With(In) Dialogue

UEA New Forms Award winner Taylor Beidler on the feedback loop of conversation

The winner of the UEA New Forms Award 2020, Taylor Beidler, examines the flow of dialogue and the core feedback loop that exists when people communicate with one another.

This is part of our Early Career Writers’ Resources pack Dialogue, made possible by Arts Council England. Discover more here →

I’m interested in the duality of the word “feedback”, the way it is used to describe either a response or a screech. Given the large swath of conversations that now take place on computer screens, the vast majority of my current social interactions carry trace elements of both, fusing the crackle with the commentary.

When learning to write effective dialogue, I was taught through a tennis analogy: A serves a line to B, B then volleys back to A in response, bandying about with objectives and shifting tactics, ultimately fleshing out the makings of a classic scene. However, many of the following plays toy with this dichotomy of feedback, questioning whether good dialogue is contingent upon receptivity.

And if not, if we choose to break from the A-to-B-to-A formula, perhaps dialogue and form can have a conversation all of their own.

What if, instead of tennis, our characters played soccer? In Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves, the audience is immersed in overlapping conversation threads as the young women warm-up before each game.What results is an aural, rather than orational, experience, one in which a conversation about the Khmer Rouge intertwines with a debate over menstrual products all while enshrouded in prep for the upcoming match.

Much the way that The Wolves incorporates overlapping dialogue, Fairview by Jackie Sibbles Drury literally superimposes dialogue (via voiceover) on top of the action in Act II, which onstage is a pantomimed repeat of Act I. In this way, the characters onstage (a Black American family) become the grounds for racial discussion by the white spectators. This creates a metatheatrical performance, one that forces the audience to enter into a dialogue of their own.

Tarell Alvin Mccraney’s Brother/Sister Plays also engages in metatheatricality by having the characters speak their own stage directions. In doing so, this not only establishes a discourse between the actor and audience, but also acknowledges that what is done (movements, actions, reactions) is just as imperative as what is said.

In Fefu And Her Friends, Maria Irene Fornes allows room for parts of her text to be cut off (depending on the production timing), highlighting the importance of the experiential over the dialectical.

Clare Barron uses fontsize to her advantage in Dance Nation, creating a visually arresting script that doesn’t speak so much as burst into evocation.

I believe drama is an act of literature. I believe writers from all disciplines should read plays not only to “learn better dialogue” but to learn how to be in dialogue. These scripts are prime examples of the visually linguistic interrogations that ultimately produce a sonically groundbreaking experience.

When do words fail? When does silence speak volumes?

“Good dialogue encompasses both what is said and not said.” – Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

“Silence is the invention of the hearing.” – Ilya Kaminsky, Deaf Republic

What is the relationship between listening and responding?

I can say ‘I love you’ seven ways to Sunday and still never make it past Monday.

What does the white space on the page have to say to your percussive typeface?

You tell me.

A byproduct of the American Midwest, Taylor Beidler is a London-based playwright, prose, and performance artist. She holds an MA (Distinction) in Scriptwriting from the University of East Anglia, and is currently finishing her MSt in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford, where she is working on a novel. This past year, Taylor was longlisted for the Snoo Wilson Prize for Scriptwriting, and had two creative non-fiction pieces shortlisted for the Show Me Yours Prize. She is the Resident Dramaturg for The New Collectives. She provided written material for AMC, and is under option for an original series with Silverprint Pictures.

Header photo by Korney Violin on Unsplash

The Early Career Writers’ Resource Packs are supported by Arts Council England.