We asked our authors the question, "How do you find the endings of your plays?" Below are a few replies, each offering a unique journey.
Nancy Brewka-Clark tells us:
I end my comedies by echoing a phrase from the dialogue. I know I'm done when a character can deliver it with a mocking twist. In Math-O-Freak, football fan Kirk tells aspiring ballerinas Libby and Robin that when they do a pirouette-he calls it an example of torque- it's nowhere as strenuous as breaking a tackle. Boasting that he could already star in a ballet, he spins, loses his balance and falls at the girls' feet, giving Libby the punch line, "Better work on your torque first." In Orni-What? Amy and Jill are eating lunch, worrying about college boards and debating careers when class clown Mark sits down and helps himself to Amy's yogurt. When they get fed up with his puns and walk off, he protests by shouting, "Hey, I haven't finished your yogurt."
Greg Romero shares with us:
It’s usually my desire to discover the ending while listening closely to everything I’m writing—that my care for the play as I’m creating it will reward me by revealing its ending. But since plays are living things, and since I have become more interested lately in my own plays becoming more like wild animals, the ending, I’ve found, is not something I always wish to tame.
I think it has also been true that, even before my impulse described above, it has always been my goal to find an ending that doesn’t necessarily complete the play, but, somehow expands the play and creates another live breath in the play’s final moment—a life that continues in the thoughts and bodies of the audience (and performers, if they wish).
And sometimes I have found the play’s endings/expansions while writing, sometimes it has come to me in a daydream, or on a walk, or during a nap, or while watching another play, or reading a book, or listening to music, or preparing food, or while I’m making a point of doing nothing at all. And some of my plays, bless their souls, have lived on in some way with me never having found their ending.
Jonathan Dorf rhapsodizes:
To me, plays are like pieces of music, and it's crucial that they begin and end on the right note, whether that's a literal musical note, a line of dialogue or more likely for me an image/tableau. After all, that first note is how you welcome the audience to your play, and the final one is how you send them out into the world after.
I often know the ending before I really start writing the play, which allows me to write toward that moment and keep the play focused and moving in the right direction. For example, in Rumors of Polar Bears, my play about a group of teens surviving in the Mad Max-like aftermath of a climate change "event," it ends with the little group breaking apart. Deme, the older sister, continues on with her possibly quixotic quest to find the polar bears, whereas younger brother Romulus decides that it's finally time to stop. What is the last note? It's the image of Romulus, together with Kinguyakki, a teenage First Nations girl, as "The Aurora Borealis begins to dance." I wanted the peace and beauty of the Northern Lights to be the play's final note, and it was up to me to get the situation on stage to harmonize with that.
Thank you to Nancy, Greg, and Jonathan for sharing their thoughts about endings, and best wishes to everyone for a joyful, rewarding, and delightful end of 2014.
You can also read How Do You Find the Endings of Your Plays?, Part One.