Friday, May 25, 2007

May Day Play Day: rules of the road

Though I have no idea what I'm going to write tonight, I find it helps to set up some ground rules for myself before I start. (I'm sure I will break some or all of them before the play is finished.)
  • Balance the roles. All three actors will want fairly even stage time, and it's only fair to try to make that happen. No one wants to spend all Saturday working on a walk-on.
  • Make it visual. Scripts written in a hurry can tend to be on the talky side. I need to get a good look around at the theatre to see what sorts of props and costume pieces we have available. Consider the actors' talents (juggling, magic tricks, etc.). The audience needs something to look at. Bright colors are good. Try to use some stage magic. (But at the same time, any physical bits have to be VERY simple and readily available.)
  • Don't be afraid to use sound. Sound effects are probably out, but think about things that the actors might do that helps make a soundscape.
  • Make it active. Have the actors engaged in doing something active. The audience wants to see action. Strong action will help move the story forward and keep the actors from getting lost.
  • Conflict and tension are critical. This is true of all plays, but especially important in this case. It's hard to learn a short play in a single day, but it's a lot easier if you're character is actively engaged with everyone else on stage.
  • No long monologues. Actors are only human.
  • No blackouts. I hate these anyway, but they're deadly in a short play festival, because they confuse the audience. The audience does not like to be confused about when the play is over.
  • Use the whole space. Examine the entrances and exits and make good use of them. For god's sake, don't write a park bench or cafe table play.
  • Beware repetitious dialogue. The rehearsal period is so short that convoluted dialogue, or looping dialogue is guaranteed to get the actors lost when it comes time for the show.
I'm sure I'll think of a few more.

(Last time, my play The Sky is Falling, was about a woman who goes home to say goodbye to everyone after her guru tells her that the rapture is coming and they're about to be taken into the mother space ship. At the end of the play, the guru and the grandmother end up going off on into space. I think I managed to stick to the rules above, but still have a play that was fun, whimsical, and fluid in terms of time and space.)

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