Friday, 12 April 2013

A Lesson in Writing for Stage

Tackling script after a life of prose writing means I have a lot to learn.  Here’s a few things already.

Ah, the first rehearsal of my script, Cats in a Pipe, and the actor playing the American couldn’t come.  No surprise that I was conscripted to read the part.  While most writers read our work out loud during the editing process, reading with actors is an experience I’d recommend to writers of both prose and script (and boldly suggest that directors should adopt).  Having the writer take one of the roles in that rehearsal, benefitted all parties.

Any script starts as voices in a writer’s head that are later interpreted by the actors with guidance from the director.  One of my concerns for CiP was that the American character’s culturally specific humour would be interpreted as aggression by a British cast.  After hearing me channel the character, the cast said they now saw him as more likeable and more three dimensional.  But this meant that the American’s main sparring partner – the Irishman – had to tweak his interpretation of that character, which brought more depth to both roles.

By participating with the ‘Irishman’ during his process, rather than observing from outside the process, I witnessed, at close quarters, the actor adjusting his ‘garment’ – in other words, what it is I had asked of the actor.  This isn’t a lesson a writer can learn too often.  Our characterisations are challenges to actors.  Be kind to them without lowering your own creative standards.

Although this particular script is an ensemble piece, my creative awareness focused on the Irishman and the American, even in terms of casting choices.  During the last third of the play, events happen to the Afghan character, which affect the rest of the cast.  For me as the writer, the effect on the cast was the important thing.  However, I learned from the rehearsal that the Afghan controls the emotional level of the play by experiencing what happens to him.  Seeing this, reinforced the idea that the writer must know every character well, and never short change one because their role is smaller than another’s.  If a character can be short changed without affecting the whole play, then that character is probably not needed.

After the read through, we discussed problem areas.  Here I learned how interested actors are in speech, often moved by individual lines or needing to adjust them by perhaps a single word.  Their use of space, costumes and props holds an equal import which contributes to them being able to do their job.  While the director and writer hold the words as important, we tend to put theme and structure ahead of the space, costume and props of the actor.  This makes wonderful  sense; our jobs are different and so are our priorities.  Having some awareness of what matters to the other members of the team supports a successful collaborative effort.

So the newbie has learned a few things by coming out of the Writing Closet and going to the theatre.  Next week, I anticipate sharing with you what I’ve learned from the audience.  See you then.  Better yet, come to the play yourself and be part of my education.


  1. And when and where is the play being performed?

  2. I've added the poster for the play to the blog. It has all the details. Thanks for asking! I'll see you there.