Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Use that Cover for Context

Scott raised an interesting question last week with his post about stage directions. At risk of stirring up those now quiet waters, I offer a broader suggestion: prepare the reader for the conventions of your script.

The generally accepted convention of stage directions for plays is that they describe what can be seen by an audience on stage. Whether or not that is "right," that's the trend. When a writer bucks a trend, he or she runs the risk of appearing that they don't know their craft.

In many plays I receive, the title page or the cover letter explains some of the text conventions: "\" for overlapping dialog, special formatting for projected text, italics for text translated into another language. The list goes on.

In the same spirit, a playwright might choose to include a note that said something to the effect of "This script employs literary stage directions which are intended to create an image for the reader. They are not intended to be instructions for directors or actors."

This sort of context helps not only with text conventions, but with the intentions of the script. I've read plays that are either spot on subtle satires, or pale imitations of classic work. A note about the author's intentions in that cover letter would help me figure out which. I've read scripts that are the result of some experimental process - but without any context for what that process is. As a result, I'm unable to properly read the text.

When reading 10 to 15 scripts a week, I simply don't have the time to fully explore a script as one would in preparation for production. So any help the author can give in familiarizing me quickly with his or her conventions and intentions will help me read the script in the appropriate context.


frankenfurter said...

That's a really good point. Made by both posters.
Using stage directions other than literal interpretations of what the author wanted to happen onstage is a great way to combat directors whose first step in the rehearsal process is to 'cross-out everything in italics'.
Great topic. I always love reading this blog.

jenny said...

Funny, scary, and possibly apocryphal story:

A friend told me that a playwright was overheard saying "it's almost ready to send out...I just need to go back through and add the Impossible Stage Directions."

As a playwright who occasionally employs "impossible stage directions" in a legitimate attempt to establish tone/help the reader, I cringed.

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