When a Writer doesn’t Recognize his Script

I was at a theatre festival last night where one of my plays was being performed. I was not in any way connected to the production, so I’m always a little apprehensive when I go and see one of my pieces, not knowing what it might ultimately look like. I’ve had a variety of experiences in this regard, some great, some less than great. But I always appreciate the director’s and actors efforts.

This production took me off-guard a little bit. My personal belief is that my script was not a match for the director’s style. The director is experienced with comedic, Chinese theatre where large, farcical expressions and movement are requisite. My piece was a satire with a lot of heft to it. It was a political satire on the nature of progressivism in America. The actors clearly had trouble with the language of the piece, and so decided to ramp up the farcical aspects of the script which, frankly, weren’t there to begin with.

But part of being a drama writer is just putting your work out there and letting it be interpreted however the director sees or whatever goes with the director’s skill set.

It’s also a reminder of why I like to direct my own pieces. Call me obsessive, if you will, but I clearly have a dramatic vision of all of the pieces I write. Of course, my dramatic vision is just one of many possible ones, but I always love to finally see a work of my on stage using the original vision of the writer himself. That oftentimes only happens when I produce it myself.

I once again applaud the effort of the director and actors. Their time and effort is appreciated. I do look forward to one day putting this script on myself. Until then, it’s fascinating to see what others see in your script which you yourself do not see.

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Looking Ahead: Short & Sweet Theatre Penang Next Week

Next week kicks off the 4th annual Short & Sweet Theatre festival in Penang. I’ve enjoyed being involved in it since its inception back in 2012.

The Short & Sweet Theatre concept comes out of Sydney, Australia which has been holding this open, theatrical competition for many years. The concept has spread worldwide and can be found in diverse places such as Dubai and Kuala Lumpur. What makes Short & Sweet enticing is the format: 10 minute plays where professionals and amateurs can work collaborate, experiment, and have fun in a low-keyed setting. It also is a competition with a variety of awards given for best acting, best script, best overall production and so on.

This is the fourth year that one of my scripts has been included in the show. This year, I requested that I would like to direct my own piece for a change, and so I am. I’m directing a script called “Words to Say at the End of the World” – about a mother and daughter who have to figure out what’s really important once “someone drops a nuclear bomb in their backyard.”  Yes, they have 10 minutes to react after the bomb explodes. It makes sense, don’t worry.

I really like this piece and I’m working with two very talented young actors who are just delightful to watch. We’ve been meeting daily to put it together, and we’ll spend a nice chunk of time this weekend perfecting it. Next Monday is the technical rehearsal where we’ll see my lighting scheme for the first time. (I hope it looks good. I doubt it. That’s not my forte.) And then dress rehearsal Tuesday night.

The show runs from Wed Aug 26 – Sat Aug 29 at the Penang Performing Arts Centre. It should be a lot of fun. If you’re in town. Put it on your calendar.

Short & Sweet Link

A Packed House of Laughter and Tears

It’s one thing to write a novel and press the publication button, sending it out into the reader-sphere to be met with an audience of critics.

But it is entirely another thing to sit back at opening night of the play you have written and watch talented young actors bring it to life, to see the delighted faces of the audience, clinging on every work, to see the smiles and laughter, to see the tilted heads and curled-up emotional responses when a poignant scene draws a tear.

As writer and director, I had the privilege of witnessing such a scene last night as my new show “For All Generations” hit the stage for the first time. I was literally exhausted after the show. It’s like it was my heart and my body out on that stage, soaking in the eyes, the smiles and applause.

This beats the release of a novel any day.

I am always curiously interested in audience response because it can rarely be predicted. As an actor stated to me, we become so accustomed to the script that we forget that the audience may even laugh at it when performed, so it is easy to be caught off guard when a long overlooked phrase entices a cacophony of cackles and giggles.

Comedy is great, but I’m especially pleased when the audience connects with a serious piece which makes them cry and think. I saw plenty of that last night.

Overall, it was an amazing opening night, performed by an amazing group of actors. I am so proud of what they accomplished and I can’t wait to see it three more times this weekend.

Oops! My fault: A Director’s Mea Culpa

My new show opens in one week. It’s a series of 10 individual dramatic sketches. As I watched all ten performed as a whole on Monday, I realized that one of them was bad. Really bad.

It’s not the script. Actually, it’s an award-winning script which will soon be performed in Sydney. No, it wasn’t the scripts fault.

So what was the problem.

It’s easy to blame the actors. They are the ones performing it, right? They are the ones in the spotlight. If the intensity or timing isn’t there, that’s on them, isn’t it?

No.

It hit me on Monday evening that the fault rested entirely on me, the director.  And so I told them Monday we needed to meet today and plug up the many holes. Yep, it was my fault.

I often joke with my actors that when the lights come up, my job is done and I sit in the back next to the exit, ready to make a quick escape if something goes wrong. Hands off, I say. But like it or not, a director’s hands are all over a production and if it doesn’t work, chin up and take the tomato in the face.

When a script is good (and this one is) and the actors are talented (yes, this not a problem either) then there’s only one person to blame.

So I got myself back in the game today to figure out what could be done. First, we tightened everything. The dialogue has got to zip. We worked on the chemistry between the actors. Much better. We repeatedly worked timing on three of the more technical scenes which live or die with perfectly sequenced sound effects and actions. Then we put it all together and turned on the stopwatch.

We shaved off a whopping 2 minutes, or 18% from the running time! That’s huge, and suddenly the script started to soar for the first time. At the end of our hour and a half, I was quite pleased at our progress and we are once again ready to insert it into our lineup as an asset, not a drag.

Sometimes there is nothing to do but blame yourself, but make sure you don’t stop there. Reassess, readjust, rework, and get back in the game. It’s the only way to improve, and that’s what we are all striving for, isn’t it?

The Purpose of Dress Rehearsals

I’ve been directing stage plays for seven years now. I’m no professional, and I’ve learned a lot throughout the years. Dress rehearsals are the emotional peak that every director has to scale before a new show. Once it arrives and the actors poke through the clouds and stand on that emotional peak, a director’s job is, in essence, over. Not officially, of course. There will still be production meetings before each subsequent show, but the main work is done. Everything now rests in the laps of the actors.

Dress rehearsals accomplish a few important items. First, there’s the technical aspects of the dress rehearsal that must be perfected. In our productions, oftentimes, dress rehearsal is the first and only time the actors performing at the actual venue. This is, of course, stressful because the stage is different. We are working with lighting we haven’t seen yet and it takes hours for the actors to get familiar and comfortable in their new surroundings. As a director, I have to make this happen, step by step walking through the set, the new blocking, and the lighting scheme with everyone. I’ll be at the venue for many hours with the tech crew prior to the casts arrival.

Once the technical aspects of the performance is clear, I have to encourage the cast that they can, indeed, do this. And this, for me, is the ultimate meaning of dress rehearsal. Its instilling in the cast the idea that the show is now theirs -they are in control – they can be successful – they are prepared for anything to happen. This last point is key. In live theatre, the unexpected can happen at anytime. Dress rehearsal is instilling in the cast that they can overcome any obstacle, be it a missed line, a broken prop, or smudged make-up. No matter what is thrown at them, the show must go on.

I’ve had shows where the electricity went off in the final act. Yes, it was awkward. But the show must go on.

I’ve had shows where actors completely blanked out on stage.

I’ve had shows where actors forgot to bring a crucial prop on to stage.

I’ve had shows where a singer started off-key, or a backdrop started to fall. In this particular case, a quick thinking person backstage stood on a chair and held up the backdrop in excruciating pain until the end of the show.

This is what dress rehearsals teach – no matter what, the actors and crew can handle it.

So I love it when dress rehearsals are finished because my job is done. I can sit in the audience and enjoy the show and the actors can relax and have fun on stage.

Here’s to dress rehearsal day! Our show opens tomorrow.