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Dialogue with Judith Thompson

March 5, 2014

Before meeting with our writing group this week, playwright Judith Thompson asked us to eavesdrop—on a bus or streetcar, in a restaurant, or at home. We wrote down as much as we could remember, word for word. Then we let our imaginations go to extend those overheard dialogues into dramatic scenes. The activity helped us discover the rhythms of different kinds of speech, whether we listened to dining-out opera-goers or young women cursing over photocopiers.Judith Thompson1

Judith noted that musicality in speech emerges with emotion. When people meet on the street, they generally strive for harmony and connection; their individuality may be suppressed.  But when they feel strongly, people choose words that are juicier, more muscular and more revealing. That’s where the gold is for writers. In real life and in strong written dialogue, people ramble, underline, back pedal and stutter. These quirks reveal the individuality of each character—the class, culture, attitudes and anxieties that set the character apart from all others. At a deeper level, the hidden agendas and subtexts behind a character’s words peek through the fractures, repetitions and fumbles. Sometimes, what a character feels is simply too big for words. Only silence will suffice.

Judith says she overwrites dialogue in early drafts because it helps her to understand the characters fully. She tries to inhabit each character to know them deeply. It’s an act of truth, she says, to find the character within. Once she understands her characters, she begins to sculpt their dialogue to retain what is essential. The result, in Judith’s hands, is acclaimed—authentic, musical language with raw, genuine characters.

Judith will appear in her latest play, Watching Glory Die, opening April 24, 2014 in Vancouver and on May 15 at the Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs in Toronto. Learn more about her work in an interview with RH Thomson.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 6, 2014 2:28 pm

    Well captured Val. My takeaway pearls from the afternoon: “What’s the purpose (agenda) behind the dialogue? Does one want to seduce the other? Dominate? Intimidate? Outdo each other?” and therefore, “All interactions are about status…sometimes, people play a lower status even when they are higher, in order to achieve something”. Great learning experience, thank you for arranging!

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