Well “Justice and Injustice” was read Sunday November 7th at the Big Idea Theater on Del Paso Blvd. I want to thank all the actors that took the time to take part in the reading. It’s a lot of work and I appreciate their efforts. Victoria, Jack, Greg, Cameron, Rick, Jim, Mark — many thanks! You guys did a great job. Plus thanks to Gary Agid, actor, master of ceremonies, theater scholar and impresario.
For me, and perhaps other playwrights, the work or writing is done alone — a solitary experience. It’s fun, but it’s a bit divorced from reality. And yet the play will be a social experience, shared among many. Disbelief will be suspended a bit, and each individual will come to their own conclusions, but it’s still a shared experience. Which is why I think theater is important– it allows us to explore, and share, different possibilities in a virtually risk free environment. So if the play isn’t ready, or lacks something, then the experience won’t be a good one; the value is compromised.
So having a working play read out loud, with feedback from the audience, helps me understand what is working and what isn’t. Which is what the local Playwrights Collaborative is all about. The audience for these workshops tend to be actors, playwrights, and theater lovers, and their feedback is really valuable. And of course this includes the actors who participate in the reading.
Here are a few thoughts I have about writing plays:
1) There is no such thing as a bad audience, only plays that don’t meet the needs of that audience at that particular moment.
2) Playwrights should not be in the business of explaining plays. Explaining plays is the work of drama critics and college professors. Which leads to this: the play needs to stand on it’s own. If it’s needs an explanation, it needs a rewrite.
3) The play has to have the right balance of “show and tell”. Specifically, the more show and the less tell the better.
4) Anyone who gets into the business of writing plays for any other reason then storytelling is probably on the wrong track.
5) The readings are not a forum for rebuttal, e.g., a soapbox, if the audience isn’t receptive, it’s on the playwright — get a new play for that audience, or step aside and let someone else step up.
So, the moment of truth. The feedback from the audience was succinct and to the point. The downside is that the play is way too long, to verbose, the plot a bit too complex, some of the characters functions are not clear, and perhaps worst of all there is a tremendous amount of repetition. The upside was that the main characters were interesting and well developed. A couple of people said it might better suited as a movie, because the camera can be used to drive the story in a non-linear way. I’ll keep that in mind (but I won’t use it as an excuse to not write a good play).
Ultimately the play has too much “tell” and not enough “show”. Now actually some people found the plot interesting, and some other people point out that crisp dialog can make a long play work quite well.
Now I can say, with authority, that the play is the way it is because I intended it to be that way. I can explain this point and that point – doesn’t matter. It didn’t meet the needs of the audience, and I doubt it would do better anywhere else. This doesn’t bother me all that much; it would bother me a lot more if I were unable to get feedback and got in front of a paying audience unprepared.
A couple of people inquired how I felt about the feedback I got, and I appreciate that they asked – shows they care. I reassured them that it was OK, and I knew the risks when I signed up for the job; plus I had a feeling the play had problems, so I wasn’t totally surprised.
So the play needs a rewrite — more show, crisper dialog, less verbosity. The plot, and the themes that are driving the play, would be easier to understand if the script were tightened up. Less talk, more action.
After the reading several people emailed me, I had a phone discussion with another, and an hour long in person discussion with a couple of others (over a glass of 2006 Navarro Gewurztraminer and cheesecake). A playwright could not ask for a better audience and input.
What’s next? I’ll put “Justice and Injustice” aside for a while, a couple of months or so, and come back to it with fresh eyes.
Well that’s it for now. Have a great day, and thanks for stopping by!