Scene4 Magazine: Michael Bettencourt
Michael Bettencourt

I heard a good story from my friend, and while I haven't been able to source it, it has such truth to it that I want to use it any way as the subject of this essay.

When Muppet-creator Jim Henson died in 1990, his wife Jane was asked to relate a memorable moment about him.  She chose to tell a story about a family trip to Italy and a visit to the Sistine Chapel.  As they all looked at Michelangelo's work, Henson said to his assembled clan, "Only a hack would have had the fingers touch."

I've just finished reading 85 fifteen-minute plays for a New York festival, and in so many of them — so so many of them — the fingers touch.  The playwrights seem uninformed about the fact that drama — what we call the "power of theatre" — resides in the space between the fingers.  That is, in the space between bodies, in the rests between words, in the arc of a gesture starting here and ending there, in the not-saying of something, in the not-choosing the obvious path.

Too many of the writers instead elect not only to have the fingers touch but jam into each other, causing the aesthetic injuries that come from too much noise and not enough mystery, too much on-the-nose and not enough suggestion. 

All interesting things in human life come from the tension created by the almost-touching, the not-quite-said, the what-is that really is not.  Year after year, when I read these scripts, the writers continually make the mistake that what's important is their words.  The words are just the launch pad for the real drama: the magnetic fields among characters; the gravities imposed by the space of the theater, the audiences' breath, and the weight of expectations; the capsizing of beliefs -- all the things that words can cause but are not in the words themselves but in only the carnal glottals of speaking actors, the sinews of enfilade and defilade.

I wish these wrights would be more out of touch — that's how the spark will learn to jump, and in jumping, shed energy all over the place — even enough to start worlds.


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©2011 Michael Bettencourt
©2011 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Michael Bettencourt is a produced and published playwright and a Senior Writer and Columnist for Scene4.
Continued thanks to his "prime mate" and wife, Maria-Beatriz

Read his theatre reviews in Scene4's Qreviews
For more of his Scene4 columns and articles, check the Archives


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February 2011

Scene4 Magazine - Arts and Media

February 2011

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