A play presents an idea which the playwright explores to draw attention to it in order to teach, to inform and to entertain the audience. It could be an idea which has been explored by other playwrights but you will fashion it artistically to present it in a fresh way. That idea becomes the theme of your play. You could have a sub-theme but for now, try to limit yourself to one theme.
As you write and practice, you will grow and mature and with maturity comes the self confidence you need to handle sub- themes. You could develop an idea from your imagination, personal experience the world around you/environment, an individual or the experiences of other people.
Ideas alone cannot make a play. For instance, corruption is an idea. If you write corruption one hundred times on the pages of your paper, it will not make sense. Let us move a step further, if you write an essay on corruption, it cannot make a play. It becomes a play or drama, through your ability to imaginatively weave a story around it and present it in dialogue form suitable for the stage.
When we say that you generate an idea from your imagination, it means that the conception of the story is completely from your imagination. Sometimes, as you dramatise the story, the theme emerges. In this case the inspiration comes in form of a story. The idea that emerges from this story is the theme and the story is not based on your personal experience, a story someone told you or the experience of a close relation or friend. It may not be based on an incident you have witnessed or events in your environment. We know that some people already possess the creative talent but those who do not are using this course as a forum for apprenticeship. So attempt the exercise below.
Self Assessment Exercise (1) Imagine a short story that you have not heard before
(2) The story must reflect human experience
(3) Review that story and detect the central idea in that story
3.1.2. Personal Experience
You may wish to recall that we said that anybody who has survived his/her childhood has at least a story in him/her. You could write a play based on your personal experience. It could be a pleasant, unpleasant, traumatic, serious or unserious experience. It must not necessarily be a childhood experience so it could be a recent experience or something that happened to you a long time ago.
You will decide what to do with that experience. Did you learn a lesson from it which you want to share with others? Did it unravel an aspect of life that astounded you? Did it reveal an aspect of life which you never imagined existed and you gained positively from it? You need to ask yourself these and other similar questions to enable you choose the idea from the experiences to dramatize.
As you grow older you must have gone through many pleasant and unpleasant experiences from which you could select an idea to dramatize. You should note that you are not expected to document the experience exactly the way it happened but an aspect of it which you would recreate imaginatively and artistically.
In my play Into The World, I tried to recreate a personal experience but that appears in the first part of the play. Literature was one of my best subjects, and Romeo and Juliet was one of our prescribed texts. My classmates used to come to me to say “Kuolum Romeo and Juliet” literarily meaning tell me the story of Romeo and Juliet by implication to “explicate the text for me” and I took delight in doing that. On this particular evening, one of my classmates approached me and I wanted to know which aspect as presented on pages 1-14 of the play, though I did not record it the way it was presented then.
I do not have enough space to present the entire part of the play. The idea that struck me from this experience was self reliance/empowerment. Actually, the first title of the play “Self Reliance”, Into the World is an expression which form five students used to indicate that they were leaving the confinement of the secondary school and were going into the world. [This slang was popular among the students especially those who were living in the boarding houses]. They contended that immediately after their school certificate examinations, they would be free and move into the world as presented in the dialogue below.
Tessy: They will really be independent then. You know that Monique was insulting me simply because I asked her to explain something to me…. She started showing off, quoting from Gregory’s first line at the beginning of the play to Prince’s last line at the end of the play.
Patsy: (laughing), serves you right. Why are you bothering yourself? Next time you would go to her, won’t you? As for me sha, I have no time for anybody. I will just fulfill all righteousness and sit for my WASC examination to justify the school fees my parents paid for me. As soon as I drop my pen sha, I will got o a school of modeling abroad. Chukky has promised to sponsor me. You know that he travels abroad regularly. He will take me along as soon as I take my last paper.
Tessy: You’re really moving into the world. In-to the wor…
Patsy: Wor-wor-world (they shake hands). We are the people who will talk of going into the world after our school certificate examinations. Not these blockheads who would not know how to enjoy their lives when they move into the world. Men, we’re engaged forty eight hours-day and night.
Tessy: NITEL or no NITEL! Do you think that Chukky meant what he said?
This incident alone cannot produce a play with a beginning, middle and an end. I decided to follow Tessy into her world where her boyfriend Tim married her eventually. She was lazy while in school so could not concentrate on her studies. Consequently, she became a ‘full-time’ housewife, buying clothes and jewelries on credit for her husband to pay up later. At a point, her husband becomes tired of the scenario and stops her from buying anything on credit since, according to him, his house is not a market place. Tessy leaves her husband who marries her maid, Janet. Tessy comes back to discover that things have fallen apart and at the climatic point of the play, her two school mates, Monique and Mercy, appear to educate her on the need for her to be empowered. She opts for fashion designing in which she excels. The blurb of the play which is culled from the evaluator’s report had this to say:
Into the World is instructive to the truant, careless and unserious student; to the lazy, slothful, and unproductive and extravagant housewife; and indeed to the mindless polygamist. It insists that for a harmonious relationship to exist, every individual should be hardworking and productive. With these concerns, Onyka Onyekuba joins other Nigerian Writers in the reformist role which is of great relevance in our times.
You have seen how I developed the theme of self reliance or self empowerment from an experience. You may recall that I told you in Unit 4, 3.2 above, that this play was the fastest play I wrote and that it started as a playlet requested by my elder sister for her students for a competition.
Self Assessment Exercise
Recall a personal experience and select a theme which could form the basis of a play you intend to write.
3.1.3. Another Person’s Experience
Another person’s experience could inspire you. As we have seen in 3.1.2. above, you could elicit an idea for a possible play from an experience. One day, I was in the luxurious bus from Lagos to Awka. At Upper Iweka, Onitsha in Anambra State, the bus stopped for some passengers to alight and as usual, many young men rushed with their wheelbarrows to scramble for the passengers’ luggage. I noticed one who was lying dejectedly in his wheelbarrow watching his colleagues. I wondered why he was not struggling with the rest and what could be going on in his mind. I decided to imaginatively follow him to his house, to his childhood, to the reasons why he ended up in a profession like this. I did but, unfortunately, the manuscript is not a complete project yet. Maybe one day, it would
The idea of childlessness in marriage explored in my play Sons for My Son was inspired by an experience of women. The first was a woman who said that her husband is not really the biological father of her children but her pastor. Another one is a woman who got married but was unable to have a baby after three years of marriage. As a matter of fact the line below by Enyidie, her mother-in-law in the play was what her mother-in-law in real life told her, though not the way it is presented here.
Enyidie: How can a barren woman give me any rightful place? Does she have any right here? As long as I don’t have grandchildren, this house and everything in it belongs to me. Now let me tell you what you don’t know. The dog in this house has more rights and is recognized more than this barren fool called Ndidi. At least the dog can procreate while this man is incapable of procreation. We are tired of having her patience. Advise her to take her Ndidi elsewhere.
However, in real life the woman was told by her mother-in-law that the dog in the house was more useful than the woman since the bitch can procreate and she is barren. You can see from the dialogue that the lady was referred to as a man. The mother-in-law refers to her daughter-in-law as a “man” because men do not give birth and since this particular woman has not given birth to a child, she is in the same position with men who lack that capacity.
Self Assessment Exercise
You have friends, colleagues and relations. Choose an experience of one of them and generate an idea you could base your play on.
3.1.4 An Individual
We have seen two instances above where ideas for a play could be generated from personal experiences. An individual could also inspire you. The person could be a very good, kind, generous, wicked or brave person. The character of your boss in the office could inspire you to write a play in which you will explore the attribute(s) he/she embodies. In the example From my play, Sons For My Son, which I have used above for illustration, the mother-in-law could inspire a play.
Remember that an idea alone cannot make a play. When a personality inspires you, you should use your imagination to create a story and other characters that will act out that story since your story cannot be presented with only one character. This is why it is creative writing.
Self Assessment Exercise
Pick a personality and weave a story around that personality. This story is not the real-life story of the person but a fictitious one.
Incidents, events, and everyday life provide a lot of materials for a creative mind. Weddings, naming ceremonies, graduations, visits of important personalities and other occasions provide ideas for playwriting. I recall that a playwright, Esiaba Irobi, elicited the theme of injustice from the visit of Pope John Paul II to Nigeria in 1983. His play titled The Pope Lied dramatizes the plight of a soldier who is being oppressed, no promotion, no decent accommodation and is childless. This soldier, Mushe Dayan could not understand why the Pope should say that there was justice, peace and tranquility in Nigeria. What does the Pope know about him and his predicament? He contends that the Pope is only intelligent on Sundays, and that it is just once a week that “he has a flash of ecumenical intelligence”. He therefore executed a coup in which the president of his country is killed.
You have seen how the creative mind works. Nigerian dramatists in Nollywood try to create stories based on some significant events in their environment. But my observation is that in most cases, they dramatize the events with little embellishments and fictitious names. The audience is usually familiar with the original story which was dramatized in a movie but the problem with such plays is that they tend to lose as soon as the original story is forgotten by the public. In other words, they fade with the original story. A good example is the scandal involving Rev. King however, there is still a lasting lesson for all would-be Rev. Kings and all of us who are gullible religionists.
Self Assessment Exercise
Now, review some of the notable events in your environment in the past two years. Choose one event/incident and elicit a theme from it.
Playwriting is an imaginative art but, like the Romantics claim, the idea for the play could be found anywhere in the world around us. It behoves you to see beyond the ordinary in your life, the lives of others and in events around you. The first step is to detect a theme, an idea and then weave a story around that idea in a pleasant way for presentation to your audience. In this way, you let your audience see your point of view on that particular idea. Consequently, you enlighten them while at the same time entertaining them.
You have seen in this unit that you can imagine an idea, draw an idea from your personal experience, the experience of others individuals and your environment. The important issue here is that if you truly want to be a playwright you must have a fertile imagination, be dramatic and see drama everywhere and in everything. You cannot dramatize all, but as you detect ideas and construct a story around
them, you will be able to drop the ones that are not viable and choose those you could dramatize.