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Writing Plays Cooperatively

Brainstorm likely ideas that interest the group.

Decide what the problems to be solved are in each of the suggestions.

Are the actions planned suitable for the group?

What liabilities are there?

Can it be written so that the liabilities aren’t there?

Will it be realistic enough to be accepted?

Consider the availability of props, characters etc.

Agree on a decision making process to decide which play/s the group will write. Eg. Relevance, available characters, available skills, liabilities, approval by authorities, etc.

One person is the leader/facilitator/scribe who gets the process going and records the speaking parts and stage directions on a chalk board for all to see.

Arguments about how people behave when problems are being dealt with in the writing of the script and heated discussions on what will likely happen are par for the course. It is this discussion that allows the participants to have a broader view of their own situation in life.

Do not let people write things that are difficult, dangerous, or expensive to obtain unless you want to deal with the results. Discussion can often lead to consensus of an effective way to deal with the subject matter, so the process does not have to be aborted. Before the process is begun, abandonment of the process must be an alternative on the table. It is not fair to spring it on the group during an impasse, if this should happen.

Make sure there is a character to cheer for and give him/her lots of problems to solve.

Read the play out loud.

Try to act the play out.

Make changes as necessary.

Do staged readings of any changes.

Do the final version, duplicate the scripts and rehearse for full production.

Either be desperate, or know beyond a doubt, as a group, where you are trying to go with this piece.

The left over ideas? Have a competition for the best play for the group, written by individuals. Worthy efforts can have staged reading presentations, or a full production if there are enough people to cast the plays without undo hardship in learning lines, blocking etc.

What Is A Staged Reading?
A play is cast with people of appropriate gender and hopefully appropriate age. I like to have people read parts other than what they are assigned, so they don’t entrench errors in their first reading. If there are two characters in a piece and I’m rehearsing with one of them, I read the character that the actor/reader is assigned. They read the one that they will not be doing. That way, they know what I expect. If they screw something up on a cold read, it is not the lines that they will be reading to the public. My theory is that if they never make a mistake, I don’t have to try to get them to stop making that mistake. And mistakes on stage are more crucial than mistakes made face to face standing on the same rug with one’s conversational partner. Some minimal staged readings that would require a lot of action in full production are done with a narrator and the actors sitting on stools near centre stage.

I like to do plays as close to a professional production as possible with minimal scenery and minimal narration. For more complicated staged readings, some scenery and props are needed and the actors have enough blocking to move through the play reading their scripts. This requires almost no narration and may, or may not have some tech support. When a competition offers a staged reading of your work as the prize, the first alternative is the common presentation. Playwrights often have friends who get together to test how new work plans out by doing a staged reading of it.

The Senga Readers
These marvelous people in the Bancroft, Ontario, Canada Area get together to help me see what I screwed up when I wrote my plays. They take a fresh look at the script and question what doesn’t make sense to them. They ask about things that are perfectly clear to me, but no one else, and I clarify the wording which makes the work more effective. They rehearse, gather a few costumes and props like hats or a cane and then they go to community affairs where we are invited and do staged readings for people’s enjoyment. I get to see my work being spoken with minimal actions and see what has to be changed. I also get to watch the audience and see whether something that I thought was totally funny has to be tweaked so that the audience gets it, too.

Where does one find readers?
I look for expressive people about the age range of my characters. The people who help me, enjoy the theatre and may have thought they’d like to act but there was all that memorization, and rehearsals and maybe they just didn’t have time for that. A staged reading takes three rehearsals at the very most. A monologue may take only one rehearsal. Doing a workshop gets somewhat more involved with exploration of alternative ways of achieving the playwright’s purpose. They are all relieved to know that there is no memorization. Some remembering, but no memorization.

What do the readers get out of this?
They get the satisfaction of acting, sharing ideas with others and providing entertainment as well as helping me to develop a play so that it is the best that I can make it. They also help to provide a rather hidden area of literature to the public.

What is a workshop?
A workshop is a group of people getting together in a theatre, often a director, an artistic director and several actors and a tech person to run through the play and tell you what works according to them and how it should be written so that it would make sense in their lives. A good workshop looks at the play that is there and points out what is needed to get past any blind spots the playwright has so that the audience gets it. They explore alternatives on how to make this a great play that will just knock the socks right off any reviewer that comes to the play when it is in full production.
Some theatres want options on your play if they do this for you and a percentage of the house for a specified period of time. People have workshops with their local theatre guilds, too. Workshops are a part of a play’s history and should be duly recorded and presented with submissions.