Poetry News

It was Bound to Happen: A Broadway Play About Writing Workshops

By Harriet Staff

Theresa Rebeck, creator and Executive Producer of the television show "Smash" wrote a play called "Seminar" that has been on Broadway for nearly a year. The play is based on a creative writing workshop.

Here's a bit more, from Inside Higher Ed:

"Seminar" is a comedic look at one writing workshop – this one a private group led by Leonard, a successful novelist of such renown that aspiring writers will pay $5,000 for the privilege of 10 weekly sessions with him.

And the financial toll is just the beginning: as a critic, Leonard is not just blunt but vitriolic, telling one aghast student that the story on which she’s labored for years is "a soul-sucking waste of words," and another that his work is "perfect – in a whorish way."

Schadenfreude is the play's predominant emotion: "I thought it might be funny to watch an accomplished actor in his 50s beating up on a bunch of young actors in their 20s,” Rebeck told Inside Higher Ed.

Funny it is, even mesmerizing – Leonard is played by the incomparable British actor Alan Rickman, who manages to make (roughly) credible not only the existence of a character like Leonard, but also the notion that anyone would pay to put up with him. (“See you next week, cowards,” Leonard remarks at the end of one less-than-successful session; “I’ve got to go to Somalia tomorrow so I’ll see you pussies in two weeks,” he concludes another.)

His students are Doug (Jerry O’Connell), a name-dropping, jargon-spewing, Top-Siders-sporting literary social climber; Izzy (Hettienne Park), who hopes her brash sexuality will prove the key to fame and fortune; Kate (Lily Rabe), a privileged, diffidently feminist Bennington alumna still stuck on her no-longer-recent college years – and the story she’s been working on ever since; and Martin (Hamish Linklater), hipsterish, talented, and broke, envious of Doug’s relative success but unwilling to show his own work to anyone. They are all familiar types, their flaws exaggerated for comic effect; fish in a barrel for their teacher’s caustic critiques.

While Leonard’s quips were written to draw laughter from the audience, his character represents a very real phenomenon, Rebeck said. "Over the years I’ve worked with and been taught by a lot of writers who I thought were not generous," she explained. "As many times as I’ve been helped by someone, I’ve been knocked down with a sort of gleeful cruelty that I think is unwarranted."

While many writers have experienced that sort of treatment, she said, “no one really talks about it.” "Seminar" is thus, in part, an exploration of “what kind of darkness of spirit” would lead a talented writer to become the sort of teacher who eviscerates his students for sport.

Originally Published: February 15th, 2012