I’m about to start doing it all over again
Carter Bratton and Rupert Spraul in “Chase the Dragon” by Kirk Sheppard
Find a capable director. I knew I needed to workshop my script and I knew that I couldn’t do it alone. As a theatre critic, I’ve seen enough new works directed by the playwright to know that I never in a million years would want to direct my play — especially a brand new one. So I sent my script to a handful of carefully selected people that I thought might be interested. I got lucky. Jared was looking for new works for a festival he was producing. He saw a lot of potential in the draft I sent and we were off to the races. And best of all, he was now in charge of the whole process.
Casting is everything. Jared, my director, is very well-respected by actors in the local theatre community. So, when he sent the script out to some actors to gauge their interest, they read it. I had sent that script to one of the actors who told me later that he didn’t read it until Jared told him to because “you know, we all have friends who say ‘I wrote a play’ and you just roll your eyes.” I knew he would be a great leading man for my show. Jared knew it, too, and he recruited him for the part. The rest of the cast were equally talented. In their hands, my words sounded authentic.
Agree to cuts. I went into the workshop process knowing that my script was far from perfect. A sage theatre professor teaches her students that you “can’t be sentimental about your work.” I love that idea. When we went into the first rehearsal, I had my pen out, ready to perform major surgery on the pages in front of me. There were lots of speeches that were redundant, irrelevant, or excessive. We cut many lines, sometimes paragraphs, out of the script. And after the workshop production closed, I cut even more. The play is much better for it.
Fight for what’s important. I had a handful of lines, stage directions, and visual images in the show that I was adamant that I wouldn’t change. Luckily, my director and I were on the same page throughout the process, and I was never asked to change them. But I was ready and prepared to fight to the end to keep them. No matter how much we changed during the workshop, ultimately, the play had my name on it at the end.
Talkbacks must have structure. After all three of our performances, we had a talkback with the audience. The first night was great — all the feedback was positive and the questions were about the workshop process. At the second talkback, in which the audience was more actor-heavy, there were lots of “what they would have done” with the script and other silly and self-indulgent comments. We had an excellent facilitator for all three nights, but sometimes the audience will hijack things no matter what. Regardless, looking back, I wish I had suggested some questions or talking points to be covered so that I could have used the feedback more productively.
I’m about to workshop my second full-length play and I can’t wait to dig in. I wonder what I’ll learn this time around?