Playwriting

Integrity and Process

I get a lot of change requests regarding my plays. Some are for changes because of fear (I’m never quite clear what saying a certain word will cause. Mass panic in the streets?). Some are for changes because of time. Some are gender changes – that age old “we have more girls than boys!” problem. And sometimes changes are requested because teachers want to give opportunity. They want to put more students on stage than a play calls for. They want to include and incorporate.

For change requests I really have only two questions:

  1.  Does the change affect the integrity of the play?
  2.  Does process override product?

Quite often the answer to number two is, Yes. The process of being in a play, any play, and learning the life skills that a being in a play provides are so valuable that I’ll allow changes. What kind of skills? Self-confidence. Team building. Creative thinking. Creative problem solving. Self- Expression. All very necessary to the real world. When the process of a play overrides product, I never think twice. I’m damn proud to be a part of that process. That process will and has changed lives, and isn’t that what I’m really writing for? Does it really matter if the impact my writing has is in the process rather than the product? No.

Sometimes though, the integrity of the play, as written, has to be maintained. These mostly come up in Issue plays. For example, more than once I’ve had requests to change the character of Belly in POWER PLAY to a girl. And I’ll never agree to that because of the physical violence between Belly and another character Brawn. The impact of physical violence between two boys compared to a boy and a girl is completely different. We have another play in our catalogue, ANONYMOUS  in which there is a gay character. And we’ve had requests to have all mentions of “gay” removed. These requests have been, and always will be, denied.

The last category of changes, additional characters, is interesting. It’s one thing to throw some extra bodies on stage, it’s another thing to find ways of including extra students in a fulfilling manner. Many of my plays have a lot of flexibility in having an additional ensemble but some don’t. In the end It still circles back to my two questions: integrity and process.

I recently had two very interesting requests for additional characters both of which I quite love:

A school doing TICK TALK asked for an additional silent character. The play is about communication and the failure to communicate. This new character stays in the background but has a very interesting twist – he wears duct tape across his mouth until the end of the play. What a great visual image to go with the play! I like it so much I’m going to suggest it to any other school that wants to add characters to this play.

A school doing ANNE-ARKY asked for an additional character to include an actor who had always done plays but had recently been in a serious accident. I was more than happy to add that character.

In these situations the directors did all the heavy lifting for me: they were intensely aware of maintaining the integrity of the play and they knew how much impact the process would have.

In my next post, I’ll lay out 10 things to consider when you’re considering asking Theatrefolk for change requests.

About the author

Lindsay Price