Playwrights' Perspectives

Playwright's Perspective: Anne Washburn

The word “imagination” is commonly, irritatingly, used as though it were inevitably positive, harmless, and largely restricted to children; but it’s maybe our most powerful mental tool, and for better or worse it allows us access to the improbable, and the impossible. 

My grandfather once said that when he was a child people didn’t say that they were going to go “see” a play; they said they were going to go “listen” to one. I think that’s right; what we view, we accept as fact; listening is always an act of interpretation. 

The act of sitting in front of a play—both watching it and listening to it—is always a fairly extreme act of the imagination.

The act of sitting in front of a play — both watching it and listening to it — is always a fairly extreme act of the imagination; no one writes plays about strangers who file into a room one by one and sit in rows of chairs facing strangers pretending to be entirely other strangers in a place which is not a room full of rows of chairs…

The whole event — this event, here, now — is so implausible, and only the imaginative impulse of everyone involved keeps everyone from drifting away to do something “real.”

I didn’t set out to write a play in which large sections are heard rather than seen, but it a play where the intangibles — the past, memory, doubt, feelings — are the most important, and uncertain elements of our experience, both in our lives and as audience members. Foregrounding the act of listening seemed right.

Anne Washburn
February 2016