I was at an author’s event last year in Berkley, Michigan where I had the pleasure of meeting a fellow author who contacted me a couple weeks later and asked if I’d be interested in reading a play that he’d recently finished writing. Apparently he’d read the “About the Author” section of my book and noticed that I’d written a few plays. I guess he wanted what he considered a little professional feedback. I told him I’d be happy to read it. I did so and was pleasantly surprised. I just had no idea at that time what the next year would bring relating to that play.
I thought the play was something that had the potential to become a really good piece of theater. Sure, it needed work. First of all, there were too many characters. Any aspiring playwright should know that theaters today will typically not produce plays with the proverbial “cast of thousands!” My friend’s play’s first draft had (if memory serves) something over 14 characters. Maybe that doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but think about all the costumes a theater will need to dress all those actors. Even if you double cast some of the actors, you’ll still need a lot of costumes. That’s expensive. He also had to notch up the drama, and more firmly establish who his lead character was.
I asked my friend if he’d be interested in having a table reading of his play. He said yes. What’s a table reading? Simple. We print a few copies of the script, gather a cast of actors, give them each a copy, then have them read the play out loud to a small audience of people who know a thing or two about theater. We went ahead with the table reading and it was a success. The actors did an excellent job and my friend got some really valuable feedback from both the actors and the small audience.
Cut to one year later: My friend has made many necessary revisions. He’s cut his cast of characters down to 8, and solidly established who his lead character is. He also notched up the “drama” of the work, putting his lead through some higher ups, and lower downs. This coming August we’re going to have a staged reading in front of an audience consisting of some artistic directors from a few Detroit area theaters, the director of a university theater program, and other artistic luminaries of various disciplines in a beautiful and historic Detroit mansion – a very nice and appropriate setting for this much improved play! My hope is that we will get an even higher caliber of feedback, and (if we’re lucky) perhaps some great leads for submission.
As the author of a novel (and a few plays), I can’t express enough how important it is to get another set of eyes to read your work! Novelists need their beta-readers and editors. Often the proper editing of a book or play can take longer than the actual writing!
So, what’s this new role I find most gratifying? I’m not even sure if there’s a name for it, but for lack of a better term, I’ll refer to it as freelance dramaturgy. I’ve helped my friend take his play from being an un-produce-able play to something that I believe is on the precipice of a professional production. My fingers are crossed and I’ll keep you posted!