Make it your own. We hear this phrase all the time when putting a play together, but what the heck does it mean?
To me, it means something like this:
The director is a unique individual, the cast is a unique group of individuals, and the crew is a unique set of individuals. A play should be an artistic expression that could only have possibly come from this group at this time.
So, how do you accomplish this?
You’ve got your unique group of individuals together. You’re already at an advantage! Circumstances are on your side. Here are some tips on how to keep it that way…
Ban yourself from using DVD/CD players and the Internet.
Don’t watch the movie, don’t listen to the soundtrack, don’t look at YouTube clips of other productions. This is numero uno. Possible exceptions would be design inspiration (but not to out-and-out copy) and perhaps to see how other productions dealt with a tricky bit of staging, but never for creative execution.
This seems particularly problematic with musicals, where every production sounds (are attempts to sound) like the original Broadway soundtrack. For example, Kristin Chenoweth is an extraordiary talent with an very distinctive voice. Have you ever heard someone sing “Popular” from Wicked without trying to sound like her?
Black out the stage directions
Stage directions can be very useful to a director. Many give insight into the playwright’s thoughts and intentions. Others, however, come from the prompt book of the original production. You aren’t doing the original production, you’re doing your original production.
As an exercise, before you’re too familiar with the text, give a copy of the script and a black marker to a friend and ask them to black out all of the stage directions. Do your book work using the blacked-out script.
Don’t alter the text without permission
Making it your own doesn’t mean altering the text. The playwright is part of your group of individuals. Respect her contributions. Her work is the backbone of your production, and it’s not your place to alter it without asking. If you feel that something needs to be cut or altered for any reason then contact the publisher or playwright as soon as possible for guidance.
Sometimes we have the impulse to cut something because we don’t “like” it or “get” it. Raul Esparza offers this wisdom:
When you’re doing a play and you’re afraid of a scene, that’s the scene you should embrace, because that’s the scene that will tell you something about the play.
Play with the text that’s there
Shake off your preconceived notions. As a rehearsal exercise, have every character play the opposite of what you think they are. “Meek” characters speak loudly and aggressively, “fast” characters become impossibly slow, and so on. You’ll be amazed at what you discover.
Theme the theatre to the play
See here for some thoughts on making the venue part of the show.
Think of prepending a mime/movement piece to the show to introduce the audience to the world of the play.
Can scene changes be thematically integrated into the show?