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Some general questions  Rating:  Rating
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 Posted: Sun May 20th, 2012 04:26 pm
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Doug B
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Mana: 
QG: You are exactly right. I've never connected it before but writers of dramatic works are far more difficult to work with.

A week ago today we closed our seventh annual Festival of Locally Written Ten Minute Plays. This year I decided to sit out the playfest. I was one of the two founders and always had a major role in producing and directing the plays in the festival.

This year my role was to to mentor two first time directors to make sure things were going right (our usual practice).

Two weeks before tech I was asked to take over directing a play when the original director got sick.

I got to direct a wonderful play by one of out very best playwrights about a young woman confronting her step-mother twenty years after she was removed from the home due to having been sexually abused by her father when she was 8 to 10 years old.

This particular playwright had a great reputation of giving her play to the director then sitting back and enjoying watching it come to life.

She drove me absolutely crazy micro managing the process. Specific words in sentences had to be said a certain way, Actors had to look, or not look, in a certain direction and so on.

As it developed, her play we autobiographical and it was REALLY important to her that the play unfold the way it had in her life. That put me in a very difficult position. The play came out very well but I think it might have been better if I didn't have to serve two masters: The play itself (or, at least, my vision of it) and the playwright.

I also find that playwrights are not as emotionally involved with comedies which makes it easier to work with them on needed changes.

To respond to Edd's post: I am an amateur director in the sense that I don't direct in professional theater. I am not at all insecure about my directing skills and I find it helpful to have the playwright around during the initial rehearsals when most of the questions are raised and addressed.

I have worked with a few professional playwrights (playwrights who have had their work performed in LORT theaters) and have not had significant issues working with them.

Unfortunately, the example above seems to be the rule and not the exception in dealing with first or second time playwrights. That is one of the reasons I wanted to back away from an active directing role in our playfest.

I have said this elsewhere (see post #25): I am also a playwright and I attend the first few rehearsals then keep away because it drives me crazy to watch what the director is doing to my play.

Doug

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 Posted: Sun May 20th, 2012 02:02 am
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Edd
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Mana: 
" . . . attached to the project as a Dramaturg?" Good luck with that.

I know that sounds smirky, but I can't imagine that happening. What I can imagine happening is developing a good relationship with the director and softly and subtly exchanging ideas. Most amateur directors tell me they'd rather I not show up till dress rehearsal. I interpret that as their insecurity. I don't know why bother, there's nothing I can do then other than collect my money. When you are in development with LORT, Off-B'way or B'way you certainly will be VERY involved.

I have a play, a good play, we developed it and it was produced by the old Circle Repertory Theatre founded by Langford Wilson, Bill Hoffman and other important writers and directors. In this arena I worked very closely with the director. What this director did was to make my good play a great play (if I may make that assertion). He found things I hadn't imagined. He knew more about the potential of my play than I did. A good director is your angel.

But if you are having your play produced on an amateur level, let them do their work. If you assert yourself too much they will hate you and the final result could suffer. When you see the completed production you'll know what works, what not to let happen again, where you lose are find your audience -- and then you go home and do your rewrites.

Best,
Edd

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 Posted: Sun May 20th, 2012 01:16 am
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QuixotesGhost
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Mana: 
Yeah, I don't even like to reread the script during the rehersal process. I like having as little involvement as possible so that the production will be new and fresh to me when it all comes together.

Well, there's a caveat, at least for me, I treat comedic scripts like this. But I notice I have a tendency to get much more possessive and controlling about dramatic scripts. I get a lot more defensive and bristly when getting critiques for them. That might be insecurity since I'm more confident about my ability to write comedy than drama. I wonder if you notice the same tendency, playwrights being able to cede control more readily in comedic productions.

All my produced scripts so far have been comedic, partially since I find them easier to write, partially since I seem to have a crippling perfectionism with the dramatic pieces.

I'm about to get a proposal in for a dramatic adaptation of Paradise Lost, and I'm considering requesting that I be attached to the project as a Dramaturg, since I know more about the original text than anyone. I'm wondering if you feel that this might be good idea, and how best to establish boundaries during the rehearsal process. I'm worried about my ability to let the director do his job, and not get worked up over decisions I don't agree with.     

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 Posted: Sat May 19th, 2012 03:15 pm
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Doug B
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Mana: 
Over the past twelve years, I've directed almost 60 plays. I am coming to the point in my career that I'm having trouble finding plays that challenge me.

In the past few years, I have sought out plays that present a challenge to me. Some of them have been acting challenges - casting actors in their 60's in Brilliant Traces which calls for actors in their 20's while merging the naivety of 20 year olds with the gravitas of 60 year old actors.

Or doing a full production of Noises Off on a stage with 11 foot ceilings (less, of course, light fixtures). I have branched out into plays with language, nudity and sexual material I would never have touched five years ago. The audiences continue to grow so I must be doing something right. Next winter we are doing The Foreigner which will be a technical challenge.

To answer your question, would I do a play that had a scene done in zero gravity? I wouldn't let that stop me if the play had a message that compels me to tell it.

Doug

P.S. Thanks for your comments on keeping out of the way and letting the director do his/her job.

Last edited on Sat May 19th, 2012 03:18 pm by Doug B

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 Posted: Fri May 18th, 2012 11:41 pm
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QuixotesGhost
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Mana: 
One final, final thought. I have worked one-on-one with over three dozen playwrights. There have been playwrights who are honored that I chose to direct their play and sit back and let me do my job. The majority of the playwrights don't want actors they want puppets who will say the line the way they heard it in their mind when they wrote it. If they let me direct their play, 99.9% will be happy with the result.

Then there are the few playwrights who direct to play from backstage telling the actors to forget what I tell them and do what the playwright tells them to do. These plays are always failures. There are talented playwrights I refuse to work with because of this


One of my favorite things about playwriting is the surprise and novelty of all the different creative ideas that a director and actors are going to bring to the script. You're basically robbing yourself of the gift of seeing it come together all at once if you mill around too long during the rehearsal process. Go to the first read, perhaps, if you'd like to take notes for future edits for other productions. Let the director decided how much involvement he wants from you.

Go to a dress, try to limit talking about the show with actors, only give notes to the Director directly, he'll decide if he wants to pass them along.

If you interact too much with a production, it can sometimes create conflict since if an egotistical actor disagrees with the director about something he'll try to play "mommy and daddy" with the writer and director. That is, the Director (Daddy) said "no", let's see if the Writer (Mommy) says "yes". Some actors will try to play you against one another to get what they want.

Our stage has no wings. The side walls are permanent, the doors are where they are and there is no room off stage to store anything. It is hard to follow written stage directions.

Absolutely vital information that you should let playwrights know when submitting scripts to your theatre. I can think of several bits, or even entire scripts of mine that simply do NOT work without wings. Lack of wings, I find, can be pretty limiting. I've been in several situations where a script of mine has been cut or altered to account for the lack of side entrances/exits and I wish the director would've just let me known so I could make those alterations myself. It wouldn't have been a problem if they had just let me know beforehand.

I probably wouldn't buy or read a play that required many sets or complex sets or costumes.

I'm currently facing that problem in that a lot of my scripts require complex staging and hordes of actors. My last full-length *I kid you not* had 31 characters. Though they kept the cast down to 17 through double and triple-casting. I also participated in a "One-Night Stand" format (being where the script had to be written, rehearsed, and produced in 24-hours) where my script called for a rat to burst out an actor's chest Alien-style. I'm notorious for writing scripts that put a lot of demands on directors. It seems though certain directors and companies like the challenge of complex technical requirements and others are often "3-5 actors, minimal staging or get out".

I'm curious, say you got a script, that - say - called for a scene that's staged entirely in zero-gravity. Would you look for creative ways in that zero-gravity might be represented on limited means, or would that script be written off as having "complex technical requirements"?

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 Posted: Mon Apr 30th, 2012 10:57 pm
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Awfly Wee Eli
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Mana: 
Wow, Doug. What an amazing and well-reasoned reply. Thank you so much for these thoughts!

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 Posted: Sun Apr 29th, 2012 04:56 pm
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Doug B
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I'm not convinced that my Great Idea or vision of the play isn't closer to what the playwright intended than the other productions I have seen.

I probably read 50 plays for every one I direct and produce. Ninety percent of the plays I do compel me to present them. There are always plays that are eating at me to present them. Let me discuss two of these plays.

Enchanted April. I read the script and loved it. I loved it so much that I went back and read the book the play was based on. (To me) On the surface Enchanted April is a wonderful set of four love stories that run from a 20 year old woman to a woman in her 60's. (To me) Underneath is the story of the birth of the modern woman. Women who are finally able to voice their frustrations with their lives as their husbands property and the need to exist as individuals.

To me the emotional climax of the play is when Rose tells Lottie that she had a child who died. If that single sentence was taken out of the play, the entire play doesn't make any sense (to me). In both of the other productions I saw, that line was delivered as a throw away. In Florida, the two actors were sitting on the stage way over in a corner where it was hard to see them. In Washington, the two were so far upstage they were almost in the dark. There was no blocking note in the script. In my production, I had the two woman as far down stage as possible (toes over the edge of the stage I called it) and just right of center. Rather than move the women into a corner, I had the others move away from them. I had Rose scream her lines in a burst of anguish. The audience stopped breathing. No one will ever convince me that what I did wasn't what the original author and the playwright had in mind when they wrote it.

Waiting For MacArthur by Paullette MacDougal. Unlike Enchanted April, I directed this play within a couple of months of finding it. I knew of Paullette and was able to contact her by e-mail. I had several minor issues and a couple of (to me) larger issues. Essentially she told me to do it as I saw it. I used light and sound and color to emphasize certain elements of the play. Much of that wasn't in the script.

I invited Paullette to come to closing night which she did. After the play she told me (and the others at the cast party) that it was the best directed production of the play that she had seen. Did I honor her original vision of the play? I don't know and to tell the truth, that isn't as important to me as the success of the play (in an artistic sense rather than financial - although MacArthur was both).

I know this is going to come out wrong (particularly in this playwrights forum) but I've been sitting here trying to find the right way to say it without luck. Here goes: If a play is in development (usually through the first two or three productions in my experience) I feel an obligation to find and present the playwrights vision of the play. After that, I don't feel the same degree of obligation.

There is something in a play that compels me to present it - what I call the Great Idea. That Idea is the story I will tell. That may or may not be what the playwright intended. Normally, I have no way of telling but does it really matter if the audience is educated or informed?

On the local scene I have refused to direct plays where my vision of the play did not agree with the playwrights. I have also tried to used another person's vision of a play as my own but that has not been successful. I can't direct a play where I don't have a burning need to present the message I see in the play.

Look at all the revivals on Broadway - clearly not the same vision as the original.  A few years ago, Lincoln Center did a revival of "South Pacific".  Very different than the original.  I would argue that Bart Sher had a different vision of the play than when it was first done and very different than R & H envisioned.

To answer the question Wee Eli asks, I don't think I have ever "imposed" my vision on a play. I see a vision in the play, the Great Idea, and I see it in the playwrights words. I usually can't envision an alternate Great Idea. I think it would be a very confusing production to mix and match visions of a play or to have more than one Great Idea.

Doug

Last edited on Sun Apr 29th, 2012 05:23 pm by Doug B

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 Posted: Thu Apr 26th, 2012 08:07 pm
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Awfly Wee Eli
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Mana: 
Doug B wrote: Getting back to stage directions, there are two kinds: Notes for the actors ("smiles") and notes for the director ("Exits"). When we do a reading, we have the stage manager read the stage directions that move the story forward. Others we ignore. I have worked with directors (back in my acting days) who actually had the actors blank out actor stage directions with a felt tip marker. I don't go to that extreme but I do tell the actor that they are "suggestions". We strive to have the actors be truthful in the imaginary circumstances of the play and if they can't truthfully smile, they shouldn't - remember that it is my Grand Idea and that may preclude a specific smile at a specific moment of time.

Blocking directions are even harder to interpret. Our stage has no wings. The side walls are permanent, the doors are where they are and there is no room off stage to store anything. It is hard to follow written stage directions.
This is why I try to keep director's notes ("Exit") to the bare minimum and actor's notes ("Smiles") even less so. And my blocking notes are exactly zero, because I've been in so many different performances spaces, as both an audience member and a performer, and I understand the difficulty (if not impossibility) of always staging a show exactly as written.

I'm curious, though, Doug: If your Great Idea is different from the playwrights' (to the extent that that is knowable), why do that play at all? Why not produce a play that has the Great Idea you want to share with your community, rather than imposing your Great Idea on a play to which it's not inherent?

Last edited on Thu Apr 26th, 2012 08:08 pm by Awfly Wee Eli

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 Posted: Sat Apr 14th, 2012 04:21 pm
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Doug B
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Mana: 
A comment on a slightly different topic: Several days ago, Zamdrist asked if the editor or publisher of a novel could also interpret the novel to suit themselves.

I have a very good friend who wrote an non fiction book that was published by a major company. He told me that he rewrote the entire book five times as it climbed the ranks to get published. The final product was totally different from what he originally submitted. At each step, he asked himself: Do I want to change the book that way or am I willing to not have it published. There were a couple of things he refused to change but he felt that getting published was more important than his love for the first version he submitted.

My guess is that every writer has had to make changes to get their first book published. Just like a playwright has to give a director some freedom on how to present the play.

While I'm on a roll . . . . .

Screenwriters and book authors can make a living writing. If your screenplay is made into a movie, the script is bought outright from you - for a lot of money - maybe more than six figures. It is then re-written into something you would never recognize but at least you got your money.

If you write a play, you will likely get $35 to $50 a performance (after fees unless it gets to Broadway or the large professional theaters). Think how many performances it takes to make a living. A thousand performances a year? Two thousand? That is six performances of your plays every day of the year!! Hard to accomplish.

Doug

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 Posted: Sat Apr 14th, 2012 03:53 pm
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Doug B
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Mana: 
I'm enjoying this thread too.

I live in a retirement community. Until a few years ago, I had no actors available to me under their late 50's. I routinely cast older actors in roles that call for younger actors. Lottie and Rose in Enchanted April were both in their 60's. Rosannah and Henry Harry in Brilliant Traces were both in their 60's. Both plays called for actors in their 20's.

I was told a long time ago that a production can have one "Big Lie" that the audience will accept. More than one lie will turn the audience off. My Big Lie has always been the age of the actors. At the same time, I sat on a great play (Arthur: The Begetting by Jeff Berryman) until I had the right young woman to play the lead. An older woman would not have worked.

Here is the first line in a performance contract:

(1) The play must be presented only as published in the Dramatists Play Service, Inc. authorized acting edition, without any changes, additions, alterations or deletions to the text and title. These restrictions shall include, without limitation, not altering, updating or amending the time, locales or settings of the play in any way. The gender of the characters shall also not be changed or altered in any way, e.g., by costume or physical change.

I don't know of any director who changes a single word in a script. Several years ago, I put the play "Flight Into Danger" on our approved list and a Director proposed doing the play as a farce. He couldn't convince me that he could do this without making changes to the play so I didn't approve the production.

The mantra of our theater has always been "Quality, Quality, Quality, Quality" : Quality scripts, quality direction, quality acting and quality production values. When we started out and didn't have a home theater or any money and "quality production values" consisted of a table and two chairs. The door to a room or a house was a piece of fabric on a wood frame. We moved from venue to venue every night. The set had to fit in the back of my car. We didn't have big audiences - I felt that double digits (10 or more) meant a big audiences. I picked plays in a narrow range that I thought would appeal to our older residents. We did three performances of a show.

Now we have a home - a 60 seat theater - and a good deal of money in the bank. Our audiences average over 70 per performance and often hit 100. We have more than doubled the number of performances of a production.

I now have the luxury of picking plays because they mean something to me. Our audiences have responded well to the non mainstream plays I have directed. My guess is that these non mainstream plays are what brought the young actors to our theater.

As a closing thought, if I were to direct your play, it would be because it had a message that I thought the people of our community needed to hear. I would present the play to bring that message to life. It might not be the message you had in mind when you wrote it but the message had to be in the play for me to see it. If I want our theater to survive I have to present your play in a manner that will appeal to the audience. No one wants your play to succeed more than me. It takes five great plays to wipe our the damage of one bad play.

Remember, we have to do good theater or people won't come and we don't survive. We can't do any good if we cease to exist. The bottom line is that it is all about money. We have to do things that put butts in seats.

One final, final thought. I have worked one-on-one with over three dozen playwrights. There have been playwrights who are honored that I chose to direct their play and sit back and let me do my job. The majority of the playwrights don't want actors they want puppets who will say the line the way they heard it in their mind when they wrote it. If they let me direct their play, 99.9% will be happy with the result.

Then there are the few playwrights who direct to play from backstage telling the actors to forget what I tell them and do what the playwright tells them to do. These plays are always failures. There are talented playwrights I refuse to work with because of this.

One last note: The great plays have many interpretations of them; some obviously better than others. That is what is great about Shakespeare - there are so many different ways of presenting the play, all equally valid. Well, some more valid than others but you get the idea. I've talked to a lot of directors who have done King Lear. They all have a different idea what the play is about. Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could write a play that is so full of greatness that it could be presented in totally different but equally good ways?

Another thought: I have directed several plays which were done around the same time as the large professional theaters in Seattle (about 100 miles from our community). In at least two cases, knowledgeable people have told me that our production was better than what was done by the professional theater. Was the script better? Obviously not. Was the acting better? Doubtful. Was the set better? Clearly not. Was the direction better? Probably not. What was the difference? I like to think it was the way the story was told. How the Great Idea was presented to the audience. I probably will never know if my interpretation was what the playwright intended but if the production is well done and appreciated by the audience, isn't that more important?

Remember what I said yesterday about the play "Visiting Dad" that I wrote. A friend who is very knowledgeable in the theater said it was the best one act play she had ever seen. Isn't that better than if the play was directed just the way I imagined it when I wrote it????

Doug

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 Posted: Fri Apr 13th, 2012 04:14 pm
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Zamdrist
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Mana: 
Thank you everyone for your thoughts and great discussion.

I'm thinking that if maybe, just maybe, the dialogue of the play is strong enough, the principal theme and mood of the play will come out regardless. But even still, as with all human endeavors interpretations can still vary widely.

All the same, I beginning to affirm in my mind that the strength of the play is in its dialogue. I suppose that's rather obvious though :)

My fear would be the director/producer knowing well the theme of a play and consciously taking artistic license to cast the play in a light of their own choosing. That would seem gratuitous to me.

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 Posted: Fri Apr 13th, 2012 04:03 pm
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Doug B
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Over the last 15 years, I've directed over 70 plays so I've had some experience.

A couple of years ago, I directed a ten minute play by a local playwright. The play on paper was nothing like the play in their head when they wrote it. We never were able to merge those two visions together.

If I have an e-mail address for the playwright, I frequently contact them for interpretations or questions. I have sent playwrights questions through the royalty houses but have never had a response.

Without the playwright in attendance or at least available by e-mail, I am forced to figure out the playwright's intention from the play, from their other works or, in the case of Enchanted April, by reading the book the play was based on. I would argue that my interpretation of Enchanted April was closer to the original book and the playwrights intent than the other productions I saw.

Of course there is always the George Bernard Shaw approach: He spends as many pages describing his intent with the play as the play itself.

I do try to honor the intent of the playwright but, with most plays, that is not an easy task.

To digress a bit, several years ago, I wrote a one act play "Visiting Dad" about the next to last time I saw my father alive. He was well into dementia at the time and his short term memory was gone.

I turned the play over to a talented director who presented a very different play than I had in my mind. I was crushed. The words were the same but the tone of the play was very different. I bemoaned the fate of my play to several people.

Finally, another good friend (who was an actor) pulled me aside and told me that I was lucky with the directors interpretation - that the play I wrote was a downer where all we saw was an old, feeble, bitter man at the end of his life (which is what he was) but the play she presented was a warm, loving play that showed flashes of his past life and who (she imagined) he had been.

Maybe I'm just a crappy playwright or maybe there is some value to the directors interpretation of the play.

Doug

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 Posted: Fri Apr 13th, 2012 03:23 am
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Bob
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Mana: 
Welcome Zamdrist.

This is the nature of the beast: a collaborative art.

That is not to say that the playwright's intent will be ignored. On the contrary, theatre artists are there to serve the play. It can be served, however, in many different ways. (Both The New York Shakespeare Festival and Franco Zefferelli did very different interpretations of "Much Ado About Nothing", but both served the play exquisitely, honoring its intent.)

You create the play. The other artists will interpret it.

Last edited on Fri Apr 13th, 2012 01:32 pm by Bob

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 Posted: Thu Apr 12th, 2012 05:12 pm
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Zamdrist
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Mana: 
Is it because everyone along the way, starting with the playwright, on to the dramaturge, the director, the actors, the producer, see themselves as artists and have an inherent 'right' to interpret the work as an artist?

Perhaps this is how theater works. I'm not qualified to say.

What if I write a novel, a work of prose. Does the editor, the publisher and anyone else involved with the work have a right to interpret the original work in their own vein?

Two different genres of writing I know, but surely there must be some sense of gleaning the playwright's intent and striving to embody it?

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 Posted: Thu Apr 12th, 2012 04:28 pm
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Doug B
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Mana: 
I've been following this thread and want to weigh in. I am a sometimes playwright but mostly a director and producer. I run a small 60 seat all volunteer theater in a remote community of 4,000.

We do 5 to 7 productions a year. One is a ten minute playfest for local playwrights, one slot is for plays that push our audiences comfort zone and the rest are mainstream. We have never had a production that lost money.

We have done more second productions than first productions. It takes more time to bring a premier to the stage than I can give it.

I pick all of the plays that we present. In an average year, I see a couple dozen plays, buy 100 scripts from the royalty houses and receive about 50 from friends and other playwrights that have not been published. Our sets cost between $200 and $500, costumes from $50 to $250. I probably wouldn't buy or read a play that required many sets or complex sets or costumes.

I am presently considering directing the play "TORSO" which I mentioned in another thread. It has absolutely no set, just a few set pieces that are moved around as needed. We also did "ENCHANTED APRIL" that had a full size fully operational fountain on stage. To me, plays are about words and relationships that present a "Grand Idea" to the audience. Without the playwright being in residence, the Grand Idea is mine to choose.

A couple of examples: I saw two productions of Enchanted April - one at a very large community theater in Florida and one in a very small theater in Washington State. In both productions, I felt they told the wrong story - same play, same words, similar sets - just a different Grand Idea. Same for "Noises Off" and most recently for "When Bullfrogs Sing Opera".

Last fall, I saw Sam Waterston in King Lear in NYC. Granted, I saw it in previews, but they made Lear a bitter, angry old man without a lot of redeeming attributes. My Grand Idea is that Lear is not crazy but a man who is clinically depressed over his life and has lost the will to live.

The point I am making is that each director will present a very different version of any play.

A few years ago, I was directing one of our locally written ten minute plays with the playwright sitting next to me. The playwright kept whispering to me things like: He has to take a breath here or he needs to raise his arm here with the palm facing the audience. The playwright didn't want actors she wanted puppets.

In the last play I directed, I had a young woman who rose, took exactly three steps down left rotated 90 degrees clockwise and said her line.  When I asked her why she was doing that, she said I told her to.  The script said "She moves away".  What I actually said was for her to listen to what the other actor was saying and find something in it which would make her want to move away from him.  I also said that she might react to something different every night and she should move in response to how she felt at the moment and it would probably not be the same every time.

I agree there are places where the actor has to do something at exactly the right moment (Noises Off) but for the most part I don't want to actors to do exactly the same thing at exactly the same moment every time. The dynamics on stage are slightly different every night and I want the actors to respond to those differences and that means their performance will be slightly different each night.

Getting back to stage directions, there are two kinds: Notes for the actors ("smiles") and notes for the director ("Exits"). When we do a reading, we have the stage manager read the stage directions that move the story forward. Others we ignore. I have worked with directors (back in my acting days) who actually had the actors blank out actor stage directions with a felt tip marker. I don't go to that extreme but I do tell the actor that they are "suggestions". We strive to have the actors be truthful in the imaginary circumstances of the play and if they can't truthfully smile, they shouldn't - remember that it is my Grand Idea and that may preclude a specific smile at a specific moment of time.

Blocking directions are even harder to interpret. Our stage has no wings. The side walls are permanent, the doors are where they are and there is no room off stage to store anything. It is hard to follow written stage directions.

What about my responsibility to be true to the intent of the playwright? Who is to say that my Grand Idea isn't closer to the playwright's intention that the other director's?

Doug

Paddy, Edd - if this is too long, feel free to edit it down.

Last edited on Thu Apr 12th, 2012 04:42 pm by Doug B

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 Posted: Tue Apr 10th, 2012 04:33 pm
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Zamdrist
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Well like I said, I may have stretched the concept too far :)

I'd make the argument that if stage directional should be subtle and minimalist, the the performance on whatever kind of stage should in theory be a similar experience.

The play I have in mind to write has a very period specific setting, Belle Epoque Paris. Can I imagine a small community theater being able to do the setting justice? i.e. a French boudoir, a music hall, etc?

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 Posted: Tue Apr 10th, 2012 04:22 pm
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Awfly Wee Eli
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The audience's experience should be nearly identical.

I...absolutely disagree with this. Huh. Some plays demand spectacle; others beg for intimacy. Some plays that were brilliant in a 75-seat black box theater would die hideous deaths on Broadway, and vice versa. That's not something the playwrights did wrong; it's just what the plays needed to be. Or, as my programmer friends say, "It's not a bug; it's a feature."

And if you write a play where the audience's experience will be identical regardless of where and by whom it's produced, what's the point of anyone producing it more than once? The plays I go to over and over, I do because I can't wait to see how this director and group of actors will interpret what's on the page--and that will be--and, I feel, should be--quite different depending on the company.

the dialogue of the play should ideally come to life in a vacuum. I may be stretching the concept a bit, but that is what I've come to learn. It's all in the dialogue, and the action in the dialogue.

I've heard this argument before, and I'm not sure I agree with it, either. Actors aren't just voices; they're bodies, and I believe that playwrights would do well to let them use those bodies as much as possible. If all of the action is in the dialogue, why aren't you writing a radio play?

Think of the second act of Noises Off! Without stage directions, the dialogue would be utterly incomprehensible. That's an extreme example, of course, a few well-placed stage directions open vast realms of subtextual possibility which allows much to be said by remaining unsaid.

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 Posted: Tue Apr 10th, 2012 03:41 pm
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Zamdrist
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I think it comes from a realization a successful play should be able to be successfully produced in a small community theater as well as Broadway. The audience's experience should be nearly identical. Give the diverse resources of various playhouses and interpretive directors, the dialogue of the play should ideally come to life in a vacuum. I may be stretching the concept a bit, but that is what I've come to learn. It's all in the dialogue, and the action in the dialogue.

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 Posted: Tue Apr 10th, 2012 03:31 pm
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Awfly Wee Eli
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Zamdrist wrote: What I think I've learned since delving in more is that stage direction should be exactly that, stage direction. In other words, it isn't a place for prose or for expounding upon the scene's mood or character. The dialogue should carry the scenes, not the stage direction.
Spot on, Zamdrist. You have to trust your dialogue to convey your message and your actors to portray it. Especially since, other than in staged readings, the audience will never encounter the stage directions.

That said, there is a need for some level of stage directions, and how much varies by play--maybe even by scene.  I would never write a direction saying "CHARACTER crosses DL to fireplace, toying moodily with her glass." That's an interpretive direction that an actor or director might completely disagree with. Heck, there might not even be a fireplace--or a glass.

But, for instance, I would say (and do, in one of my plays): "TAM crosses quickly, not looking where she's going. TAM collides with JULIA; TAM's drink spills on JULIA's dress." There's still room for interpretation here: where are Tam and Julia relative to each other? Has Julia just come onstage, or has she been there the entire time? How, exactly, is Tam "not looking where she's going"--head down? Looking over her shoulder? Will the theater have the actress playing Tam actually spill something on the dress, or will they "mime" it? But that is Tam and Julia's first interaction. The moment sets the scene for their entire relationship; it's essential to at least outline what the heck they're doing.

So, yeah. Keep stage directions to the absolute minimum, but don't eliminate them entirely just because some directors don't like them. And it's OK to make the ones you do use entertaining. It's good to keep the actors amused.

Last edited on Tue Apr 10th, 2012 03:32 pm by Awfly Wee Eli

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 Posted: Tue Apr 10th, 2012 03:21 am
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Zamdrist
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What I think I've learned since delving in more is that stage direction should be exactly that, stage direction. In other words, it isn't a place for prose or for expounding upon the scene's mood or character. The dialogue should carry the scenes, not the stage direction.

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 Posted: Tue Apr 10th, 2012 03:11 am
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carlblong
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Zamdrist wrote: So I just got back from a reading of a play. It wasn't a production but rather a dramatic reading by actors.

It is called "The Few" and is written by Samuel D. Hunter.

http://www.pwcenter.org/events.php?pid=1244&m=2&y=2012

It was a very enjoyable experience, and it was entertaining to listen to.

That said, and this goes to the discussion I opened up on, was the level of stage direction. The reading included a narrator of sorts. He read everything that wasn't read by the actors. There was lots of it, all over and in between almost every scene. Doesn't really seem to jive with what I've been told here.

A lot of playwrights, especially new ones and Eugene O'Neill, write a lot of stage directions.  Directors usually ignore them.  A theatre near me (I think) did a reading that ignored stage directions.  The playwright, in attendance at the public reading, asked why a particular character was on stage.  He was killed 2 pages ago.

As a playwright and director, my advice is to write in anything that is necessary to the story, but nothing else.  The fewer instructions you have, the more inclined directors/producers/etc. are to read them.

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Watch theater. Not TV, theater. There are a lot of conventions of screens and to a lesser extent novels that don't apply to the stage. Most obvious of which is where the audience is looking. The camera grants the screen director control of this. Stage, not so much.

I'd like to add that this attribute of stage really effects comedy since if you watch a lot of Movies, TV, or even Youtube you'll notice that a lot of comedy in those mediums often relies on quick camera reveals and fast-cut edits. The same type of reveal on stage often requires a whole scene change.

When Moments - the play I'm working on now - is done completely I use actor monologues to cover the time needed to adjust the staging - this keeps the audience occupied during a technical process.

I did the same in my full-length; I included 3 30-second skits at the end of the script that could be inserted anywhere to cover scene changes where the director felt he might need them.

Last edited on Wed Feb 15th, 2012 12:35 am by QuixotesGhost

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 Posted: Fri Feb 10th, 2012 01:54 pm
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Luana Krause
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Zamdrist, welcome, and good luck with your play. I'm working on my first full-length play. I've done short plays but a full-length is a whole other animal.

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Zamdrist
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Awfly Wee Eli wrote:
Playwrights' Center?!? Well, if you live in the Twin Cities area, then by gum you're in a fantastic place to dive into this stuff. Have fun jumping in!

Been there twice now, and plan to sign up for membership here soon, get out of it what I can. Welcoming atmosphere.

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 Posted: Thu Feb 9th, 2012 08:07 pm
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Awfly Wee Eli
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Playwrights' Center?!? Well, if you live in the Twin Cities area, then by gum you're in a fantastic place to dive into this stuff. Have fun jumping in!

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 Posted: Thu Feb 9th, 2012 12:34 pm
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Michael Morris
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Another thing I'd like to add - During the writing of Moments and Five Against One I mentally did establish how much (not all) of the blocking would work out and how the set would look. That said, I don't hint at my mind space design of the plays at all because I want to be surprised by what the design team does with it. I feel that's part of the joy of theater, and any playwright who demands their play be staged a certain way is cheating themselves.

One final word on blocking and scene sets - cut away all you can. If a dialog works in a living room, kitchen or front steps of a house, don't specify. Let them choose something. The only blocking I place in a script is blocking that is reflected by dialog. That's my rule. But I do break it in "The Picture Kept Will Remind Me" which I posted on this forum here, but I'll repeat the passage here:


SCENE: A living room of a small apartment. A picture is prominently displayed, the last picture drawn by Jeremy, PAMELA's older brother and CATHERINE's first born son. It is crude and obviously drawn by someone very emotionally disturbed.

AT RISE the audience has a moment with this picture, then CATHERINE and PAMELA enter. PAMELA has her eyes covered.


CATHERINE
OK, You can uncover your eyes Pam.

PAMELA [ she doesn't notice the painting yet]
Wow! It's so beautiful! Oh wow! You can
see forever from up here. It's kind a
small. Very pretty but its kind a cramped.

CATHERINE
It's the city dear. You'll get used to it.

PAMELA
I'm not complaining at all, just saying.
So, my room?

CATHERINE [gestures off stage]
There

PAMELA [exits and from offstage calls out]
Cool! hey, my own bathroom!

[She re-enters]

It's just won(derful)...

[ She has noticed the painting. She knows this painting. This moment is very long but exactly what physically happens here is left to you. Whether Pam finishes the word 'wonderful' is also left to you. PAM breaks the silence]

Momma... Momma why?
I thought you promised we'd have a fresh start.


That's the most blocking I've ever placed in a play. But a lot is still left to director's discretion even then. If I got specific as to where on the stage she was exiting I'd be overstepping my bounds as a playwright.

Since I write in blank verse I can (and do) subtly hint at the rhythm I want the words spoken in - but that's a power that is granted to me by poetry - and it isn't the same thing as saying the actor says the line "sadly, briskly" etc. That's overstepping things.

But all rules have exceptions. Consider this blocking line.

She hands him an envelope. PAMELA enters, and CATHERINE hands her one as well. BILLY tears his open like a Christmas present. PAMELA is much more reserved in her letter opening

Here my purpose is to highlight a contrast between these characters personalities.

The best way to address concerns is to have someone else read your work. Have a director read your play and honestly tell you what, if any, blocking shouldn't be, or should be in there. At a minimum you need to note entrance and exit of characters.

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 Posted: Tue Feb 7th, 2012 02:16 am
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Zamdrist
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So I just got back from a reading of a play. It wasn't a production but rather a dramatic reading by actors.

It is called "The Few" and is written by Samuel D. Hunter.

http://www.pwcenter.org/events.php?pid=1244&m=2&y=2012

It was a very enjoyable experience, and it was entertaining to listen to.

That said, and this goes to the discussion I opened up on, was the level of stage direction. The reading included a narrator of sorts. He read everything that wasn't read by the actors. There was lots of it, all over and in between almost every scene. Doesn't really seem to jive with what I've been told here.

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 Posted: Mon Feb 6th, 2012 10:37 pm
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Zamdrist
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Louisep at Playwrights Muse wrote:
Hi, Zamdrist, welcome to the wonderful world of playwriting. What has made you decide to take it up

Thank you Louisep for your welcome. It was a particular person's story, and specifically their biography that sparked my interest in writing a play. It is one slice of their life that will be the focus of the play but I also intend to introduce the person to the audience also. Very generally speaking it is a love story set in Belle Epoque, Paris, and precisely 1899-1900.

As an afterthought it seemed to me given the play's GLBT theme and its period and setting would find a welcome home in the theater going community. Not much of a leap I'd presume.

I don't know if I'd ever write another play, but this I am passionate about, and I feel needs to be written and hopefully produced. We'll see.

Definitely see as much theater as you can. And read plays.

Here's something you can do that will really help you understand the world of theater.

Choose a play that's performing near you. Get a copy of the script -- from the library, through interlibrary loan, at a nearby theater department, or buy it. Read the script, and make notes about how you envision the play is being staged. What does the set look like? The costumes? What's the emotional tone of the play?

Then go see the play. Make notes about what you saw.

Then read the script again. Compare your impressions to the impression you had before you saw the play.

Good luck! Keep us posted on how it goes.


This is a wonderful idea! I'm going to do that.

Last night (Super Bowl Night) I was rather at a local community theater center helping out by reading people's drafts out loud. It was open to the public and I found the atmosphere welcoming. I am attending one of their plays tonight actually, intend to sign up for membership and partake of their classes.

Thank you!

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 Posted: Mon Feb 6th, 2012 08:17 pm
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Louisep at Playwrights Muse
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Hi, Zamdrist, welcome to the wonderful world of playwriting. What has made you decide to take it up?

About the resources that theaters might or might not have -- I usually do keep constraints in mind, mostly because I don't want my play to be unintentionally hard to produce. For example, if I can stay true to my story and do it with fewer characters, I might do that. Theaters are generally producing plays with smaller casts.

Michael is right that you need to keep in mind some of the practicalities of staging a play. Not just costume changes, but set changes, as well. Obviously, you don't know how any particular theater would produce your play, but do keep in mind that something will probably have to happen.

Don't worry about how many scenes your play has. It's like asking how long does a piece of string need to be. The answer is, as long as it needs to be. So your play needs to have as many scenes as it needs to tell your story.

Definitely see as much theater as you can. And read plays.

Here's something you can do that will really help you understand the world of theater.

Choose a play that's performing near you. Get a copy of the script -- from the library, through interlibrary loan, at a nearby theater department, or buy it. Read the script, and make notes about how you envision the play is being staged. What does the set look like? The costumes? What's the emotional tone of the play?

Then go see the play. Make notes about what you saw.

Then read the script again. Compare your impressions to the impression you had before you saw the play.

Good luck! Keep us posted on how it goes.

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 Posted: Fri Feb 3rd, 2012 10:43 pm
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Zamdrist
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Thank you all.

I think I get it. Less is more in describing any scene settings and costuming. If you must, be brief and simple.

I can think of one specific scene in my play where the main character will be dressed a certain way. And since it involves something of a cross-gender outfit, I might say something like this:

CHARACTER #1

(Dressed as <this>)



But even that I would use sparingly. The play is a period piece and it should be rather obvious to any competent designer what type of clothes the characters are wearing. Period specific garb, in other words.

I'm a bit worried too regarding this same scene and body language. Let's say someone was proposing to another. One would expect in the period in question that the character would kneel at the feet of the person in question.

Might it be appropriate to say:

CHARACTER #1

(Kneeling)



I don't imagine these 'instructions' would be present all throughout the play, but I can in some circumstances see where it would be called for. Fair?

Last edited on Fri Feb 3rd, 2012 10:53 pm by Zamdrist

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 Posted: Fri Feb 3rd, 2012 09:31 pm
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Paddy
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Yes. Here's how you can look at it. The director loves directing, so don't do that for him/her. Really don't put SL SR - as each stage is particular, and in the same vein, the set designer is capable and loves their work. Don't use a stage direction unless the play won't be the same without it, and if you use a character action that ends in ly - (sadly, sarcastically) it's probably not needed, as they too will interpret the character in their own way. If you have to have the lead in a red dress, the best way to make sure that happens, is to have someone say - I love your RED dress. Although the theatre is obliged to be true to your dialogue, the stage directions and descriptions are not in the same boat. Trust that they - in their expert areas, will do better than you. I have a play where the stage directions read - He falls off the roof and plunges several stories before being suspended in air. How they do that, is their business, not mine.

Hope that helps.

Paddy

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 Posted: Fri Feb 3rd, 2012 09:14 pm
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Zamdrist
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Okay, so say I simply describe any one particular scene as a Louis XV furnished boudoir, that should be plenty to go on and whoever is producing the play could interpret that to whatever degree and means they wish to.

Fair enough?

This is going to really challenge my dialogue skills!

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 Posted: Fri Feb 3rd, 2012 08:47 pm
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Michael Morris
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Watch theater. Not TV, theater. There are a lot of conventions of screens and to a lesser extent novels that don't apply to the stage. Most obvious of which is where the audience is looking. The camera grants the screen director control of this. Stage, not so much.

Do not do the job of the set designer, costume designer et al. I personally write plays for the joy of concentrating on the dialog and not needing to give a rat's hindquarters about the business outside the dialog. This leads to, on my part, some very sparse plays as far as directions go.

Each scene must have some conflict to be worthy of the audience's time. Even an expositionary scene needs something at stake that gets resolved. Even mere ten minute plays can have several such 'beats' within them.

Avoid scene changes. The more the scene changes, the more expensive or abstract the play becomes. If you are ok with abstract though go with it, but a play shouldn't have hundreds of locals no matter how it works out. In the last large play I worked out, Five Against One, I knew it was going to be abstract like Our Town - I want it to be. Even so, I mentally quartered the stage and had a few mental pictures of what the set would roughly look like. Kitchen interior, two bedroom interiors, living room interior. Frontal apron area used for street scenes and one car scene. In my mind I see the focus moving between zones on the stage fluidly rather than having the action have to stall for a seen change.

The only part of the technical aspect of the play you need to bear in mind is the physical constraint of a costume change. Give at least 1 minute for these, and 2 minutes or more is better. While costume designers can work in some fast changes, the faster the change the less distinct the costumes can be.

When Moments - the play I'm working on now - is done completely I use actor monologues to cover the time needed to adjust the staging - this keeps the audience occupied during a technical process.

Speaking of the set and costumes, the only real role you have in these is if it appears in the dialog. If the character says something about a red cane, well then it's a red cane. Make it mean something in the story. I don't usually describe props, but in "The Picture Kept Will Remind Me" I sorta have to describe, in loose terms, the picture since it is what the characters talk about quite a bit and the thing is in the title.

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 Posted: Fri Feb 3rd, 2012 06:44 pm
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Zamdrist
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Shanahan wrote:
Write your play. It's up to them to figure out if they can do it or not. And don't worry, they'll feel free to mangle it to make it work.

Re: Costumes, etc. Write you think is right for the character. Once it's in the theater's hands they'll blithely ignore it and do what they think is right.

In other words: write the play first. Worry about other stuff later.


<laughs> Yes, that is pretty much what I suspected. Write it as though it is going to show on Broadway and worry about adjustments and concessions later.

Thank you

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 Posted: Fri Feb 3rd, 2012 06:40 pm
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Shanahan
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Write your play. It's up to them to figure out if they can do it or not. And don't worry, they'll feel free to mangle it to make it work.

Re: Costumes, etc. Write you think is right for the character. Once it's in the theater's hands they'll blithely ignore it and do what they think is right.

In other words: write the play first. Worry about other stuff later.


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 Posted: Fri Feb 3rd, 2012 05:42 pm
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Zamdrist
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So I've gotten into my head I'm going to write a play. I am pretty much a newbie to the whole process, and even somewhat to stage theater over all. I've never written a play before, nor contemplated it, and have only seen a handful of plays myself; the obligatory school plays and occasional holiday play like A Christmas Carol. Obviously I have some catching up to do!

Anyhow I'm using Scrivener to help me lay out my stage play and that's going fine and well.

1. Do you write the ideal play you want to ultimately see (best case scenario) or must you keep in mind the various resources theater companies may or may not have?

2. In any example formats I've seen thus far (Not just Scrivener), there is no mention of costuming. Is costuming something the playwright has has anything to say about, or is that strictly under the purview of the stage manager/director?

Thanks

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