Slicing and Dicing the Script

The musical I’m directing is three weeks away from opening. Today we had our first mega-rehearsal – 8 hours which included two complete run-throughs from start to finish.

I know now that I had been over-optimistic about the musical’s length. I was confident that we could get it done in 2.5 hours which would have included a 15 minute intermission.

About halfway through our first run-through, it became obvious how wrong I was. When the running time finished, we had clocked in at 2 hours, 45 minutes with no intermissions.

Too long. It was time to slice and dice.

As a writer of theatrical works, I tend to write a little long, thinking that every little explanation along the way is crucial to the plot.

As a director of my own work, then I begin to see where the “fat” is and what can be easily cut. It’s not that what I cut was bad writing – far from it. I cut out some witty and interesting dialogue. But, I realized that the same amount of information could be presented in a condensed version.

In the theatre, time is crucial. People get tired of sitting no matter how fascinating the dialogue is. Musicals, in general, tend to be longer than plays because of the music and choreography and so I was comfortable with a 2:30 run time. I was NOT comfortable with a 3 hour run time.

So I was brutal on the script. I kept every song and all the choreography because that’s what musicals are about. But the dialogue was sliced, condensed, re-written, and streamlined. By the time we did our second run-through of the day, we had shaved off an amazing 30 minutes from the run time. I was ecstatic! We are now on track for 2.5 hours with an intermission, if not a little shorter.

Condensing one’s writing is a brutal task. Not particularly fun because you are, in essence, saying that what was written was a waste of time. (no exactly, of course) But this process is crucial.

I actually had fun doing it today and our musical will benefit greatly from it.

Only three more weeks!

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