As a theater critic, I am frequently in awe of the work I see on the stage. There are the timeless classics, such as Blithe Spirit or Medea – breathtaking in their artistry. There are the brave, new plays such as Ruined or Mysterious Skin. Even the flawed or downright inept works, such as Circle of Will or Elizabeth Shakespeare and the Astute Detective, still deserve some respect for being plays that were at least completed, rehearsed and staged. We all know a tremendous amount of work goes into writing and producing a play.
For this student and critic of theatre, the prospect of actually writing my own play is a daunting one. If you share this trepidation, then that’s where You Already Know by Aaron Henne can come to your aid.
This approachable, practical workbook is full of handy exercises to give your creative muscle a workout.
Subtitled A Playwright’s Guide to Trusting Yourself. Practical Exercises to Open the Channel, Henne’s workbook takes a clever approach, breaking down some of the most intimidating challenges a playwright faces into manageable tasks and exercises. With around eighty fun and though-provoking exercises, Henne guides the reader with sensible advice and useful suggestions.
Page 11 addresses character creation employing a visualization exercise guided by a comprehensive thirty-point list of questions. You are tasked to investigate everything from your character’s physicality – How do I stand? Am I bald or do I have luxurious hair? – to the tougher, more probing questions such as What do I refuse to forgive? and What is my greatest sin?
Henne outlines various exercises such as one based on an improvisational acting game where you sketch a scene using his signposts. He gets you to concentrate on your characters basic proximity before building up to their actual interaction. All drama is conflict, right?
These practical exercises help you to get out of your own way and let the creative impulse flow.
Throughout the book there are handy tags along the side of the page, indicating things such as “plot development,” “structure” and “making connections” and various markers, to keep you on your path.
In another exercise he instructs you to break down a monologue you have written into the key words that carry weight. By getting you to distill the essence of what you have to say, Henne helps you to hone your craft with judicious re-working.
By working to combat stagnation and other enemies of imaginative freedom (such as intellectual over-analysis, fear, self-doubt, perhaps a tendency to get stuck in familiar patterns and cycles) Henne’s step-by-step practical exercises help to open the heart and mind of the playwright to fresh and creative possibilities.
Anyone bogged down by story problems or crippled by writer’s block can take a detour into Henne’s book and return to their work invigorated. It’s almost like visiting a spa for the creative soul!
In a recent interview about his play King Cat Calico Finally Flies Free! Henne remarked about his writing process and forging his main character, “Once the ball got rolling, Heidi’s pain, humor and humanity refused to be kept quiet. So, I just let her speak. Then I went back, listened to what she told me and tried to connect the pieces, like a pop psychology jigsaw puzzle.”
Sounds easy, right? Well, perhaps constructing and completing a play is not simply a cakewalk; you may have to roll up your sleeves for the heavy lifting and hard work. Henne’s book will help you unlock your creative potential and allow space for your characters to breathe and converse.
Flicking ahead to page 103 (towards the end of the book) Henne writes;
You have finished DRAFT ONE of your play.
Have a good meal.
Have a drink.
Go see a movie.
Pat yourself on the back.
I can’t wait to get there!
About the Author:
Aaron Henne is a playwright member with the Ovation Award-winning Son of Semele Ensemble. His many plays include King Cat Calico Finally Flies Free! (published by Original Works Publishing), Record Storm Spreads Ruin! (commissioned by the Los Angeles History Project) and Sliding Into Hades, which received the 2008 LA Weekly Awards for Playwriting and Production of the Year.
Henne has served in script development capacities for Culture Clash, The Colony Theatre, Center Theatre Group and The Theatre @ Boston Court, where he serves as Co-Literary Manager.
Henne was a finalist for The Jerome and The Juilliard Fellowships in Playwriting, as well as Center Theatre Group”™s Sherwood Award. His most recent work, Record Storm Spreads Ruin!, was commissioned by the Los Angeles History Project and had its premiere at The Autry Museum.
His exploration of machines and their relationships to humanity, Body Mecanique, was developed and produced by LA Contemporary Dance Company (LACDC). In 2010, Henne was commissioned by The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County to create two new pieces for that institution”™s family audiences.
Henne”™s most recently staged work, collision/theory’s Blood Red Lost Head Dead Falcon: The Nibelungen, a stunning multimedia adaptation of a 12th Century Epic Poem, was a partner in the LA Opera’s Ring Festival LA.
He teaches writing for the Playwrights”™ Program at The Robey Theatre Company, Wordspace, Writing Pad and runs the writer’s studio, Wordstrut.Â Henne is a proud member of The Playwrights Union.
Aaron Henne”™s You Already Know is published by Writ Large Press and is available to purchase via Amazon.
Review by Pauline Adamek