Make it new


Give your audience a rest from the noise

© D.P. O'Sullivan

We live is a world saturated in images-visual and audible. Some writers suggest (no doubt correctly) that we are unable to assimilate anything but the tiniest percentage of this overload. Other writers suggest that we live in the information age. We do but this information may not be what we think it is. Visual and audible stimulation does not necessarilly mean information exchange. Information is there but it is hard to recognize amid all the noise.

Information is unpredictable

In a strict sense information is measured by the amount of newnesss in data. Something that is not new to you contains no information. When you pick up a telephone and hear a dial tone you are not getting any information because you know in advance that you will hear a dial tone. If the dial tone is absent, that's information. Some would argue that the dial tone conveys information that a circuit is available for you to dial into. This knowledge is data, not information. We are talking about information in it's strict sense.

The opposite of information is noise. Noise fills the vacuum created by a lack of information. Something is either information or it is noise. Guess which is predominant.

  • Information = new, unpredictable, previously unknown data.
  • Noise = not new, predictable, previously known data.

Stream of noise

We are bombarded constantly by visual and audibe images that pretend to convey information but do not. The first time you see an advertisement, it is information. Thereafter it is noise. Some noise is pleasant-we play and replay our favorite CDs. Most noise is irrelevant, distracting, and boring. Your neighbor fires up his stereo at 4:00 am. The first second is information, the following two hours is noise.

What's this got to do with writing plays? Plenty.

If you want your play to not be irrelevant, distracting or boring, keep noise out of it. You are communicating with people who have come in from the noise. Be kind. Show them something they don't know, is not predictable, and is new; give them information. Not in the sense of educating them, but in the sense of blocking out the noise for two hours.

So leave the soundbites and the cutsey body movements where they belong. Advertising needs them more than you do because it has little else left in its bag of tricks.

Play noise

Noise in a play is anything that is:

  • not new
  • predictable
  • previously known to the audience.

It's impossible to deliver continuous information every minute but if you're not delivering information every five minutes, you are delivering noise.

Repitition

By definition, repitition is noise. Use only when driving home a point (to be sure to be sure). Character action establishes character. In the first scene, a character kills an injured bird. In the next scene, he dismembers a spider. In the third scene, he decapitates a trapped mouse. In the next scene he plots a mass murder and the audience believes he will do it. Actually, after he kills the bird in scene one, the audience believes he is capable of any brutality. You don't need to show the spider and mouse scenes to convince the audience that this guy is mean. One animal death a night is enough for most theatre-goers-unless, of course, the others are unpredictable.