I call myself a playwright. I love the word wright - it's so strange. It feels like it should be spelled ‘write’, right? What is a ‘wright’?
“[A] little-used word referring to one who constructs or repairs something. It also appears in shipwright, which refers to a person who builds ships.”
I’m a constructor and repairer of play. Isn’t that a cool thing to do?
So what is play?
Let’s have a google. Wikipedia seems particularly comprehensive on the subject…
“Play can take the form of improvisation or pretence, interactive, performance, mimicry, games, sports, and thrill-seeking.”
OK… so why is play?
"the many theories of play expounded in the past are clear proof that the phenomenon is difficult to understand.”
Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget.
Play is a paradox: it feels like we need to play, and that play is unnecessary. When we play our actions have meaning. But they aren’t meaningful like they would be if we weren’t playing. Think of what rugby players do to each other.
“These same behaviours might be inappropriate or even illegal outside the playing field.”
So play is both real and unreal. Consequential, and of no consequence.
“[Play is] any purposeful mental or physical activity performed either individually or group-wise in leisure time or at work for enjoyment, relaxation, and satisfaction of real-time or long term needs.”
Susanna Millar's The Psychology of Play
I wright plays for my imaginative recreation; and yours.
Recreation is a beautiful word that I’m using to describe an interactive experience of imaginatively inhabiting different people, places and times. Doing that helps me re-create myself in satisfying ways that can be trivial or profound. Perhaps it does the same for you?
You’ve probably got some strong feelings about stage, page and screen.
So do I. It’s been more than two decades since I began wrighting words for actors to speak, and people to read or hear. I’ve achieved the most recognition (‘most’ = not much) for plays that I’ve written and cowritten that have been staged around the world. I’ve created and acted in minor things for TV and film. I’ve written a few articles for newspapers and magazines. The most culturally significant wrighting I’ve done so far is as a member of the story team that creates a soap opera that’s broadcast to 500,000+ New Zealanders, 5 nights a week.
I love poking around in the mechanics of story, and I recognise and enjoy the skill and power of forms of storytelling ranging from doorstop novels to one-line tweets. The wrighting I do for this Substack is an experiment: I’m trying to distill different types of stories into their most potent essence for our collective imaginative recreation.
For me, for here and for now, that means words, brevity and breadth.
Your imagination puts blockbuster film budgets to shame. You have the power to imagine characters and settings that are more wonderful than any that could ever exist. My job is to gently guide and support your imagination. Words are the best way to do that. I feel that visual culture constricts our imaginative experience. Have you read the Lord of the Rings recently? Can you imagine Frodo not looking like Elijah Wood? It’s almost impossible for me. So the plays I wright here construct and repair words in ways designed to spark our collective imaginations and let them run wild. Look up to the top corner of the screen. Instead of a picture I use my initials - AEM - Arthur Eric Meek. Any picture of me is just a representation of what I looked like for a fraction of a second of my life. My initials symbolise words that symbolise a fuller, more nuanced representation of who I am than a thousand images. If a picture says a thousand words, my name can say millions.
“If in this I have been tedious, it may be some excuse, I had not time to make it shorter.”
William Cowper, 1704
I’m trying to use fewer words in ways that say more. I’m taking time to make my stories shorter. Nothing that hits your inbox from me should take more than ten minutes to read. When I wright well, it will stick in your mind in a good way, for a long while.
One of the ways I’m tinkering to achieve that effect is to present you with story outlines. They’re also called treatments, or synopses. I usually wright outlines for every story I’m playing with. They’re the distilled essence of the story designed to fuel the imagination of the reader and get them hungry for more. They’re traditionally used to try and convince producers and broadcasters to buy the ‘real thing.’ Recently, I’ve started to wonder if they’re not actually perfect as they are. For me to turn an outline like Dog Library into a film would take several years, and millions of dollars. Would the end result be a better and more pleasing experience for you than the ten minutes it will take to read the outline? I don’t think so.
When you’re wrighting stories for money, the holy grail is to discover a formula that works and repeat, repeat, repeat. Series 21, Episode 6. Wrighting a story formula is difficult and admirable. The familiarity becomes comforting for its audience too. I make my living wrighting a particular story formula under a different name. It’s awesome, it pays the bills and it exercises my mind. But it’s not all of me. The dangers of becoming synonymous with a formula is that it can trap you in a box that’s hard for you or your audience to escape. Like when you see David Schwimmer acting in something and your first thought is ‘Ross from Friends.’
I’m not wrighting here to discover a formula to manufacture at scale. I’m wrighting for us both to play. I’m interested in so many different people, places, and times. This is where we get the chance to imaginatively inhabit them together; to try things out, and spend time in the fresh and unfamiliar.
Wrighting stories has become my habit, pastime, and practice. It’s fiddly, it’s engrossing, it pushes me, and it gives me a sense of satisfaction that seems akin to the way other people talk about playing video games, or sports. It’s something that I need to do, or I get a bit antsy. But it’s not something that I need you to consume or approve of. When I wright something and present it to you here, it’s not because I need you to indulge my wrighting bug, or support my lifestyle. It’s because I’ve created something that profits and delights me, and I suspect it might have the same effect on you, too.
So, once a week I’m going to offer you a short, sweet treat.
We’ll inhabit a bunch of people, places, and times in a variety of ways designed to spark our imaginations through acts of communal recreation.
I’m a playwright and this is my stage. Let’s play.
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