It’s probably safe to say that most people find out who they are in college. My experience at the University of Texas was eye-opening and mind-expanding, especially after coming from Odessalation. Besides studying the craft of directing plays, I learned how to think abstractly, recognize good and bad art, and grasp the true mechanics of story-telling.
My directing professor, Dr. Francis Hodge, instilled in the students a far-reaching ability to analyze stories, from the characters and their desires/goals to the moods and tempos of the tale. Of course, plays were the medium we used, but the theories could be applied to all types of fiction, whether they were films, operas, short stories, or novels.
When I directed a play, I immersed myself in the story and characters, figuring out exactly the best way to communicate the author’s intentions to an audience. Finding the right scenic, lighting, and costume designs, creating a stage “groundplan” of psychological obstacles the characters had to maneuver through, and building a sense of rhythm and mood were all part of the challenge.
The same can be applied to writing novels. For me, everything I learned in theatre was relevant to my later years of penning fiction. Working in theatre trained me to take command of a project, infuse it with my vision, and “direct” it—whether or not there were other collaborators (actors, designers) or not (just me and a typewriter).
My time at UT was spent mostly directing plays and composing music. The writing aspects blossomed as I collaborated with playwrights by adding music to their words. One such example, The Resurrection of Jackie Cramer, an entirely-sung theatre piece written by Frank Gagliano, became something of a cause célèbre for me. After it was produced in Austin, I took a semester off from school and we produced the show first at another university in Rhode Island, and then off-off-Broadway in New York. My musical contribution to the piece was just as much a part of the story-telling as the words.
I even tried my hand at playwriting. A one-act musical I wrote—this time the music and book—was produced at school. So, even though my work at the time was all in the theatre and not what we normally think of as fiction-writing, it’s all related. It’s all the same thing. It’s still story-telling.
When I finally graduated with a BFA from UT, I spent a year as an Apprentice Director at the famed Alley Theatre in Houston, Texas, where I continued my personal method of spinning tales by directing and composing more music.
Then it was time to strike out on my own and move to New York City. I knew the number of stories I could tell there was countless.
Tomorrow: RAYMOND BENSON DAY 4: THE ROAD LEADS TO BOOKS
RAYMOND BENSON is the author of 26 published books. From 1996 to 2002 he was the fourth—and first American—author to pen official James Bond novels. These have recently been collected in two anthologies, THE UNION TRILOGY and CHOICE OF WEAPONS. His latest series of thrillers began last year with THE BLACK STILETTO; the second part of the saga, THE BLACK STILETTO: BLACK & WHITE, will be published by Oceanview Publishing on May 30, 2012. Benson’s other suspense chillers include SWEETIE’S DIAMONDS, FACE BLIND, TORMENT, and EVIL HOURS. He is also a prolific writer of media tie-ins and has authored a number of novelizations of popular videogames, including METAL GEAR SOLID, TOM CLANCY’S SPLINTER CELL, HOMEFRONT, and HITMAN. Also a film historian, Benson teaches Film History at the College of DuPage and presents a monthly movie discussion show in Chicagoland with film critic Dann Gire.