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A Chance to Play the Role of a Critic

Wendy Miller is editor of Calendar Weekend's Ventura Edition

For Yahweh, as for writers, it all starts with the word. But unlike the Old Testament God, for whom all things, including the words, come easily, writers tend to struggle with language. They also battle with ideas, with character development, with plotting and particularly with solitude, the condition under which they are forced, by dint of career choice, to labor.

The essential work of writing is done alone. But once the words have been fixed to the page, the wordsmith tends to go looking for company, generally in the form of a reader, or a listener. While the old axiom “writers need to write” may be true, there are very few writers--at least among the sane and sober of that crowd--who can find the wherewithal to keep at it when absolutely no one is interested in reading or hearing what they write. No one wants to scream or scribble in a void.

This is particularly true for playwrights, whose reach must extend beyond mere entertainment, amusement or enlightenment. They must carry us to an alternative, believable reality where we suspend disbelief in three dimensions. To do this, the playwright needs feedback. But when? And how?

“Often, the when is when the audience has paid anywhere from $25 to $100 a ticket to see a play,” said Leo Smith, who wrote this week’s story on the first Ojai Playwright’s Conference at Happy Valley School and Theater 150. (Page 44) “But that can be too late for both the writer and the audience. Playwrights welcome the opportunity for constructive criticism in a safer and less costly setting. That is what play readings are all about. If you can test drive a car, why not a play?”

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For a modest donation, audiences can take a spin around seven plays, which will be read over the course of a three-day period, beginning tomorrow night.

If the words you are most interested in are the ones that accompany a beat, check out the pool party Friday nights through August at the Hyatt Westlake. (See the Local Angle column, Page 54)

That’s the final word.


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