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Sunday, January 10, 2010


Without commentary, two observations about voice:
Mel Gussow: What kind of playwright are you?

Tom Stoppard: In general terms, I'm not a playwright who is interested in character with a capital K and psychology with a capital S. I'm a playwright interested in ideas and forced to invent characters to express those ideas. All my people speak the same way, with the same cadences and sentence structures. They speak as I do. When I write an African president into a play, I have to contrive to have him the only African president who speaks like me.

MG: What if you were writing an American play?

TS: All the Americans would have to be educated at Sandhurst or Christchurch - Rhodes scholars discussing John Wayne.

MG: Doesn't that limit you?

TS: It limits me in areas I'm not interested in expanding.

Mel Gussow:
Conversations with Stoppard
July 1979 interview

Nowadays the journalistic critical cliché about a young poet is to say that "he has found his own voice," the emphasis being on his differentness, on the uniqueness of his voice, on the fact that he sound like nobody else. But the Elizabethans at their best as well as at their worst are always sounding like each other. They did not search much after uniqueness of voice....It would hardly have struck them that a style could be used for display of personality.

Thom Gunn
Introduction to
Selected Poems of Fulke Greville
(as quoted by Colm Tóibín
The New York Review of Books, Jan. 14, 2010)


Karl said...

Interesting stuff. I'm wondering what's led you to this investigation of voice?

Paul Festa said...

In one sense it was just a reading serendipity - I read the Stoppard comment in the morning and the Gunn quote in the afternoon. But I've always been sensitive to the criticism that my characters were too undifferentiated, that they sounded too much like me, and found Stoppard's self-acceptance on this supposed flaw refreshing if not liberating (I will probably continue to worry).

Karl said...

Stoppard is nothing if not nervy: "It limits me in areas I'm not interested in expanding." I guess you can say that after you've been winning awards for your scripts for 30 years! For me, if one is not going to put character first, then the ideas better be pretty complex and/or original and/or provocative. Otherwise it's just didactic.

Paul Festa said...

Nervy is saying it in 1979, when you're 32 years old.

About Me

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Paul Festa’s first film, Apparition of the Eternal Church (2006, 51 min), captures the responses of 31 artists to the apocalyptic music of Olivier Messiaen (with Justin Bond, John Cameron Mitchell, Harold Bloom; screenings: Grace Cathedral, Barbican Centre, Library of Congress; “Remarkable”The New Yorker; “Stunning”Chicago Sun-Times; “Sublime”Globe & Mail; numerous awards). Festa performs the Tchaikovsky violin concerto, opposite members of the San Francisco Ballet and The Cockettes, in his award-winning second film, The Glitter Emergency (2010, 20 min), a silent-film drag ballet comedy (“Enormous visual and musical inventiveness…full of pleasure and joy...Festa gives a bravura performance."—Film Threat). He produced, wrote and edited, with director Austin Forbord, and was chief archivist, for the Emmy-nominated documentary Stage Left: A Story of Theater in San Francisco (2010, 80 min: with Robin Williams, Bill Irwin, Peter Coyote; screenings: Geary Theater, KQED; “Intriguing...entertaining...a valuable record”—Variety). Performances as violinist and actor: ODC Theater, Center for Performance Research, Kunst-Stoff, TheatreFIRST, North Bay Shakespeare, Albert Fuller's Helicon Ensemble (Merkin Hall, Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall). US, Boston, NYC, SF, LA and DC (Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress on the “Betts” Stradivarius) premieres of Messiaen’s Fantaisie for violin and piano. He is the author of OH MY GOD: Messiaen in the Ear of the Unbeliever, based on Apparition of the Eternal Church, and several anthologized essays, and has written for The Daily Beast, Salon, Nerve, and The New York Times Book Review. Current projects include a novel and Tie It Into My Hand (2014, ca. 80 min), a documentary feature that has screened as a work in progress at the Cannes film market and at ODC Theater in San Francisco (with Alan Cumming, Gary Graffman, Peter Coyote, Mink Stole, Robert Pinsky; "A fascinating exploration of the artistic life, as rollickingly entertaining as it is insightful and stirring."San Francisco Bay Guardian). Education: Yale (B.A.; prizes, honors, distinction), Juilliard (Cert., Adv. Cert., scholarships). Residencies: Yaddo, MacDowell, ODC Theater, Centre des Récollets.