Monday, July 14, 2008

coming to terms with the play blurb pet peeve

In response to my earlier post about a play blurb phrase that annoys the living crap out of me ("comes to terms with"), Chicago Joe adds a few more skin-crawlingly bad phrases to the mix:

"upper middle class"
"coming of age"
"affluent couple"
"as they contemplate..."
"face the outside world"
Thanks, Chicago Joe. Those are god-awful. Bad blurbs eschew action in favor of meaningless cliche and fluff. Bad blurbs want the play to sound important and deep. Playwrights are often called to write a blurb for their own plays in the early presentational stages. Most theatres will want the playwright to give them some idea of what they think the play is about if they're promoting the play for a staged reading or premiere. Playwrights, who are not always marketing geniuses, will lean on the crutch of cliche rather than punch the action (hopefully, there is action to punch). Unfortunately, some playwrights are more concerned about sounding deep than about sounding fucking awesome. They should go to to watch a few movie trailers where shit explodes and learn how to sell a story. You're not betraying the important content by selling the story's momentum. Does anybody read a blurb and think: "I cannot wait to see that play about an upper middle class couple facing the outside world!"

Don't lie. Don't sell what's not there. But if you've written a story with momentum, you can usually find your blurb in what happens on stage in the first 15 minutes rather than in cliche that describes (supposed) internal enlightenment by the end. Writing the play's blurb is a really good way for a writer to compress the vital action into 1-3 sentences. I sometimes think the best playwriting lesson might focus on how to write a blurb for your play. It's like trying to sum up your life in your own obituary. You aren't going to dick around in your newsprint tombstone.

A play blurb is difficult to write. If you're new to it, or don't pay attention to theatre marketing, it's easy to write something boring. Sadly, once the playwright is out of the marketing picture, she has little say in how the play is reduced in blurb form. Just hope the presenting theater knows how to tantalize... or "borrow" from another theater's awesome blurb.

I wrote the blurb for my play this fall at Chicago Dramatists. If you think it sucks goat ass, then disregard this entire post: