Giving Birth to a Play
The process of new play development can sometimes feel akin to having a baby. The conception phase is all of the years that you have the idea in your head but have never been able to put it on down on paper. Then comes the pregnancy stage where you finally start to put your ideas onto paper and you have nine months to prepare for the “big day” when the rough draft is finally delivered. The final stage is the development of your brain child, The Script, and as they say, it takes a village to nurture it and bring it into fruition.
When you first have an idea for a play, it is like planting your seed. It is scary at first-(after all commitment always is). But once you make the decision, buckle up and go on the ride! Take the ideas you have in your head and put them onto paper. The best way to do this is stream of consciousness, in other words, do not edit yourself. Not yet-that will come later. Just let your ideas free flow and don’t have any judgment about them or your work.
If you have a hard time disciplining yourself to do this, then I suggest scheduling a set time everyday to spend an hour with pen and paper. The other way to ensure this step is to sign up for a writing workshop where you are expected to bring at least ten pages a week. This is guaranteed to give you the kick you need! If a writing workshop is not possible, then schedule a time each week to read your pages to trusted friends and family in order to get feedback on your work. Be sure that you are getting feedback from someone who has an invested in your career and who cares about your work. Their notes will be the driving force for your rewrites, so be careful when choosing this person and make sure that they are someone you can trust.
During the first trimester your script is developing all of the basics for it’s sustainability in the world. This is where you will ask yourself what the concept for the script is, why you are writing the script, and what value does the script have in the world at this time. Has the story been told before? If so, then how are you telling it differently?
The second trimester sees a lot of growth and fine tuning of the earlier work. As you attend the writing workshop or share your pages with friends, you will go back and incorporate their notes into the work you have already done. This process is painstaking and tedious but necessary for the development of your story.
The third trimester prepares your script for birth which is the delivery of the first draft. This is where the contractions come in-the painful process of objectively looking at your script as a whole and asking yourself some hard questions. For example, do your characters have strong arcs? Does the story itself have an arc?
The day has finally come when you have a rough draft of your script and it is time to share it with the rest of the world. A rough draft is exactly what it seems-a rough version of an eventual polished script. So, although you have gone through a painful yet rewarding birth process, you still have a ways to go before the script is finished.
The first step in this process is to schedule an informal play reading. This first reading should be for an invited audience only, or what I call your “warm fuzzy people”. In other words, people who have an investment in you, i.e. your family, friends, colleagues, etc. Once you get their supportive feedback, you can go back into rewrites based on the notes that you have been given. I have seen some damage occur to writers who skip this stage and go straight to a public play reading. Believe me, when you first give birth to your play, you are not ready to hear criticism from strangers. Instead, you should be getting supportive comments from your tribe.
The second step in the birthing process after going into rewrites from the warm fuzzy reading, is to schedule a public reading. This the best way to introduce your piece to a team of artists including a director, dramaturge, actors and of course the audience. This will allow you to get feedback from the general public, sometimes complete strangers. This objective criticism is critical to your script’s development. An objective audience can help you to see any inconsistencies or contradictions in the script which you may not have seen before. Once you go through this process, you can then go back into rewrites based on the feedback you received.
Letting The Baby Go
Once you have gone through both readings and two sets of rewrites, you now have an official first draft of your script. It is now ready to go out into the world and be optioned, sold, or produced. Although you may be involved in the production process, you still have to give your script over to a director to interpret. Be sure to give it to a director you trust that perceives the script the same as you do, so that you will be happy with the outcome of the production.
Although there will most likely be rewrites during the production process, you are very close to seeing your baby fully realized.
The incredible feeling that you will have watching the first production of your script will be an invaluable and emotionally moving experience. Everything you went through from conception, pregnancy, birth, and rearing will have been worth it in the end.
So what are you waiting for? Go get knocked up!
Written by Che’Rae Adams for NOHOARTSDISTRICT.COM August 2009
by Che'Rae Adams
Producing Artistic Director of the LAWC