“For the Love of Language–Storytelling in Many Forms”
By Lisa A. Kramer
When I was growing up, you could often find me curled up under a blanket in my bedroom reading a book out loud to myself. I loved the play of words tripping across my tongue or the challenge of enunciating complex phrases and torturous tongue twisters. I relished in voicing characters, whose lives had been drawn so clearly by my favorite authors that I could see and hear them in my mind. Even to this day, with my own writing and sometimes when reading a book where language dances across the page, you can find me reading things out loud.
It seems natural, then, that my love of language led me to the theatre as well as to writing. To me, putting a show on the stage is simply another way to play with language and storytelling. It is words coming to life, using a combination of all the arts to bring people’s stories into reality, even just for a moment.
Still, people often ask me why I don’t write plays. While I have done almost everything you can think of in a theatre, I mostly consider myself a director. I guide people into telling the stories written, usually, by others. I have very little desire to write a play myself, unless I am working with a group to devise a project together. When it comes to writing, I prefer prose or poetry, written when I sit in the privacy of my own thoughts, even though I often write in a coffee shop.
I think the difference is that one of the things I love about making theatre is the collaborative process. There is nothing more powerful than being in a room filled with people creating together, breathing life into a story (whether scripted or devised). My best experiences in the theatre have come when working with people who bounce ideas off of one another until they find the solution that will tell the story in the most clear and entertaining way. Sometimes that means I write the words down and actually script what has been created, but I never really think of that writing as my own. The words represent the thoughts of everyone who has contributed. While certain phrases and sections might come from my own thought process, I never think of myself as a playwright.
That is changing, however. In late January 2020, my company—Heart Forward—will be producing a night of theatre and music at a local bar. One of the pieces we are presenting is a combined poetry/puppetry/movement piece. The idea came from my partner in the company and started as just a puppetry/movement piece, but I was inspired and decided that I wanted to contribute words. So, for the first time, I will be the official “playwright” of a poetry play called (tentatively) Love Bears Light on a Cold Winter’s Night. I’m very proud of the piece, but I’m also nervous as I put words out into the universe to be judged in yet another way. Still, feeling nervous just seems to be part of my process when I share any creative endeavor.
Theatre has influenced me as a writer, and writing has influenced me as a theatre artist and educator. I often get complimented for my use of dialogue in stories, and that is a direct result of my training in theatre, where characters are strongest when their dialogue sounds realistic. I have led workshops for other writers where I use theatre techniques to help them understand and develop their own characters. By physically bringing characters to life, and asking them questions that require improvised answers, even the most confident writer often discovers something new and unexpected. I use these techniques myself when I am stuck. My first novel, P.O.W.ER was the direct result of me having an imagined (and spoken out loud) conversation with two different characters from two different book ideas as I wandered through the shaded lanes of a botanical garden. Andra, who became the protagonist of P.O.W.ER, was by far the more determined that her story be told.
Perhaps that sounds a little crazy. Trust me, I realize that anyone who saw me wandering in the midst of beautiful flowers, while I had an intense conversation with myself, might have steered clear of me. Still, I believe that the characters and stories I love the most are the ones whom I can see coming to life even if they are only words on a page. I hear their voices. I want to ask them questions, learn more about them. Theatre allows me the opportunity to meet some of them in a visceral way, while writing allows me to understand them from the inside out. Ultimately, it all comes down to loving language and sharing stories.
Lisa A. Kamer is the author of both fiction and non-fiction, as well as a theatre director, educator, and the co-founder of Heart Forward Theatre Company. Her first novel P.O.W.ER (Word Hermit 2015) challenges young women to use their innate abilities to make the world better. When not writing, teaching, or creating theatre, Lisa spends her days being creative with her daughter, her husband, and her dog. You can learn more about her at www.lisaakramer.com or www.heartforwardarts.org.
Image of girl on books: https://wpclipart.com/education/reading/reading_4/girl_sitting_on_pile_of_books_reading.png.html
Image of Victoria Station Cafe, Victoria Station Web page: https://www.victoriastationcafe.com/
Image of Theatre Masks (public domain): http://www.publicdomainfiles.com/show_file.php?id=13945827019786
Image of Heart Forward Logo: Heart Forward Web page: https://www.heartforwardarts.org/coming-events/
Image of Lisa Kramer, author’s collection