I met Morley Shulman on Twitter. He is a successful playwright, and he is the author of A Love Letter to Stephanie: An Anthology of One-Act Plays. He knows much about hockey, classic rock, the Three Stooges, and other subjects found in popular culture. One of his favorite playwrights is Neil Simon. “His depth of characters as well is his humor,” Morley observes, “was beyond brilliant.” I very much agree. Simon’s The Odd Couple, The Sunshine Boys, and The Gingerbread Lady are great examples of how life can be messy. This past week, Morley and I talked (by email) about his work as a playwright and how he engages the writing process.
Morley Shulman comes from Toronto, Ontario. He enjoyed acting and was a student at the Toronto School of Drama. After several stints on the community theater stage, Morley turned to amateur stand-up comedy at Yuk Yuk’s comedy franchise. “I was offered an opportunity,” writes Morley, “to turn professional but immediately turned it down since I met too many comedians who took it too seriously … while I just did it to prove that I could make strangers laugh.” He then moved on to do copywriting. While it was exciting for a wee bit, he soon found it unchallenging, and he set the goal to engage in creative writing endeavors such as one-act plays and screenplays.
His inaugural one-act play was Naked. The play, which deals with the challenging world of online dating, first won acclaim on the South African stage. His screenplays include A Mile in His Soul and (with Christine Autrand Mitchell) The Registry. He and his spouse Stephanie host a podcast called Uncovered Vintage Fashion Magazine Review, which is devoted to the creative world of classic fashion publications. It is a great podcast. I have listened to it many times, and I have enjoyed their humor and informative observations regarding fashion, modeling, and popular culture history. You can learn more about their podcast by reading my blog post called “Morley and Stephanie Shulman” here at the digital magazine News that Moves.
One of the pros of being a playwright,” Morley observes, “is that you get to live vicariously through your characters.” I understand what he means. For my Aleya Collections blog, for example, I wrote up several “Sophia and Ian” stories. Sophia, who owns a boutique in the Grosse Pointes, falls in love with her best friend, Ian. Sophia and Ian exhibit qualities that I find laudable: hard work and the love for the humanities and for travel. There is a degree of sadness, however, that comes when one finishes writing a play (or a story). Take Morley’s play Ad Hoc for instance. It is about you a young man who works as a copywriter and authors plays during his free time. Morley portrays his hero as really involved in the writing process. “When you are writing,” Morley observes, “you are living through these characters.” While the main character in Ad Hoc enjoys the triumph of finishing his opus, he feels “despondent as his characters (or ‘his babies’ as he calls them) will never speak gain. He feels a sense of loss … especially when you have grown ‘close’ to some of your characters, but you will never hear from them again.” Another great perk about being a playwright “is when you see your work and it’s close to how you imagined it when you wrote it.” Take for example his play Benny & Boris. “When I saw the performance on DVD,” Morley laments, “it was pretty disheartening as it wasn’t close to how I envisioned it when I first wrote it.” The Paw Paw Village Players One-Act Play Festival in Michigan, however, put on the play. “After the second performance, I told the actors that they performed it EXACTLY how I envisioned it when I first wrote it. I also told them that their performance(s) was the reason why I chose to be a playwright.”
Finally, I asked Morley about his writing process. “I start writing,” he observes, “when I feel that the idea has percolated in my head long enough and the only way to get it out is to write.” While there are moments he will have “a great idea for an ending for the play,” he will spend time constructing “the premise around the ending and how everything leads to that.” Another tool Morley utilizes is “Street Theater.” “In one case,” he explains, “I wrote a play based on some dialogue that Stephanie and I used to have in public. When we were first dating, she would try to embarrass me in public by saying certain things. She used to call it, ‘street theatre’.” Morley, who patiently dismissed Stephanie’s verbal shenanigans for a while, decided to retort. “One time,” he writes, “we were in a supermarket in a busy aisle when I shouted, ‘WHAT DO YOU MEAN I’M NOT THE FATHER?!’. Sadly, that was the end of ‘street theatre’. So, I ended up writing a play called… Street Theater, with exactly that exchange (though it took place in a coffee shop).”
I want to thank Morley for taking time to answer my questions. You can find more about Morley by clicking on his website https://morleyshulman.com/n