More From the Sarah Ruhl Article

More good stuff from the May/June Dramatist article, since it’s not on their website. Sarah Ruhl on narrative:

I feel there are two strains of narrative in our culture: one is Aristotle and one is Ovid. Aristotle has held sway for many centuries, but I think our culture is hungry for Ovid’s way of telling stories. His is not the neat Aristotelian arc but instead small transformations that are delightful and tragic….

The Aristotelian model — a person wants something, comes close to getting it but is smashed down, then finally gets it or not and then learns something from the experience — I don’t find helpful. It’s a strange way of looking at human experience. I know it’s important for actors with certain training to have intentions and wants and desires, but I was influenced by Maria Irene Fornes. I did a workshop with her in Mexico and she said, “The only people who want something from another human being all the time are criminals…and Americans.”


6 Replies to “More From the Sarah Ruhl Article”

  1. I think that both Ruhl and Fornes are underestimating actors (who all don’t use literal-minded, mid-century techniques – or if they do, are capable of adapting to non-narrative texts, often improving on ’em.) And Rule and Fornes are also underestimating criminals (many of whom are quite anarchic and not so simplistically motivated.) And they are undestimating Americans, both criminal and law abiding. It all smells like snobbery to me. I wish this kind of “discourse” would stay put in its posh workshops in Mexico, dreaming up coat-pink, whimsical worlds in which maids who don’t clean don’t get fired.

  2. T-
    I don’t really understand your comment except that you have an axe to grind. Apart from Fornes’ provocative statement about Americans, what’s wrong with acknowledging there are – at least – two ways of creating and experessiing stories? And what’s wrong with admitting there are certain kinds of training for actors that strongly suggest actors look at plays from the perspective of “what do I want” and “what do I get” as a character in this story?

  3. Firstly – I must cop to having axes to grind! I’m obviously not a fan of Ruhl or Fornes. I don’t think there is anything wrong about speaking about Aristotle vs. Ovid, and preferring Ovid. But I think super-reductive comments about Americans and criminals in a progressive arts context is dismaying. And as an actor trained in both mid-century Western & So. Asian theater techniques, I often find that the ways playwrights & critical writers discuss acting technique is innacurate, incomplete, and stinks of a kind of snobbery that prevents said playwrights & writers from really understanding what actors do.

  4. There seem to be three issues, and one in particular I’m quite interested in. First, there’s the “fan of Ruhl and Fornes” issue. I’m a fan, others are not, and I don’t see much to discuss there beyond “I liked that play” and “Well, I didn’t.” Second, there’s the Aristotle vs. Ovid, which is what I was most interested in at the time I wrote the post.

    But now I’m interested in issue three: “playwrights & writers really understanding what actors do.” I was an actor before I was a writer, and I was never into the “what do I want” and “what do I get” thing. It just felt like a too literal way to approach the idea of subtext. As I moved into writing, I found I don’t really approach the writing from a “what does the character want at this moment” perspective, thus making it even stranger for me to see actors approaching plays that way.

    I’d love to hear from your perspective, Tais, “what actors really do” and what folks like Malachy and I are missing.

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