I like to start with a basic structure. What will the thing look like? How will it move through time and space?
For my first full-length play, Four Square, I wanted a small cast and I wanted it to be technically simple. I decided to write a sort of straight-forward living room comedy.
For my next play, Trolls (which hasn't seen a stage yet and still needs some workshopping), I wanted something much more blatantly theatrical. I pulled away from naturalism and went with language, physical comedy and allegory. I also wanted to play with a larger cast so I could learn to juggle multiple characters on stage without losing or forgetting about any of them. I decided on a group of clowns, because they were the most physical I'd been exposed to at the time. But I didn't want red noses. Floppy shoes and baggy pants were good enough. So the clowns were trolls, who were actually hillbillies, who harvested human organs and lived under a bridge. The set I envisioned was monstrous and impractical because it would require a stage the size of a college auditorium ... complete with a riverbank, a bridge and a bbq smoker made out of an old VW Beetle.
Devil's Workshop, the third play, went in the opposite direction. I still wanted it to be heavily theatrical but I wanted no more than a couple of rehearsal cubes. I wanted it to be a memory play. I wanted to use middle-age actors. I also wanted it to be deeply personal. I decided to tell a story about a middle age man who gets laid off from a corporate job and retreats into a fantasy world of wood carving while his wife, his muse and his dead grandparents fought for his attention. I was interested in the idea of direct address, but I couldn't fully commit to it yet, but I dabbled in that structure.
Chaos, and Other Worldly Possessions, the most recent project, sort of melded the last two plays together. Very theatrical. Very memory oriented. Very unconcerned with time or linear progress. I went back to clowns -- albeit dark, grotesque actor clowns. I liked the way clowns are fearless in breaking the fourth wall and I wanted that in the play to a much larger degree. Given the nature of the project, I knew my cast size and gender. I knew we would have no budget but I also wanted a fantasy and figured I'd do that with transition speed -- almost like jump cuts in film to disorient the storyline. The structure of Chaos aOWP ... and ultimately the content, reflected these choices.
For the next one, I'm thinking right now I want to keep working on breaking down the wall between audience and actor. Chaos aOWP gave me a taste of the power actors can have when they step out of the world of the stage and into the world of the audience. So this next play will be structured very much across the footlights. I still want very little in the way of set ... for financial reasons as well as personal ones. I want theater that is about actors and audience meeting in the dark to enjoy themselves and each other. This automatically adds a theatrical element. This time around though, I want to play with Unity of Time. Ninety minutes will be ninety minutes. The action will happen in a linear fashion. The story will travel from point A to point Z without the need to careen off into the past or the future, because this is difficult to write without flashbacks and memory moments and the challenge appeals to me.
So that's my starting point. Now all I need is characters, a story and a setting. Maybe something will come to me tomorrow.