Tuesday, February 23, 2016
But it’s an invaluable tool. Hearing it aloud for the first time, even under less than ideal circumstances, can really give you an idea of what works and what doesn’t. Additionally, in this case, I got feedback from peers I respect.
That’s the good part. The bad part is when stuff sucks and you want to crawl into a hole or buy everyone a car. But that’s part of the process. There’s a reason even the best comedy playwrights like Neil Simon have readings, workshops, out-of-town tryouts, and previews before “opening night.” And even then – you sometimes find yourself changing a line or two during the show’s run. When I did my play A OR B? at the Falcon Theatre I went back after the show had closed and did another pass. The new production in April at the Village Theatre in Hatboro will be the beneficiary.
The key is not to get down on yourself. Accept that it is indeed a process. Again, using A OR B? as an example, I re-ordered and re-structured several key scenes in the last act. When did I have my “aha moment?” In the middle of previews.
I had watched rehearsals for a month along with a week of previews. In rehearsals the original scenes seemed fine. But then seeing the whole piece on its feet and reading the audience’s reaction, the last act just felt off. I wrestled with possible solutions for several days until the answer popped into my head.
When we made the changes and they worked I was delighted and relieved. And there was also a little voice in my head that said, “It took you five weeks? You’re this hotshot Emmy winner and you couldn’t see this problem two weeks ago? Or six months ago when you wrote it?” The answer is: no, I couldn’t see it. Thank goodness I saw it when I did.
So now I’m rewriting my play. I took a few days to digest the notes, select the ones I felt were helpful, come up with solutions to the problems I felt needed to be addressed, draw up a game plan, and roll up my sleeves.
At least for me, there’s something invigorating about starting a rewrite when you know you’ve got the tools to make the script better.
And my favorite part: making cuts. Jokes I thought were so brilliant three weeks ago – I can’t wait to highlight and delete. Especially for a comedy, you could have a page with six jokes that get laughs. But if you take out the three that got meh laughs and just kept the three that really worked, the scene will be much funnier. Putting solid laughs closer together heightens the comedy of the whole scene. The trouble is (and the reason you need the reading) is that it’s hard to tell which of the six jokes are the winners. Could be three, could be five; could be none.
The other thing I do, if I’m being honest, is over-write the first forty pages. I’m learning the characters, getting comfortable with them, but ultimately I don’t need as much explaining. In this case I took out four pages from the first forty. Some good stuff, but just not necessary and it slowed the piece down.
As the expression goes: sometimes you have to kill your babies. Don’t be afraid to cut things, even things you love. Always think of the big picture. Does this conversation go on too long? Is this joke funny but too jarring or slightly out-of-character? Are there too many callbacks? Does this joke hurt your emotional moment? Is this a good joke but takes too long to tell? Do you need to lose four pages? Do you want to get to someone’s entrance sooner? Is this joke a holdover from a previous draft? There’s another expression (this one from Broadway): Cut twenty minutes and the show will run two years longer.
If you have a script (screenplay, teleplay, stage play), I recommend you arrange for a reading. Gather some actor friends, or any friends. Invite a few people to provide feedback (and maybe some laughs if it’s a comedy) and have your cast either sit on chairs or around a dining room table. You’ll see things good and bad that you never expected. And you wrote it to be performed, so treat yourself. All it will cost you is maybe your ego, and you should probably feed these people. At least provide water.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM