When you do have an idea for a play, how does it develop?

Dear Ken,
I've been delighted with the responses Leading Ladies has been receiving at the Woodstock Opera HouseWoodstock%20Opera%20House.jpg...in these times, there is such a need for laughter... I will admit I was worried about audience reactions to Meg's confession to Maxine, since we are in the heart of a very conservative area, but it is done with such humor and verbage, it apparently has not offended anyone! (Whew and thanks!)
When you do have an idea for a play, how does it develop? Does it rush forward and grow or do you have to percolate/store away/come back to it?

And I appreciate your appreciation of Shakespeare but I must ask if you truly believe he was the author of all those tragedies and comedies. I was recently involved with quite a discussion with a native Englishman who maintains it was impossible....
My best,

Ken replies:

Dear Regina,

Thank you so much for your email. I'm thrilled to hear that Leading Ladies had such a warm reception at Woodstock Opera House. Congratulations!

In answer to your question about the development of my plays: I generally nurture a new idea for about 2 or 3 months by simply sitting in my favorite armchair, literally just thinking about it for hours at a time. This or that development in the story or the characters will start to tug at me, and then I'll start taking notes. Once I start taking notes, I try to let the idea take me into any direction that comes to mind, then little by little the ideas start forming up into a coherent story and theme.

Usually I don't start writing a play until I have at least a general concept of what it's "about." It has always seemed to me that comedies in particular benefit from a story with a strong premise, and it's not until I come up with that premise that I start to believe that I actually have a play in the works.

After the note-taking stage, it usually takes me about a month to write the play itself, because by this time I know exactly who the characters are and what they're going to do. At this stage, it's more a matter of taking dictation than anything else. I can hear and see them exactly as though a film were playing in my head, and I have to take the dialogue down quickly enough that I don't lose it as it flies by. This is because the play has already been written in my head after all those months of thinking about it.

As for my physical writing process, I always use 11.5 x 13 legal pads that are narrow-lined. I like large sheets with lots of lines because I can get a lot on each page and therefore feel the sweep of the scene better than I could if I saw less text per page. I never use a word processor or a typewriter until the final stages of the play's development when I'm typing the second or third draft.

william-shakespeare.jpgWith regard to your question about Shakespeare, I'm a Stratfordian at heart. I do believe that Shakespeare wrote all the tragedies and comedies, as well as the romances and the problem plays. I teach Shakespeare and I've thought about these issues a lot. Was Shakespeare amazingly prolific? Absolutely. And so were Mozart and Bach. Does it matter that he came from a small town and was educated in the local school? No. Ben Jonson came from a family of bricklayers. My view is that we're talking here, with Shakespeare, about a level of genius that most of us can't begin to understand. Certainly I can't. As for the anti-Stratfordian theories, I tend to be influenced by the substantial writings of Stanley Wells, the great dean of Shakespeare studies. As he says, if William Shakespeare of Stratford didn't write these plays, it would have had to have been the greatest conspiracy in the history of the universe. Too many contemporaries refer to him and his plays in the same breath to make it otherwise.

Thank you again for your wonderful questions.

I hope all's well with you and yours and that you have a terrific holiday.

Warm regards,


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