How to write a play – Advice from Terry Allen and Octavio Solis

Photo Courtesy of Marfa Live Arts / Artist Terry Allen talks about the importance of unlearning and curiosity to create a piece of work.

Marfa Live Arts has opened up submissions for its short playwriting contest and is sharing advice from two artists – Terry Allen and Octavio Solis.

Artist Terry Allen, who has written radio plays (A Return to Juarez, Bleeder, Dugout, Pedal Steel, Ghost Ship Rodez), shares, “To make something there are no rules … It builds. A song, draw an image, write text, something builds out of itself. You look for a voice and if you find it you try to get it as true to an idea as you can. An edge of mystery that you haven’t been to before in your head … that’s where work happens. You get rid of yourself –– it becomes about the thing you are making.” He continues, “You make worlds. You try and make that world be as true to your idea of what the truth of that might be. It’s always about the piece. It doesn’t mean you understand it or know where it came from. The work is what it is. It’s its own objectivity.”

To begin a piece, Allen stresses the idea of breaking your daily habits: “The idea of unlearning. It goes back to habits. This bank of habits. When you breach those habits, you are stepping into a mystery zone and that’s where the scary stuff is but that is where the fertile stuff is, that’s where art is. It’s the process of breaking down and investigating things from another angle. When you get jammed up and aren’t getting any ideas … go somewhere in your room you’ve never been and look at the world from another perspective. Always about curiosity about what’s on the other side and what you can’t see. What you can actually see is really less than half of what is there.”

Octavio Solis who was Marfa Live Arts’ guest playwright for the 10th annual Playwriting Program at Marfa High School in April and is recipient of the National Latino Playwright Award, talks about writing a play by telling your story: “Writing is about the need to be seen and the need to be heard in order to be able to express yourself. It’s so vital and so important that we give voice to the things that are going on inside of us. And as a playwright, I learned that the thing that is going on inside of me are the voices of all these people that I carry with me from the time I’m born all the way to the time I die. We carry the ghosts of ancestors and the ghosts of everyone that has ever had an impact on our lives. We carry them inside of us and we try to find a way to give them voice. And then over the course of our lives, we have more voices in there. The voices of the people we know, the people we love, the people that we come in contact with. They’re part of us, they’re all part of us. And they carry secrets. Secrets and stories that are embedded in our DNA. And as writers, we have a responsibility to try and give them voice. And especially there, in Marfa, where the idiom is so particular and so specialized, so unique to that region of Texas. That region of the world. It is important to try to find those voices, and to use their idiom to give them the power to say what they need to say. And it’s vital that you listen, and you see them, and you write down what they say because, if you don’t, nobody will see them. Or even worse, somebody else will tell them. And you won’t like it, because they will get it wrong. So, it’s up to you. They will always get it wrong. To give those ghosts some being, some purpose, and most importantly to give them voice. Just to let them express themselves, in the best way you know how. And that is simply by transcribing what you hear, and what they say. And you put on paper, put it on your computer. And craft it, craft it into something that leaves us changed, that leaves us altered in some way. That transforms us, that gives us some understanding of you, of your world that we didn’t have before.”

The deadline for submissions to Marfa Live Arts’ short playwriting contest is June 1, and anyone living in Presidio County or Ojinaga, Mexico, is eligible to participate –– even those with no prior experience who would like to try their hand at writing a five-minute play but aren’t sure how to start the process.

All ages are encouraged to submit work. Short plays can be written in English and/or Spanish. The top three plays will receive cash prizes of $500, $250 and $100, with the first-prize winner also having their work produced into a radio play to air on regional radio stations.

The jury of judges includes playwrights Diana Burbano, Georgina Escobar, Raul Garza and Mónica Sánchez. Plays should be no more than five minutes in length (five double-spaced typed pages) and emailed to: info@marfalivearts.orgor mailed to: Marfa Live Arts, PO Box 1365, Marfa, Texas, 79843. Content should be suitable for a general audience. Deadline for submissions is June 1, 2021.