Content Lessons from a Theatre Artist

“Our ears are perpetual Geiger counters waiting to pick up a sparkling shard of wit and authenticity.”

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a playwright, a novelist, or a beat poet — all writers respond to great words and ideas in the same way. The kinda stuff that makes you want to reach for your Moleskine or scribble a few key phrases on the nearest napkin. The don’t-let-me-forget-that metaphor; the pitch-perfect clincher; the innocent question whose answer requires a whole short story to resolve.

Our ears are perpetual Geiger counters waiting to pick up a sparkling shard of wit and authenticity.

When I say authentic, I don’t necessarily mean “real.” Who cares how people actually talk? How do you want them to talk? Shakespeare’s characters are more real than real — so are Noël Coward’s. Every now and then you hear speech that makes you lean forward and simply wonder, as when Naomi Wallace’s characters are onstage. Even their throwaway lines are poetic.

I like feeling the feels. I don’t get bored with being moved. It’s how I cope with life in a world in which “K gotcha” and “RU goin out 2nite?” are regarded as respectable repartee.

Creative thinkers are looking to be captivated by great language — and that’s what readers of “business” writing are looking for, too, whether they realize it or not. Occasionally a writer sends me something pretty good — a B or B+. Well-researched, well-structured, patently “informational.” Invariably my role as an editor will be to fulfill the following request: “Can you make it a little less dry?”

As modern business content becomes increasingly conversational, it’s important to follow the basic rules of persuasive writing: economy, clarity, and elegance. Here are a few ideas for all you writers/bloggers/influencers to consider when generating content.

For Stimulating Titles, Cheesy Is the New Avant-Garde

Creating a snappy title for your post — and paragraph titles within said post — is a fine art. How easy is it for something cute to become cutesy; your wittiest in-the-moment remark may later be perceived as too cool for school. In my experience, hokey’s better than haughty. Even a Rhodes Scholar will appreciate a good play on words now and again. I assure you, they’re not expecting Nabokov.

Read It Aloud

Plays are meant to be read aloud — and so are your rough drafts. It’s the best way to proofread, and it’s very satisfying to catch pesky words and phrases that literally sound awkward.

Print It Out

Call me crazy, but I like to print things out and make edits on hard copies. The theatre is a tremendously wasteful industry when it comes to paper. Stage directors, actors, stage managers — and, of course, playwrights — are constantly writing, notating, scribbling, doodling, you name it, and all of it is beneficial. I refuse to believe anyone can do everything on a tablet — even a Generation Z-er. (Just make sure you recycle the pages when you’re done.)



Shakespeare amoureux.

Every Word Counts

Prose stylists have much to learn from poets — haiku writers, in particular. Check out this gem from 18th-century master Yosa Buson:

mi ni shimu ya
naki tsuma no kushi o
neya ni fumu

it sinks in deep
in the bedroom I step on
my dead wife’s comb

Sleep On It

Playwrights have rehearsals and previews to do rewrites. Your drafts are your rehearsals. Let them simmer. Even if nocturnal cognition is a neuromyth, nothing beats returning to your draft over a cup of coffee the next morning. And some (totally weird) people write better in the morning, anyway.

Thesaurify Like It’s Goin’ Outta Style

Diction : Writing :: Location : Real Estate


Although I encourage you to keep a copy of The Bedford Handbook or The Elements of Style near your workspace at all times, there’s really only one rule of style: consistency. If you want to capitalize after a colon or put a diaeresis over the second vowel in “coöperate” — it matters not a whit as long as you stick to your guns.

Good Writers Are Good Readers

Stay up-to-date. Read blogs. Read books. (Ahem, see plays!) I know, sometimes it’s a lot just to get through the weekly New Yorker (Netflix can’t binge itself, amirite?), but you gotta make the effort. Go to a used bookstore and pick up a classic you’ve been meaning to try. My recent what-took-me-so-long? obsession: Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room.

Pet Peeves

Don’t use an apostrophe to pluralize a proper name, title, or other capitalized noun. (People will judge you.)

Don’t type more than one space after a period or colon.

Review the basics: it’s vs. its, there/their/they’re, etc. (Believe it or not, professional writers misuse/misspell them every day.)

Commas. Ugh. Americans use simultaneously too many and too few. Although I’ve been known to get down on my knees and beg writers to use the Oxford comma, there’s another punctuation issue that is far more pressing: not using commas in direct addresses. Case in point: “Let’s eat, Grandma” vs. “Let’s eat Grandma.” (For more insightful grammar humor, consult Ms. Truss posthaste.)

In spoken English, we overuse (or rather, misuse) “like,” “literally,” “basically,” and “absolutely” on a daily basis. In written English, I’ve noticed a disturbing tendency to begin sentences with “so” or “just.” (It’s not a crime, but it may diminish your authority and/or credibility.)

So, like, just be aware and use your heart and brain and make it fun to read, lol k byee!

Haas Regen is the Managing Content Editor for 818 Agency in New York City. He’s also a theater artist. He studied acting, directing, and playwriting at Brown’s MFA program.


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