The Editor and the Playwright

Attending an SCDA acting and directing workshop this weekend (and it was a rather fabulous one too, one that got me acting for the first time in years) gave me the idea for this week’s post. A post on the importance of editing for theatrical types.

Greek Masks

Now I won’t lie, it’s difficult to think of a post every week that has something to do with editing (after all this is supposed to be a work blog with a few reviews thrown in for good measure), and one that won’t put you all to sleep. But there are times when good editing really does matter.

When a group of actors get together everyone needs a script… unless you are into feature length improv, in which case you probably need a mental health professional rather than an editor. Now scripts can be expensive, especially when you consider who will actually need one – that’ll be everyone involved in the production. The actors of course need a script, but so do the production crew, the techies, the props people, the floor manager, wardrobe mistresses etc. You get my drift… if it’s a tenner for a script multiply that by even the basic heads of department who direct their crew, plus the actors, director and producer and there is a LOT of money tied up in script purchases. So it makes sense to be sure that your script is fit for purpose, if it’s not the director will probably just bin it and go in search of one that’s properly constructed.

So what has that got to do with editing I hear you wimper?

The Confused Actor

Ok… imagine (and this is actually taken from a script I worked on recently when I was producing) that stage directions are not formatted properly… your actor will end up reading those lines. Firstly it’s disconcerting for the actors, they read the lines, realise that there’s something wrong… stop… read the page again, realise the words are a direction, then start again. They’ve lost the flow. Start again.

Well it’s not the end of the world but a badly edited script means more stops and starts, which means loss of concentration and direction… which cuts back on productive rehearsal time and could end up with severely stressed actors, a director at his wits end and a rapidly looming rehearsal deadline. The more mistakes, the more stops and starts, the less likely the director is to buy from the company again. And that’s if the script actually makes it past the director’s read through in the first place.

Now of course there are some big script publishers out there, but they are not infallible, in fact the last full script I read had a few bad mistakes. But if you are a budding playwright, or a small publisher, you need to make sure that as few mistakes as possible make it past the proofing stage. You need to make it as clear as possible to your readers exactly what is happening; what is dialogue and what is stage direction. There are conventions to follow and a good editor will know how to style your script to make it clear to everyone.

Imagine. A simple situation contained in a simple extract given to an actor:

Danni walks into the room. Silence. Miranda says she’s ready to go. She moves right. Closes the door. Curtains close.

So what does the author mean? It could be any one of these, and probably more.

 A couple of simple scenarios:

[Danni walks into the room]


DANNI:          Miranda says she’s ready to go.                 [She moves right, closes the door]

Curtains close


[Danni walks into the room]


MIRANDA:   She’s ready to go.                                        [She moves right. Closes the door]

Curtains close

But dependent on the rest of the scene it could be that Miranda is actually narrating what Danni is doing:

MIRANDA:   Danni walks into the room.


MIRANDA:   She’s ready to go. [She moves right] Closes the door.

Curtains close

theatre curtains
Theatre Curtains courtesy of Rosmary [ ]

See? A simple extract that can be broken down, and according to how it’s presented can come across in different ways, all valid. If the playscript is not edited correctly it can change a whole scene, cause confusion and lead to more time spent than is needed. Remember folks, in theatre time equals money.

If you write scripts, or publish scripts, it really is worth your time hiring an editor to format your play and help you get the most from it. It could mean the difference between your script becoming an award winning play performed in the West End or becoming a well thought of amateur production… or becoming a script that is left unsold, sat on the shelf and unloved by those who’ve read it but can’t get past the flaws.

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