Interview with Glenn Alterman

Glenn Alterman is an award-winning playwright, the author of 25 best-selling theater-related books, an actor, a screenwriter and a highly respected monologue/audition acting coach.  His newest book “Writing the 10-Minute Play” is split into sixteen chapters and takes people from the beginning to the end process of writing these short plays.

 

The Playbill Collector (TPC): What first got you started in the theater realm?

Glenn Alterman (GA): I can remember always wanting to be an actor ever since I was a kid. I lived and breathed movies and TV shows when I was young, especially TV shows like The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and of course, I Love Lucy.

And then there were those big Bible movies; I loved them. They took me away. I remember the vibrant colors and the dramatic music and the (over the top) sensual characters; they took me out of Brooklyn (where I grew up) and brought me to exotic places where magical things happened— and in Technicolor and Cinemascope!

I’ll always remember the high, the anticipation I felt sitting in a dark movie theater right before the movie began. Just sitting there in the dark waiting, things seemed so hopeful. I probably wasn’t the happiest kid.

And if a movie really got to me, I remember feeling like I somehow took on, became, the lead character. Like some part of his screen persona had somehow washed over me during the movie and I was now him. I “believed” I was him. Sometimes I’d stay in his character for the rest of the day. I’d run through backyards in Brooklyn parting the Red Sea or walking on clouds up to Heaven.  Then I’d go home- for supper.

Acting wasn’t too far down the road. I started acting in school plays before I was seven years old. I went to Yeshivah for a few years as a kid, and I was always playing rabbi’s with long grey beards or men who made miracles. I liked the miracle men the most.  My bible movie background helped, I’m sure. C’mon, you just lift an arm and something miraculous happens, just like in those movies. And miracle men and God were the best of friends. Eventually I moved on the from miracle men roles. In Junior High school my first lead in a play was The King in THE KING AND I. Oh I was hooked!

 

TPC: In the book you state that you are and still are an actor.  Do you think it is easier to write plays since you have played characters?

GA: I believe it is. Just by being in plays as an actor, you know the ingredients of a scripts detail. After a while you instinctively feel how a play ebbs and flows; how it’s structured. You experience the emotional arc of a play. Through your character and how your character relates to other characters in the play, know about character development and dialogue. Writing a play is not that difficult to do once you’ve been in plays, For me, it seemed almost second nature. You’re just on the other side of the mirror. The main difference seems to be, as an actor you are in constant collaboration- with other actors, the playwright, and producers. As a playwright there is a great deal of alone time at the beginning as you create your play. The collaboration with others on he creative team begins later on.

 

glennAltermanTPC: Why 10 minute plays instead of longer shows?

GA: Prior to writing Writing The 10-Minute Play”, I’d written 10 books of original monologues; hundreds and hundreds of monologues The secret to monologue writing is concision. You have to be judicious with words and thoughts. Economy is key, less is more. Say only what must be said and quickly move on to the next thought.

Graduating to writing my first ten-minute play was rather easy. I knew about plays from acting in so many. Moving on to ten-minute plays felt like a natural progression. Over the years I’ve written scores of them (ten-minute plays). I’ve been lucky, many of them have gone on to win awards, publications and productions.

I’ve also written many one-act plays and several full-length plays. Maybe I have a short attention span or I don’t like the time commitment necessary to write full lengths. I like to say what I need to say as precisely as possible. A ten-minute play allows me to do that. I’ve also written  thematically connected evenings of ten-minute plays, and thematically connected monologue plays.

So very much of playwriting is rewriting. It’s a hell of a lot easier to re-write a 10-minute play then a full length. Full lengths are a much longer journey, a bigger commitment, no doubt about it. Maybe I’ll tire of the short form, eventually, but for now I still find it very satisfying.

 

TPC: You highlight three successful plays in your book.  Why did you chose those particular ones?

GA: Primarily I wanted to show some diversity in ten-minute plays. Craig Posiispil, Jenny Lyn Bader and I have very different voices. The themes of our plays are very different.  The dialogue and characters in the 3 plays are very specific to each playwright; I liked that. I felt that my readers could learn from seeing such different perspectives. That’s also why I included so many interviews with writers, directors and producers of 10-minute play festivals in the book. I wanted my readers to get a broad overview of the subject.

 

TPC: You give great insight into writing from start to finish as well as how to submit plays.  Did you ever have someone help you learn the ropes or was this book an idea to give back to others who are starting?

GA: Because I lived in the world of the theater for so many years I knew a lot about how things worked- on all levels. Along the way there were many mentors and teachers and playwrights and actors who gave advise freely. I was very lucky, people were always very forthcoming with their support. If I had questions I never hesitated to ask. If I didn’t get the answers I needed from friends and mentors, there was always the Internet and chat rooms and tons of information on line. I met playwrights and producer friends from all around the world on line. Some of us still keep in touch. Ten-minute play festivals seem to be increasing all over the world. There are always new people coming onto the scene to communicate with.

For me, my monologue books are written primarily to help actors win auditions. Because it’s creative writing I get to release hundreds of demons and share many (sometimes disguised) experiences and feelings with each monologue. By the end of a monologue book I need a year or so to re-charge from all I’ve let go of.

Writing the 10-Minute Play is an educational book. My main purpose was to inform and share my knowledge (and that of my fellow playwrights, directors, and producers). Teaching is a very rewarding experience. Sharing what you know on a subject is very satisfying. Also, as I’d write about what I knew, it would confirm my own beliefs. Knowing that this is helping others is, as I said, very gratifying.

As for writing a play from start to finish, I believe all plays (and monologues) are just stories. All stories begin with “Once upon a time…” and move on from there to “The End”. Plays are really just stories that are performed on a stage with actors and scenery and an audience.

 

TPC: If you have to pick up to three elements on writing plays, what are the most important?

GA: Aristotle actually lists 6 elements, but I’d say PLOT, CHARACTER, and DIALOGUE.

 

To buy this book please visit: 10minuteplay.halleonardbooks.com

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2 Responses to Interview with Glenn Alterman

  1. What a wonderful interview. Mr. Alterman in quite interesting and delightful in his descriptions and story of his childhood and how he came upon writing. His book could be a great tool for Emma. Nice job Bartley.

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