Playwriting

The Winds of Change

Photo by sarniebill

We here at Theatrefolk occasionally get asked to allow changes to a play. Sometimes it’s a time crunch, sometimes it’s moral, sometimes it’s a gender switch, sometimes it’s ‘hey we think it would be so much better if the play went like THIS.’

We here at Theatrefolk are not bothered by some changes. Some changes. First off, if a change is proposed, in writing, for specific moments or lines, way in advance of the actual production, with an outlined reason why the change is taking place, we’re going to be a lot more flexible. Proposing a change in this way shows respect for the play. Students need to see that respect. Students need to see that they can’t do whatever they want with a script. And claiming ignorance is not going to fly with us: every teacher gets a performance licence that clearly states plays must be performed as is unless they have written permission.

We like to say that producing a play is like renting a car. The play isn’t yours, you’re renting it. You wouldn’t change the colour of a car and then try to return it to Avis would you?

Now, having said all that, we are pretty flexible. I’ve said it before; as far as my work is considered, the process of the play is more important than the product and if the process is honoured then really I don’t care if a character says ‘don’t be a jerk,’ instead of ‘don’t be an ass.’

But there’s a line. And it’s not a line in the sand, it’s a hard, ingrained, tattoo, that’ll never come out in the wash kind of line.

It has to do with intention. If the intention of a play or the intention of a character is modified by the proposed change, then the change is denied. If the intention of the play or character is upheld then, more often than not, the change is approved.

It’s a great way to figure out if your change is going to be approved. Does my request change the fundamentals of a play or character?

So we’re going to play a game. I’m going to lay out five change requests for five of my plays. All of these have occurred, over the years. Decide if the change request is valid and if you’d allow the change.

THE WINDS OF CHANGE GAME

Which of these changes did we approve? Which did we deny and why?

Line Changes:

  • Change the line “Piss off” in Hamlette to “Get lost.”
  • Change the line “Are you retarded?” in Shout to “Are you stupid?”

Character Changes:

  • The character Mr. O’Neil in Anne-Arky is trying to give up cigarettes. Change it to caffeine.
  • The character Beaker in Power Play is Korean. Change her to Jewish.

Gender Switches:

  • Belly in Power Play is an overweight comedian-type. He is shot by another guy. Change Belly from a guy to a girl.
  • Greg mourns the loss of his best friend in a drunk driving incident during a monologue in Skid Marks. Change Greg to a girl.

Story Changes:

Play along at home or let us know your thoughts in the comments and I’ll reveal my answers on Tuesday…

About the author

Lindsay Price

3 Comments

  • I was interested until I realized we were being treated like children and made to wait until next Tuesday until you dane to produce your answers! – do you really think you will hold anyone’s attention that long?

  • Sorry you feel that way Philippa! It’s really not so sinister. It’s a holiday weekend and wanted to let the post be around for a couple of days before answering. Hope you still play…

  • I’m interested to see what everyone posts! I like waiting because then we can share our opinions instead of arguing about justifications for things already done.

    Line changes –
    I already know the Hamlette answer because I was involved in the approval process :

    Shout, that’s trickier – my sense is you would keep the line, because it triggers something about someone who is actually developmentally disabled and it’s supposed to show insensitivity?

    Character changes –
    Caffeine, yes, because it’s anything that puts an adult legitimately out of control. Jewish, no, because there’s something about the character that makes her from somewhere else rather than practicing a different religion, and other than a strong New York accent it’s pretty hard to play “Jewish” on stage. And I saw Putnam County Spelling Bee and they had a white girl playing Korean on the night I saw it (usually cast with an Asian, understudy night) and it worked out fine.

    That’s what I have time for right now, my mom is deigning to allow me to buy a Great Dane and I need to head to Copenhagen for some shopping!