Daily Dojo

The Script’s Not Ready or She Must Have Had a Bad Breakup

One of the fine writers over at WORKING GROUP has posted a great piece about scripts in development called The Script’s Not Ready or She Must have had a bad breakup

Here’s an excerpt:

“Now, the script is not a sentinent being, it didn’t tell you it wasn’t ready- didn’t take you in the corner like a girl at prom and say “Johnny tonight isn’t the night for me to lose my new play virginity” and then rigidly kiss the audience goodnight. I mean, the playwright could not be ready. In most cases I think the theater or more likely the subscription base isn’t ready but the script? The script had a story and it moved. We knew when it began and ended- it was ready enough for actors to move around the stage and say lines… “

Go read it.

As for myself, I can honestly say that I have scripts that are not ready, so to speak, to show to anyone - actually, it could be as the Working Group folks say, it’s ME that’s not ready to show my works in progress . . . but I will testify this:

Whenever, WHENEVER anyone has told me that one of my scripts wasn’t ready for them to produce, it really wasn’t about the script.

It was about the producers, development, director, whomever . . . THEY weren’t ready to deal with the script.

I would say, 99 percent of the time, when that phrase was invoked the script WAS ready, the person looking for work to produce WASN’T.

I had a reading of my play TALLBOY WALKIN’ at The Abington Theatre a couple years ago. The reading went well, full house, people liked it. I liked the director, etc. People really liked the play, as they always do any time it has a reading.

So the director and I had a meeting after the reading and talked about the play for TWO HOURS, which was fun . . . he had notes, I took them and listened to what he had to say.

He told me that the process at that theatre was, for the next step, in a year or so they would do a staged reading, then if it was well received, a year after that they would do a short showcase and if that went well, a year or so after that, a mini-contract run.

Three years. I know. But bear with me.

Now Tallboy Walkin’ had just had a staged reading at Stamford Center of the Arts, (in addition to a staged workshop in 2001 which audiences loved, see next post) for which I and the actors got paid, so I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to doing another staged reading, for free, but in the interest of getting the work done professionally in New York, I took his notes and asked him about the next step, which was a staged reading.

In the end, he felt that the script wasn’t ready, it needed a lot of work before it could be produced, even as a staged reading.

This despite the fact that it had just had a professional staged reading at Stamford Center For The Arts. And he knew this.

But that’s what they felt. Before they could do the play, it was felt by the powers that be that it needed major rewrites.

“You mean, other than the notes you just gave me,” I asked.

“No, those notes are the things we feel need to be changed,” he said.

“Because those notes you gave me aren’t major, I can make those changes, what major rewrites are you speaking of?” I asked.

He hemmed and hawed a bit, mentioned something about maybe doing another notes session, etc. I just listened without saying anything.

He said, finally, why don’t I make the rewrites and then we’ll go from there.

I told him my policy.

I am more than willing to rewrite my play, in fact, I would commit to making changes right then and there . . . but I wanted a commitment from him that he would get the play on its feet. I didn’t want to do rewrites, especially rewrites I might not agree with, without a committment from the theatre asking for them.

He said, “We don’t do things that way.”

I said, “This is how I do things. I’m open to working with others, but they need to be open to working with me. You say the script’s not ready, I say let’s make it ready together . . . but I want to know that I’m not working for no good reason . . . . that there’s an end result to this.”

In other words, I committed to their notes, right then and there, if they would commit to putting my play on its feet.

He said no. They couldn’t do it it that way.

In the end, it didn’t happen. I don’t bear him any ill will. He was a nice guy and I liked working with him, in fact, I did a polish based on his notes.

And I believe that play, which has been workshopped and had mulitple readings, IS ready, and I’m far from the only one who believes that. . . it’s simply that the subject matter (Race and Religion and Class) and the required cast for it scares some folks . . . at the readings in Stamford, after every single one, audience members would stand and ask us when the play would go to Broadway.

As if Broadway wants plays about Race and Religion and Class . . . RIGHT. But it was nice that Stamford audiences thought so.

Listen, there’s no law that says anybody HAS to do my play . . . none at all. The director could have just not liked it, which is fine. It happens.

But he didn’t say that. He said the script wasn’t ready and asked for major changes. Without any promise that they would do the play. I think that was a tactic.

He didn’t want to commit because it wasn’t about the script not being ready . . . it was about the theatre not being ready . . . and they used notes and rewrites and development as a weapon to keep playwrights at bay.

I run into that a lot. As a result, I really distrust someone when they say, “the script’s not ready,” because I believe that it’s never about the script. It’s them.

Usually they’re looking for something that really turns them on, like a semi-famous person attached as director, star or something in the play that connects to whatever is currently happening in their lives, etc, things that often have nothing to do with scripts themselves . . . if an Artistic Director just adopted a kid, then usually they look for plays about people adopting kids . . . they’re not looking for new voices expressed by writers, but for something else . . . and I couldn’t tell you what that something was . . . just that I don’t believe it’s new voices in theatre.

I remember asking the Abington director, too, what the next play that was being produced at their theatre was . . . he said a staged version of the film SWIMMING WITH SHARKS.

Fascinating, when you think about it, isn’t it?

And people wonder why playwrights turn to screenwriting . . .

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