I had two young actors pop into my room and chat with me today. They are talented, without doubt. Two of the finest actors I’ve worked with. They were asking me about possibly writing a duet script for them, and I’m always eager to help in that regards. However, their specifications were to make sure it is funny and not very deep because the competition that they are going to be always favors “those performances which make the other students laugh.” And supposedly the judges always vote for performances like that. Hmmm. I had to think about that. Sounds like a little “dumbing down” happening. I told them to let me give it some thought.
I did. I also decided that I needed to follow up our conversation with a letter. Here’s what I wrote to them:
I think you are going about finding a script in the wrong way. I always think it is most beneficial to find the best script possible. Period. Regardless of what judges will think or who will laugh. You are both fine actors, but you should find material which stretches you, not that makes you feel comfortable. It doesn’t mean that the best scripts are always serious. Good scripts can be funny, too. But a script should have something to say, and you as an actor should be looking for material which makes you a vessel of effective and meaningful communication.
I even noticed that the forensics guidelines say to find more dramatic pieces – and not just what will make it laugh. You might say that the judges don’t follow the guidelines. Perhaps that’s true. But my response would be, “so what?”
The only way to break through, then, is to give a performance that cannot be ignored, but at the same time realizing that even that might be ignored.
This is my moto about writing: You can only control direction, you can’t control outcome.
Let me give you an example. I wrote a script which I felt was, perhaps, the best script I’d ever written. I submitted it to one of the Short & Sweet venues thinking it would waltz in and maybe even win some awards. You know what? The evaluators didn’t even choose the script. Frankly, I was stunned. They are producing 22 short plays, and they said mine wasn’t even one of the best 22. It doesn’t mean I don’t have an awesome script. Actually, I’m producing it for an upcoming show, and I know how strong of a script it is because it brings tears to my eyes during rehearsal. It’s a far superior script to the one I wrote which recently won Best Script in a competition and which will be produced in Sydney in 2015. .
My point is this: we can’t control what others will think about our performance. All we can do is choose the best script available, a script that we are passionate about, and then leave it all out of the stage. When we start from the premise that we have to “dumb down” or choose a script that will suit the judges, in my opinion, that’s the wrong starting point.
I would just encourage you to always strive for excellence, not awards. And if you do that, you might even find that the awards will follow.
That was my advice.