‘Words’ wordsmith went from copywriting to playwriting

Richard Manley’s romantic comedy, “A Question of Words,” which debuted as a reading at the Ashland New Plays Festival in 2013, is now is now fully produced and playing at the Camelot Theatre in Talent until March 1.

After a successful career in marketing and design, Manley embarked on a writing career when he and his wife decided to leave their jobs, sell all of their possessions, and travel. We met at Ashland’s Café 116 on Lithia Way one winter afternoon.

RM: I settled in about eight years ago and began writing; I slowly taught myself the craft.EH: Did you write when you were working in advertising?

RM: I was in copywriting. I thought that would lead to creative writing, but there is a wide gap. Copywriting is easy by comparison and not nearly as creative. You’ve been told the problem, and you’ve got to solve it. In a play, you’re starting from zero.
I create the characters first, before the story. Very often the characters disagree with me. I get a few pages in, and suddenly something doesn’t make sense, so I have to make changes. I don’t usually have an ending in mind, so I have to let the characters talk for a while before I develop the story.
Generally I’ll have two characters, so then it’s a conversation. I’ll start the conversation and let them run for a while, see if I like them, and see if the characters make sense. At times a character will stop and say, “I wouldn’t say that.” And then, I’m not sure where to go from there. So, I’ll back up, and maybe restart or I’ll change the character briefly to make much more sense.
I have a rough idea of what I want the play to be about. In “A Question of Words,” it’s obviously communication, and I’ll give it an ending between the male and the female. I’ll have that as a rough idea.

EH: Do you find that in your years of marketing contribute to your success?

RM: What helps is (what I find to be an unusual trait in the creative fields) that I’m very organized. As soon as I set out to start playwriting, I did some research as to playwright organizations: the best contests; I created a spreadsheet, so that I knew when deadlines were. I followed up on everything. If somebody sent something back to me, I’d get back to them. The organizational skills do help. If a theater isn’t organized, they very often appreciate someone who follows-up. Even though they mean well, sometimes it’s the responsibility of the playwright to make sure that somebody reads the play and gets back to him. One of the great things about the Ashland New Plays Festival is that they are super organized. It’s such a supportive group.
EH: Why did you choose to write for theater?
RM: It’ was mostly the fact that I’m fascinated by dialogue. In my journals you’ll find snatches of observations of people but mostly dialogue. I’ll overhear something, or think about how I’d like to explore an idea by putting it in a voice in a play.
I’m fascinated by the medium. There are plays where I remember leaving the theater and being stunned by the fact that, I know it’s not real, I know it’s a stage, but I’ve been completely absorbed by the power of those words.

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