Anthology of Ken Ludwig's Plays Now Available!

For the first time ever, Lend Me A Tenor, Moon Over Buffalo, Leading Ladies and Shakespeare in Hollywood are available in a trade edition, published this month by Smith and Kraus.

Click here to order your copy on!

Read an excerpt from Ken's introduction to this volume below.

The joy I have taken in writing plays over the years is incalculable. When I get an idea for a new play, I am never happier. “This time,” I say to myself, “it’s Twelfth Night or bust. How can I miss with this Italian tenor blowing in from the train station? Or this pair of intrepid English actors who mix up their Hamlet with their Henry the Fifth? Or this over-the-hill Cyrano who becomes crazed with ambition when he hears about the visiting movie producer?” When such notions swim past my mind’s eye and I think about how they can make us laugh and sit on the edge of our seats and yet somehow be turned inside out so that they might tell us something about ourselves, my heart does a sort of somersault and I start sharpening my pencil with a glee that I did not possess the day before.

The urge to write begins with the desire to imitate, and I have dreamt for many years of living in the Illyria of Twelfth Night and the “old-fashioned house” of She Stoops To Conquer; in the Litchfield inn of The Beaux’ Stratagem and the Yonkers feed store of The Matchmaker. These are lands of pure comedy that make us glad to be alive and happy to be participating in this elusive element of our humanity that we call “art.”

I came across a speech not long ago by a man named Karl Paulnack. Paulnack is the director of the music division of the Boston Conservatory, and he addressed the following remarks to the parents of an incoming class of students in an effort to convince them that their children – all of whom could have gone instead to law school or medical school – had not erred in choosing art as a way of life:

“The first people to understand how music really works were the ancient Greeks. And this is going to fascinate you: the Greeks said that music and astronomy were two sides of the same coin. Astronomy was seen as the study of relationships between observable, permanent, external objects and music was seen as the study of relationships between invisible, internal, hidden objects. Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside us.”

I believe that the same can be said about all the arts, from drama and poetry to painting and sculpture. Indeed, I have staked my life on this simple but earth-shattering proposition: that art can reorder our hearts.

Like the Rev. Canon Chasuble in The Importance of Being Earnest, I will speak metaphorically: I believe that inside our hearts are building blocks that can, over time, become chipped and disordered and lose all sense of harmony and beauty. I believe that we begin in beauty when we are children and become disordered over time. If we look at the ruins of Ancient Rome we can see the beauty of what was; and this kind of beauty can be reordered with a hammer and chisel. The blocks in our souls need drama and music, painting and sculpture, to repair them.

Drama, it seems to me, is the least obvious of the arts, perhaps because it has so much of the practical about it. There is something rough and ready about drama – a playwright, after all, is a wright, a maker of things in a practical sense. When I write a new play I have the feeling that I am rolling up my sleeves and getting down to work – and I like that about the process. First, I need to dream as deeply and as profoundly as I can; and then it is time to sharpen my pencil and scratch it all out on a lined piece of yellow paper. Similarly, actors need very practical skills. They must learn their lines, put on costumes and makeup, and make their exits and their entrances. It is not surprising that we do not blink an eye when we see the Mechanicals in A Midsummer Night’s Dream rehearsing a play. Quince is a carpenter and Snug a joiner. Their hands are rough. And yet it is entirely natural that they should be putting on a play, because plays are sturdy things, the way the houses that they build are sturdy.

The metaphor of houses (here comes Chasuble again) is a good one, I believe, because one of the most satisfying things about plays, especially comedies, is their architecture. What the playwright has chosen to tell us about is often of paramount importance to our night in the theatre. But how he tells his tale is frequently so wrapped up in the tale itself that the two are inseparable.

In this age of television, there is a tendency to equate the notion of dramatic comedy with jokes and joking, and nothing could be further from the truth. Without good proportions and a kind of spatial balance, no play will ever succeed. If a play is to have any real claim on our attention, it must have a solid structure, even – or perhaps especially – if that structure is virtually invisible. Think of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is astonishing for its poetry, it is remarkable for its story and it is dazzling in its wealth of characters: but it is also utterly astounding for its architecture, which enhances everything else inside it. Five acts and four separate plots; the outer two acts set in Athens with Theseus and Hippolyta, the inner three in the Wood with the fairies; four couples, two sets of lovers with dizzying permutations, and a local weaver and his friends who are rehearsing yet another play … and every moment is crystal clear. Structurally the play is a kind of miracle. And, like a great house, you do not think about the architecture, you just admire the building. The beauty of great stage comedy is bound up with the skill of plotting and the artistry of storytelling.

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