Playwriting

When and Why plays change, or, Changes do not equal less love.

This spring I had the opportunity to workshop a new play called Censorbleep at a school in Central Florida. They had a great time with it, and the teacher asked if they could use the play as their district one act competition entry.

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Let me think about that, of course! This particular play I knew would be a difficult road to the final draft: it takes place sort of in the real world, but not really in the real world; it’s the next door, left turn to reality world. And the story deals with concepts that could easily go down the road of finger wagging which I definitely do not want.

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There’s a group of Stepford-like girls with a scary amount of power, and another group who are literal garbage – they’ve been junked, thrown out with the trash. It’s somewhat stylized but then if there’s too much style it gets funky and I’m trying to find the right balance of everything. Is that so much to ask? The right balance of everything?

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I’ve been electronically part of the rehearsal process this fall, with the teacher passing along questions, floating set design concepts and keeping me in the loop. And then last week when I was in Florida I was able to go to a rehearsal and see what’s what.

Working with teens can sometimes be a slippery tightrope. You can’t start slashing lines in front of them, even if you know they should be cut, because it looks to the teen like they did a bad job. And it’s hard to explain that the reason I’m wearing a grim scary face is that I’m concentrating really hard – it has nothing to do with disliking the performance. And you have to always find something positive to say because even when they know they’ve not done their best, all they want is your love. And really, there’s lots of people out there who find it a thrill cutting teenagers off at the knees. It’s not my thing. I love working with teens and there’s nothing like being a part of their self-confidence.

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But having said that, the purpose of this test production is to, you know, test it. This production is part of a process, it’s not a product yet. And by the end of the rehearsal it was clear to me some pretty big changes would have to be made. Eek.

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Sometimes, you go over a play and you go over a play and you think you’re on the right track. But then you see it performed and you go, “Hmmmmm. That’s not right.” I can tell student writers till I’m blue in the face that the play on the page is different than the play on the stage (ever so catchy) but until it happens to you, it’s hard to believe.

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I believe it and sometimes even I get surprised.

I thought I had worked through my issues with the Garbage Group, but in production they’re still not right. (NOT the actors, the characters!) What do you mean Ms Price? Sorry, can’t explain it. Well I can, there are the two different groups in the play and right now they’re written as if they’re in different ballparks. They’re written in two different styles and it’s abundantly clear in performance. And it doesn’t work. They’re not the same, but they have to be funhouse mirror images of each other, and thus in the same ball park. See, aren’t you glad you asked?

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Sometimes this happens and I don’t know where to go next. (The second act of Beauty and the Bee for example…) sometimes this happens and it’s like a fireworks show in my head. I see the problem and the answer (I shouldn’t get ahead of myself, it’s AN answer right now) presents itself. It’s a very cool feeling.

On the plane ride home I re-wrote twelve pages. And then I emailed the director at midnight and asked her not to kill me.

It’s one thing to throw twelve new pages at professional actors the week before they’re supposed to perform. It’s a whole different kettle of fish with teens. Because they have other things to worry about besides the play. Because they don’t have a background of on-the-spot change training. And ultimately, they think I’m changing the play because of something they did.

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Luckily the teacher and I are on the same page (after she decided not to kill me), and she knows teens need the love and she’s giving the love and emphasizing that this is how plays come to be. They are part of the process. A very necessary process. I couldn’t do it without them.

And now, we wait and see……

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Lindsay Price

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  • […] I’ve been in constant contact with director Karen Loftus over the fall during the rehearsal process and I was fortunate to be able attend a rehearsal (and make, ahem, changes). […]