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LANGUAGE IS LIKE A SCREWDRIVER by Robin Rice Lichtig

19 Oct 2013 10:13 AM | Anonymous
My Dad taught me to use the right tool for the job. Although I was rebellious and often didn't heed his advice, this caution stuck with me. Language is like a screwdriver. It's the primary tool we use as writers, but there are many different shapes and sizes. 

I'm thinking about language and building stories. Yesterday I was working on a monologue to add to FOOBS AND FIPPLES - THE BREAST MONOLOGUES. 

The young woman speaking has found herself inundated with unfamiliar words: Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, Sentinel Node Dissection, Stage 2a, Grade 3, Adriamycin, Tamoxifen… In order to make informed decisions she has to learn this new language. So do I to write the monologue.

In my most recent play, LUST & LIES, the characters speak very differently: one is Cuban, one English, one American. The story unfolds in 1831 -- another language adjustment, more playwright research. It has to be just right. I don't want to be so obsessed with the words I lose track of my characters' feelings though.

At the Edinburgh Fringe Festival I was afraid that my play set in Vermont and New York wouldn't translate well to the English-speaking but mostly European audience. 

In Mongolia I taught playwriting using a translator. I was shocked to find that whatever I said in English took three times as long for the translator to say in Mongolian. I was teaching how to write a ten-minute play. Oops.

Earlier this year my play ALICE IN BLACK AND WHITE was produced by Looking for Lilith in Louisville,Kentucky. Lilith uses choreographed movement in plays, so I was very excited for them to take on ALICE and "translate" emotion into movement at certain spots in the play when passion is too high for words -- when tension is too tight for speech -- when language isn't enough.

Today I'm sitting in the hot tub at the gym and thinking about language. I'm remembering how the Mongolian students and I were amazed several times to find ourselves having animated discussions for a few minutes before remembering that we were speaking different languages. 

I'm remembering exquisite moments in the Lilith production that were silent. And I'm remembering strangers in the audiences in Scotland who cried during LISTEN! THE RIVER; and the Scottish poet who was moved to write two poems and email them to me.
 
The screwdriver riff has served its purpose. It's got me thinking now about the purpose of language in my plays. It needs to be well-researched and specific so that it can fulfill its ultimate purpose which is to stay the hell out out of the way of the universal language: emotion. Thanks, Dad.

Website www.dramamama.net

Comments

  • 21 Oct 2013 12:01 PM | Elana Gartner
    It's always interesting when characters are speaking at cross purposes or using language that they themselves don't understand, making any scene more challenging. This has come into play when I wrote a play that involved technology that one character was unfamiliar with. I had another play that was partly in broken in Spanish (which I am not familiar with but had to research) but it meant that the only non-Spanish speaker in the room was lost during some conversations.
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  • 30 Oct 2013 11:34 AM | Nancy Gall-Clayton
    What a great metaphor and so many apropos examples! I saw ALICE IN BLACK AND WHITE and loved the language -- and the silence. I also liked the bird song in THE POWER OF BIRDS and recall your telling me that the actor who did the bird calls wanted more of them! Thanks for sharing your insights, Robin!
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