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Q & A With Jeff Helgeson


New Plays & Playwrights newsletter

NP&P:  Your plays typically show an innovative treatment of the dramatic element of exposition. How did you develop this technique and how does it affect the other dramatic elements in your work?


Helgeson:  Well, I guess my answer to that is that I've tried not to do things in a way that causes characters to explain too much. I've worked at that. Getting the action started, and then having necessary bits of information disclosed in a probable manner has become one - or is that two - of my primary concerns.


NP&P:  I take it, then,  that you feel characterization is a starting point for your writing.


Helgeson:  Not exactly. I'd say that it's my consideration in terms of dealing with exposition.  For a whole play, however, the inception is always different. Sometimes I start with the intention of presenting some particular thought or concept. Sometimes the intention is an experiment with structure, or with the use of various media. The inception of a play is always different, but it leads to characterization at some point before I start on a first draft, and then - action - plot , in general terms, begins to develop from the probable behavior of the characters I've "worked up" as they might appear within the circumstances I've established for the beginning of the piece.


NP&P:  It sounds like you've undertaken to shake up your Aristotle a bit.


Helgeson:  That depends. I think the sequence of things in Aristotle's "Poetics:" - plot, character, thought, diction and so forth - is concerned primarily with the analysis of a finished product. That's a different question from "process."


NP&P:  You did your graduate work in English at The University of Chicago and you've taught at the university level for a number of years.  To what extent has your academic background been influential in your playwrighting?


Helgeson:  It was a very strong influence at first, although I've always tried to keep that from becoming an end in itself. With my first paly,                    for example, I clearly started out with an academic notion - that of stringing together the implications of Homer and Dante and Tennyson in a way which would both be consistent with those sources and dramaticly interesting. If ever those two goals were in conflict, however, I hope I'd have the good sense to go in the direction of what might be most dramatic and still do the least amount of harm to the general principles of responsible scholarship.


NP&P:  What types of stylistic experimentation have you done in your playwrighting?


Helgeson:  Everything I could think of from a full Protean chours in Ithaca to mixed media and a stream-of-conscious monoplay in Fall



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Fall from Grace

"Helgeson is a playwright who understands that so much happens between the scenes, even between the lines, and we are teased to fill in the meanings - to create our own novel out of the play."


Allan Bates Ph.D.


Northeastern Illinois University


"Helgeson is best able to convey meaning and change through simple actions, simple dialogue, simple use of the stage, and the simple qualities of our lives that add up to complex meaning."


John Jacob Ph.D.


University of Illinois