is dressed speaks volumes. His character is supposed to be a star in the publishing world, commanding $5000 per student per semiar. He made $20,000 off this group alone. Yet the way he lives pales in comparison to his student who hosted the class. It is subtle things like that make this dramatic work most interesting.

Thanks for commenting.

 

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Appreciation

Appreciation for your additional insights.  The play sounds sufficiently worthwhile for those of us with literary interests to request purchase of copies by our local libraries.  The selection committee/board probably knows me by name!

Comment Bubble Tip

Appreciation

Appreciation for your additional insights.  The play sounds sufficiently worthwhile for those of us with literary interests to request purchase of copies by our local libraries.  The selection committee/board probably knows me by name!