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MU playwright Crespy draws from dreams

Thursday, January 6, 2011 | 11:47 a.m. CST

Playwright David Crespy is shown Dec. 14 at Rhynsburger Theatre. Crespy founded MU's Writing for Performance program, and his research includes theater history, new play development, and dreamwork for playwrights. Dreamwork is a type of writing that encourages using dreams as a template for plays.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is one in a three-part series of audio profiles on Columbia artists created for KBIA's arts and culture program "Off the Clock" and the Columbia Missourian. The following is the script for the profile of playwright David Crespy:

In David Crespy’s dream, the main character in a play he is working on appears in a courtroom. But it is a court of animals, and the judge is Lucy the Australopithecus, the skeleton that links apes and humans. “Wallace’s Line” is about a young teacher trying to decide whether she can teach evolution, which goes against her religious views.

“I’m fascinated by that thin line between the science and faith, and belief, that we actually have to coexist with both, that we have to co-exist with these scientific theories but then the theories themselves kind of devolve into issues of faith.”

Crespy is the founder and co-director of MU’s Writing for Performance Program and the founding artistic director of, among others, the Missouri Playwrights Workshop and the Mizzou New Play Series. He has come to see the use of dreams as critical to writing plays and even to teaching playwriting.

“At the heart of my creative work as a writer is this work that I do with dreams and taking down my dreams. And even when I’m not actually using my dreams per se but I’m using the logic or the structure of dreams to create work. And actually one of the things I work with with my students is this notion of a dream cache or dream bag or this place where we just kind of constantly put in material from our dreams and then pull out things randomly as we’re writing, to see what serendipity has to offer us. And that’s been a very, very powerful tool."

In approaching a new play, Crespy sometimes starts on a scene or two. He tells himself before he goes to sleep that he wants to dream about his subject. At some point, Crespy does a plot treatment or outline so he can keep shaping the play.

Still, a lot of the shaping occurs subconsciously.

“But all along the process, I go back to the dreams. I mean I go back and ask the dreams to talk to me, and it’s really like talking to myself.”

But Crespy isn’t caught up in the mysteriousness of dreaming. He thinks that it’s a chemical thing and that humans are designed to dream for survival. He does offer a caution for people who would use their dreams for the creative process: Don’t let anyone tell you what your dreams mean.

“I do feel very strongly that the thing you must resist the most as a writer using dreams is anyone else’s interpretation of dreams. That you may not accept anything from Jung, Freud, don’t look in a book about what these dreams mean. Because it’s useless, I think. I think you’re denying your own dream vocabulary.”

Crespy wrote his first plays as a way to take a break from acting. He kept writing them because they were fun. And the more he wrote, the more he experimented with playwriting – with form, with content, pushing himself.

“This is kind of one of the fundamental aspects of being a playwright, it’s your job to hold the mirror up to nature and say, look, this is who you are, this is what I’m getting. If you like it, great. If you don’t, maybe you need to do something about it.”

Elizabeth Brixey, for KBIA and the Columbia Missourian.


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