I see this all the time in the plays that I read at Manhattan Rep: A play has a great premise, a great beginning, and then it gets bogged down with ancillary characters and their back story and more, and what should be a concise, fast-paced compelling drama, turns into an endless, over-written exercise in creating a multi-leveled play.
Ugh! Blah! Yuk!
So how do you streamline your manuscript? After creatively cutting your play (as we talked about 2 weeks back) how do you make your play even clearer, more concise and super compelling?
After you answer these big questions from earlier this month:
What is the story you are telling?
What do you want the audience to do after they see your play?
Ask this question:
Who’s story is this? Who is or who are the main characters that you want the audience to associate with so that the audience will “go for the ride?”
I like one main character, and two can be ok, but when you get into too many “main” characters, the audience usually won't be able to relate as strongly to so many characters, so often, your play will lose focus.
Ever been at a play and one of the main characters is weeping, and you look out over the audience and you see audience members actually weeping too? How does that happen? The audience relates so strongly with the main character that they actually feel the main character’s pain as if it is happening to them! This is usually what you want in creating a compelling play - a main character with whom the audience will relate and “feel for,” creating this incredible transference thing that happens in performance, so that the audience, in a way, “climbs” into the play.
A couple years ago, I was working with a playwright who brought me a huge manuscript with a myriad of characters all involved in the crazy world of emigration. It was like five plays. So we pared it down to “who’s RIDE this play was” focusing on one female attorney and her struggles.
We then brought this new concise emigration play to production here at Manhattan Rep where it played like a house on fire! The audience related and struggled and wept and laughed with this female attorney, and they went for "the ride," and the production rocked!
If we kept all the subplots, yes it might have been a multi-leveled law play, but it would not have had the visceral response we received from the audience rooting for this one main character!
So how many “main” characters are you creating in your next OPUS MAGNUS?
And can you pare it down to one, or maybe two tops?
And then take your audience on the amazing roller coaster ride called theatre!