• The Play’s the Thing
“Playwriting is a business of honor, with its practitioners not aiming to be rich and famous,” says David Paterson, B.A. 1989, who has published 15 full-length plays or collections of one-act plays with Samuel French Inc., the nation’s leading publisher of plays. Paterson’s own primary motivation, he says, is pursuing the magic of theater.
“There’s something magical as a writer to be in the audience and see people laugh and cry, and to have them completely dismiss the fact that they came in, spent money, and are looking at people who are getting paid to pretend to be people — they just dump all that and embrace the moment,” he explains. “They want to feel like kids again, completely accepting what they’re seeing as reality. It’s a very powerful thing, and it’s a very gratifying thing as a writer because you’re basically tricking people [into believing] that something you wrote — something on paper — is now alive.”
Paterson’s plays have garnered good reviews in newspapers including The New York Times, and his plays have been produced nearly 100 times around the country, including a limited Broadway run for his musical The Great Gilly Hopkins (based on the National Book Award-winning novel of the same title by the playwright’s mother, Katherine Paterson).
Contemporary plays are published as books, but have more of a boilerplate look than most of the books people are familiar with. Plays are marketed directly to theater companies and their covers merely state the title and author rather than featuring a glossy photo or fancy graphics. Paterson says he earns royalties of about a dollar for each sale of one of his plays, which sell for $6.50 per copy. If one of his plays is produced by a small community theater, he might earn $85 or $100 in additional licensing fees, with a higher fee charged to bigger theaters.
The CUA alumnus says he is best known as a writer of “dramedies,” i.e., comedies that address serious issues. An example is his most-performed play, Finger Painting in a Murphy Bed, which he has adapted and produced as a low-budget 2004 feature film renamed “Love, Ludlow.” Warner Home Video released the film on DVD in January and it will be screened on the Starz and Sundance cable channels beginning in June and July.
“I actually made the movie to make my plays more marketable,” Paterson says, adding that he has seen a spike in sales of the play script of Finger Painting in a Murphy Bed since the movie began being shown on the film festival circuit.
In the play and the film, Myra, a hard-working, sharp-tongued temporary employee, lives with and takes care of her manic-depressive brother, Ludlow, an emotional child in a young-adult body. When she does the unconscionable — in Ludlow’s opinion — by accepting a date with a young executive, a comedic tug of war for her affection rages as Ludlow sets out to destroy the budding relationship.
Paterson, who was a history major with a minor in drama, began writing plays while studying in London for a couple semesters during his CUA years. He says his Catholic University acting experience contributed to his writing craft.
“One of the things that Catholic University taught me as an actor is to take full advantage of the stage and to know its limitations,” he says. “Callan Theatre at CUA was 20 feet wide by 8 feet deep and to make that space come alive you had to have some pretty interesting characters with pretty interesting stories. Now, as a playwright, knowing my limitations is still one of the most important things. A play is so confined to the small space of a stage. Unless you’re Andrew Lloyd Webber, you can’t put a space shuttle launching in your play. Your plays have to be simple, clear and inexpensive to produce.
“My joke when I was starting out as a playwright in New York City was, ‘Anything that Andrew Lloyd Webber can do for $1.2 million, I can do for a buck fifty.’ ”
• The Funny Side of Catholic Parenting
Tim Bete, B.A. 1984, mixes humor and the deep truths of the Christian faith in his book, In the Beginning…There Were No Diapers (Sorin Books), an Amazon.com best-seller in the parenting humor category.
“If you are a parent and think you are going insane with your own kids …you will be inspired by [Bete’s] humorous life stories with a sense of gratitude for your wonderful calling as a parent,” says review-books.com. For a sample of Bete’s writing, see Essay. – R.W.
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