Perfect Plays and Pantos

It’s that time of year again… panto rehearsals are in full swing and I’ve been asked to produce a musical next year. Excellent stuff.

Well it can be. Now, since I started working backstage in our local theatre I have noticed one thing that can really cause problems. Badly formatted, set out and written scripts.

theatre mask
Oh no, not another disorganised script!

It never fails to amaze me that writers, both amateur and professional, spend hours and hours of their time writing scripts that they hope will get published and picked up by theatre companies, then fail to make the scripts readable. I don’t mean the kind of ‘scan it over’ readable, but the ‘nitty gritty, actors on stage who need to know what’s going on’ readable.

When an actor can’t see the difference between dialogue and stage direction it not only stops the flow of the rehearsal it can be quite frankly bloody annoying for everyone involved. The actors get confused, stop, make a note on their script, then often remembers the lines they shouldn’t (because they weren’t lines at all) and have to keep reminding themselves not to say them. Same goes for when you can’t tell which character is talking.

Another problem is when new scenes don’t begin on a new page. I know that sounds really petty, but there’s nothing as annoying as starting a rehearsal for a new scene and spending ages trying to see where one scene ends and another begins. Yes it saves paper, but the easier it is to work through a script the less stress seeps in. You don’t want a stressed actor, and you definitely don’t want a stressed director!

The characters flew from the playwright’s fingers, and arranged themselves neatly on the page

I know I’ve written about this before, but there are so many scripts floating around out there it can mean the difference between your hard work being picked up by a company or left on the shelf.

So, here are a few tips to help the theatre who will be putting on your play and something that script publishers hopefully think about too…

  • Cast list. Do you have one at the beginning of your play? If not you really should. It makes it easy to see who’s needed and whether the theatre company can accommodate that size of cast.
  • Props list. Yes, really. As you are working through your play, think about what the characters are doing, what they need to perform and what you think are important props that should not be left out. Each production obviously sees things differently, but there are certain props that are needed. If a props list is there on a page for all to see it not only allows small companies to see if the place is feasible for them, but props masters and mistresses will love you forever!
  • Set. Does your play require a large, complicated set or is it minimal? Again, each company goes their own way, but if you have a set in mind, say a scene is set in a dining room, if you have it in your head and you want the production to see it as you do…tell them! If a play has a basic set design attached to it, it allows the theatre company to follow it, helps with blocking and yet again, the stage manager will love you for it.
  • Formatting. Make sure your script is properly formatted. Do you have a publisher in mind? Do they have a preferred format? As mentioned earlier, and in my previous post, a properly formatted script is vital.
  • Special features and lighting. Are there any special requirements for your play? Are pyrotechnics, hoists or revolving sets involved. Making note of these and any alternatives can be useful for the technical team.

So, there you have it, a few things to think about if you are writing for the stage from an editor’s and a theatre bod’s point of view. While the director’s vision brings your play to life, your goal is to have your play emerge into the world in the best possible way.

I’m hoping that our musical next year is written well, I’ve already almost thrown our panto script out of the window.

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