I was recently somewhat disturbed to learn that I have no “style.”
An excellent casting director I’ve worked with on two projects had just seen my most latest show, and after a few kind words of praise she shared a curious observation: having spent some time with three different plays I’d written, all in a span of only six or seven months, she wanted me to know that she was astonished by how little they resembled one another. My instinctive reaction was to disagree with her — to say “This can’t be!” — but I quickly considered the question, and I realized… she was right.
The first play she spent any time with was symbolic and form-breaking (HOT & COLD). The second was a serious drama told with straightforward realism (THE BUTCHER). And the third was a (very) dark comedy with a fourth wall-breaking prologue (REALS). To those three she might have added my existential meta-theatrical piece (LET X), my adult fable (THE CONSTELLATION), or my little-seen screwball buddy comedy (BUGGY & TYLER). They’re all so very, very different from one another.
What I told her, in response, was that my diversity of style was intentional… that I try to let the subject matter with which I’m engaging on any given project determine what form is appropriate. I almost wanted to say that I wish more playwrights would consider that question, instead of defaulting to a “house-style.” (Or perhaps the right word here isn’t style, but… is it genre? Or tone? What is the right word? Is it voice? Yes, I think maybe it’s voice.) But the more I sat with the subject, the more I started to wonder: would I be better off if I did have a style? Should I, in fact, try to develop a consistent, recognizable voice?
As I write this blog post (side note: please, I beg you, stop referring to them as “blogs”; a “blog” is a collection of blog posts, of which this is one), I am wearing a Miles Davis t-shirt. It’s one of my favorite articles of clothing, and I wear it whenever I need inspiration. Miles is, of course, famous for not having a style: for experimenting with a great many styles, in fact, and to hell with his critics. Now… I’m not claiming to be a genius like Miles, but I do take great comfort from his experimental approach to art-making, and I’m definitely going to keep trying things and seeing what happens.
But at what cost? Part of what I’m missing out on, I think, is being recognizable to audience members. If you’ve seen one of my earlier plays, you really can’t predict what you might be getting from one of my later plays, like you probably could with (say) Sarah Ruhl or Annie Baker. (I may be wrong in my assessment of both bodies of work; if so, please correct me, someone.) I have a feeling that if I were more accessible in that way, “my” audience would grow more quickly.
Then again… I’m not sure I even really care about having “my” audience, which is really tantamount of a fan base of sorts. I want my plays to serve communities of people that identify with each other NOT for their interest in me as an artist but for their engagement with the questions that are raised by my work. I’m not the important part of a production, after all: the play is.
So I think that, no matter the cost, I’m going to continue being voiceless, so to speak… or, rather, to speak in many voices, as each play demands. Perhaps not for the sake of following my personal artistic whims, but to live up to the demands of my subjects, whatever they might be.