Terrance McNally Master Class Review

Cherry Lane Theatre
March 5, 2007

It was a very informative hour and half meeting the man that I am a huge fan of. He is a soft spoken yet passionate man. He loves to write and he writes all the time. He started off by giving a short intro to New York theatre history and the Cherry Lane. Then it became a Q & A.

I’ve included snippets and quotes from him. Many of these are things one might already know or heard many times, but to hear it from a successful and famous playwright seems to hold so much more weight and authority than reading it from a book.

1. Producers do not like to read plays. They like to have them read.
This is why there are so many play readings in NY and why so many plays have multiple readings in the development process. It makes sense. Very little commitment from a producer. They just need to show up, sit and watch.

2. Make your own success and agents will want to work with you. The more success you have the more they will work for you.
When asked how a playwright goes about getting an agent.

3. You make your own success by doing the work. Work for tangible things.
Case in point: After Terrance McNally bombed with his first play on Broadway, he wrote another play for the famous character actor James Coco. James was a working actor that Mcnally admired greatly and asked him why he wasn’t playing leading man roles? James Coco replied he did well and got very good reviews playing bit parts but no one was writing roles for him. So TM wrote a play for him but it was unproduceable. The odds were against them, with a role written for a specific actor that wasn’t “leading man” quality and by a playwright whose was still trying to recover from his last bomb. So they shelved the script and worked on other projects. Than, as it happens in theatre, something always fall through. This happened at a theatre where James Coco was working and they producers said their next play of the season has been withdrawn by the writers for various reasons. James Coco was quick to give them the play TM had written for him, and it was produced and went on to great acclaim.

4. When asked about research, TM replied “I am greatly opposed to research. I would hope my writing made you believe I did the research”

5. People all the time say they want to work in the theatre, but I’m surprised by how many of them never go to the theater, and if they do, they only go to the big hits.

6. When asked what a young playwright should do, TM replied “A young playwright should form their own company to work and circle of peers so they can grow with each other. He then gave examples of many famous and growing theatre companies that started this way.

7. If the work is good, it will get done eventually. Your job is to get the play in the minds of actors, directors, producers, anyone that has a connection and interest.

8. Your life is your gunpowder, your spark – it is the quintessential bolt of lightning.
Case in point, TM wrote Master Class based on his frustrations as a playwrighting teacher at Julliard and he actually wrote the play while attending an event that was honoring himself.

9. On writing and directing, TM said his greatest teacher/mentor was Elaine May. She believed if the first 15 minutes of a play are perfect, than the train cannot derail.

10. TM also said Elaine May taught him to always ask “What is the purpose/action of any character at any given moment”

11. ” Structure is what keeps an audience in their seats.”

Terrance McNally concluded the night by reading some short passages from his upcoming play DEUCE, starring Angela Lansbury. The writing was, of course, wonderful.

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One response

  1. hey man I like it. I’m ready to write more articles and try out your ideas. After all, we always have something new to learn and being humble, I came here to learn. Bookmarked.

    – Andre