Dramatist in America: Letters of Maxwell Anderson, 1912-1958

By Laurence G. Avery; Maxwell Anderson | Go to book overview
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the five hundred. Nick the Rockefellers if you wish, but I'll raise the money otherwise. 3

May I suggest a few rules--well, not rules, but admonitions, for the contestants? --Play structure is much more important than playwriting, even in a poetic play. Look well to the emotional stress at the end of the second act, and take care that this stress emerges from the characters in the situation, not from the situation alone. Read Aristotle on the "recognition scene," the most important point in any dramatic structure. Avoid the imitation of verse mannerisms from another age, avoid archaisms, save rarely for historical color. Write the living language, even though in verse; try for limpidity, clarity of meaning and, above all, accuracy of metaphor. The accurate metaphor, instantly recognizable, is the test of good poetry for the stage. Use words carefully. Remember that every word you write is magnified by ten diameters when spoken on the stage. Never choose a soft or sentimental subject for poetic treatment. The more beauty and ornament your style carries the sturdier must be the skeleton of plot and thinking underneath. Spend three times the effort planning your play which you will require to write it.

Some few of these precepts are suggested to me by going through Surrey, which could have been improved by a more honestly woven diction. The girl has real dramatic talent, and builds scenes well, and your choice was probably the right one. But she occasionally tries to decorate her verse with borrowed ornament, and the result is a loss of interest.

I write this letter the day after our out of town opening of The Wingless Victory, which looks to be a hit here, and will come [into] New York the 23rd of December. Day after tomorrow I go to New York to start casting for High Tor. I'm still trying to get three plays on this season, 4 so if you hear little from me you'll know the reason. But if you're in the east call me at New City 202 in the evening sometime, and we'll arrange to meet.

As ever
Maxwell A.

Please don't quote the rules as mine--

1.
Prof. Bailey's response to no. 53 is lost, unfortunately, but in it she insisted on naming first prize in her verse play competition the Maxwell Anderson Award.
2.
At the time Guthrie McClintic was producer and director of High Tor, and his wife Katharine Cornell was producer and star of The Wingless Victory.

-58-

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Dramatist in America: Letters of Maxwell Anderson, 1912-1958
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