Playwriting Exercise: Take One Away

This exercise is the result of a complete accident in a recent workshop. It simply had to do with numbers.

When I go into a class to workshop a play, I often break down a script into sections, divide the class into numbers that fit those sections and in that way I can get through a play pretty quickly. It works quite well when you have a large class. Further, I can see different actors play the same parts and get an instant picture of whether the script is cohesive or not.

In this particular class I didn’t have the numbers to do my normal thing. When that happens, I often adapt by having more than one group do the same scene. It’s the same principle on a small scale. But in this class I had odd numbers. The scene required 6 characters and I had 11 students to work with. So, just off the top of my head I said to the group of 5, ok – your’e doing this scene (it was a non verbal narrative scene) but I want you to take out the character of the friend. Stage the scene without this character.

Two groups work on the same scene.

Two groups work on the same scene.

It was simply a situation of numbers but the results were amazing. And in the end, I actually liked the second scene with the removed character better, to the point that I re-wrote the scenario. I had not intention of doing this at the beginning of the period, in fact I had already workshopped the scene with two other classes and was totally satisfied. But seeing the scene in a new light gave me a new perspective.

Exercise: Take a scene that you’re absolutely sure of, and remove a character. What happens to the rhythm of the dialogue? What happens to the plot, how do you have to re-distribute the storytelling? Do you notice the character missing? It may turn out that the scene is truly better in the original form. But taking your writing out of its comfort zone is always an excellent exercise.

About the author

Lindsay Price