Playwrights and Writing…

My first play was published in 1991.  23 years ago.

What?!?

My fifteenth play will be published this year with number sixteen to follow.

My plays are performed throughout the world.  Translated and published in foreign languages.  Off-Broadway production.  A film adaptation.  Awards.

I work with playwrights of all levels.  Well, we work together.  I am not an expert.  Who is?  And my having worked in all facets of the theatre has helped my work as a playwright enormously.

Each playwright has a different process.  None is strictly right or strictly wrong.  It’s very personal and “whatever works for you.”  Some playwrights spend years on a script.  I cannot work that way.  I like to get it done and into the marketplace.  And some playwrights make the process a great deal more difficult than it needs to be.  And some make getting their work produced much more difficult by not taking heed as to what producers, director and actors are looking for.

Broadway isn’t the end all and be all.  Some plays on Broadway open and close before they officially open and are never heard of again.  My work is NOT Broadway.  I know that.  I also know my first script published 23 years ago is still one of the most produced scripts in the general market in the country.  And that is because having produced, directed and acted prior to writing, I knew what each of these wanted.

I am constantly amazed by playwrights who insist on writing scripts which will never be produced, simply because they do not take the economics of the producing theatre and film into consideration. I read lots of scripts.  Lots of them.  Most of which will never see the lights of a theatre rise on them.  For several reasons.  Sometimes they just aren’t any good.  But there are other reasons somewhat good scripts will never be produced.

What kind of scripts are these?  These are scripts which are riddled with profanity.  Or sex.  Or violence.  Or technical and casting requirements which render a production impossible.   I read a script which required a dead dog on stage.  Another required a scene with 50 background actors.  And when you suggest a playwright make adjustments one of two things is going to happen.  One, they are going to listen and make the needed changes.  Or, two – they are going to feel their artistic integrity is insulted, insist you are treading on their “art”, and refuse to make the changes.

Well, thank you very much for submitting, but we shall pass.  Yes.  I know it’s the greatest script ever written.  But…we shall pass.

Most playwrights I have encountered do not write with an audience in mind.  This is a mistake.  As a writer of any kind, you have to know your demographic. Are you writing for a young audience?  Are you writing for a broader audience base?

And if you are writing a comedy, make certain the comedy is accessible by a large audience.  A script with a series of inside jokes or “oh, look how clever I am”, will flop.

After all, everyone gets Neil Simon.

So here are a few pointers about who wants what…

PRODUCERS:

Producers want a good script which is going to be inexpensive to produce, but generate an audience and bottom line, money.  Yes it’s art.  But it’s also business.  Minimum outlay for maximum income.  This isn’t a compromise.  It’s smart and good business.  And just because something is inexpensive to produce does not mean it’s of inferior quality.  I have produced plays for less than $100 and a short film for less than $50.  The plays went on to tour and be published.  The film was featured at the New York International Film Festival in Los Angeles.  What makes a good play?  Characters with heart and a story.  I write comedy.  Better yet – farce.  The plots are thin, but the characters are real, and that is the key to my work’s success.  You can have a terrific plot, but if your characters fail to jump off the page, it’s a waste.

Economics are important in the theatre.  If the first page of a script lists five acts, 35 scenes and a cast of 75, the producer will not continue to read.  The thought which immediately goes through their mind is “What?  I can’t produce that.  It’s going to be too expensive.”  My advice?  Write a two act script.  Minimum costumes changes.  Avoid a period piece, if possible.  One unit set.  Other locations to be simply suggested.  More female than male characters.  Small cast.

DIRECTORS:

Good story.  Good characters.

ACTORS:

Good story.  Good characters.

AUDIENCE:

Good story.  Good characters.

Write from the heart.  A play must have action.  It cannot be a bunch of  people standing around talking.  What is at stake?  In the creation stage, what is the “What if?” element.  Comedy must be character motivated, and not a series of jokes.  Is there a  beginning, middle and end?  Is there a journey of the character?  Does the character start at one place at the beginning of the script and end someplace else by the end?

See.

That was easy.

Now go write.

 

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