Wednesday, September 13, 2006

On public readings of drafts

Sep 13 P B says:

"... When a playwright tells me s/he wants another reading of a script we've read before....
I am interested in knowing if the changes are substantial and if they reflect in any
way the feedback that the playwright received at his/her previous reading.."

I reply:
I'm not sure how useful it is to hear a re-write of a play heard
within the memory of many of the people in the room. Audience
members "know" the material that has been cut-- there's no way to un-
know it. People can say things like "it moves better now" or "what
happened to the part about how they met on a canoe ride? That was my
favorite" or "I like the new scene with the father"-- but these are
the sort of comments that are best made by trusted friends or a
mentor who is willing to read successive drafts and follow and
discuss the revision process. Or-- best of all-- by a director and
actors committed to a production who understand their objectives and
characters from the inside and can judge in a practical way whether
the changes make the scenes work for them within an over-all arc.
The public reading of a full script is supposed to reveal what the
words presently on the page communicate to a group of "ordinary"
listeners who have never encountered them before-- the state of
innocence the author him-or-her self can never return to and can't
know w/o a fresh audience coming together to have the unique
experience and react to it.

I think the "reflect previous feedback" is a danger. People get
invested in having the playwright take their advice and will
reinforce changes that do as improvements, even when they are leading
the writer away from the unique vision that is the core of the
play. I try very hard to not to do this myself: but it is a big
temptation! The audience as audience is hardly ever wrong-- but
I've seen lots of plays get worse from taking good advice.


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