The Stand Out Script

The weekend just gone was a blast. It really doesn’t feel like it’s a week since the Thurso Players Blackout crew headed down to Lochgelly in Fife for the Scottish Community Drama Association Youth Finals.

Four fabulous youth teams from Caithness (that’s us), Orkney, Aberdour and Dunlop, Ayrshire descended on the Lochgelly Centre to compete for the Quidi Vidi Trophy. While we didn’t win (that accolade went to Orkney’s Palace Players for their excellent portrayal of brothers close to the edge in Down Came The Rain by Burgess Clark) everyone, at least in the Thurso team, had a brilliant time and came away from the festival with great memories. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to gain experience in a new theatre, even if things were a little rushed as they always tend to be during festivals. Hats off to everyone involved, it was an adventure.

SCDA logo Scottish Community Drama Association

If you are interested in Scottish Community Drama click on the logo to visit the SCDA page

It did get me thinking about scripts in an editorial and theatrical context though. When I read a script I’m coming at it from numerous angles… as a director, as a producer, as a casual reader and as an editor. I won’t include actor here as that is a whole other kettle of fish.

When a director is reading a script for the first time they need to be able to clearly visualise the intention of the playwright. Many things can get in the way of this… script layout, badly written dialogue, misplaced stage directions etc. If the director considering the script cannot comfortably read the manuscript, then the chances are they will move on to another that captures their imagination. The first script may be a hidden gem, but if it’s difficult to read it will remain hidden.

The script our director used was one called Blackout by Davey Anderson. It is unusual in that it’s a series of monologues that leaves staging, direction and, well, basically everything to the director’s vision. The words speak for themselves and without anything to get in the way you can immediately see that it is a powerful play that can translate into something equally powerful when staged. Our director worked magic on the script and the resulting performance was hard-hitting but with a sympathetic edge, and led to the SCDA finals. It has been staged numerous times in Caithness, and now in Lochgelly, and the overall impression was that of an emotionally charged, moving piece of theatre.

As soon as you read the script you can feel the potential. This is what a great script should allow.

Greek Masks theatre

As a producer reading a script, I’m moving on from Blackout now, you don’t need to feel the vision (that’s largely up to the director), you need to know the nitty gritty. What is useful for the producer, and the backstage crew who will work on the piece (at least in amateur dramatics), is a character list, a properties list, a stage plan (if the playwright has written a script that needs a certain kind of staging) and any technical information that is needed to produce the play. Many scripts leave this up to the theatre company, but if something is vital to the production it needs to be in there. If the producer cannot comfortably read the manuscript, the chances are the director’s vision and the playwright’s vision will clash, leaving the production crew in a precarious position.

As a casual reader, scripts can often lead to a firing of the imagination and be put on the ‘potential, for future use’ pile (if the reader has anything to do with the theatre), you need to be able to enjoy the story. A first read through, without the frustration of being actively involved in looking for a script, should be a joy. The characters should be clear, as should the plot – if you have to stop in your tracks and retrace your steps, then the script has failed. A casual read should be pure enjoyment.

When an editor reads a script all sorts of things are flagged up that may not be immediately obvious to the reader. Is the script laid out in a logical way, is the language easy to read and understand, and if it is supposed to be challenging, is it? Also are there typos, are italics and bold type used properly, does the dialogue flow and are the characters that are speaking really the ones that are supposed to be? It can happen that dialogue flows from one character, when another is supposed to be speaking. Stage directions must be used consistently and the overall layout should be logical, professional and correct. An editor looks at the script from a technical point of view, we see the manuscript as a living, breathing entity that has a purpose and flow.

audition actor

So, a play script is not simply a story translated into dialogue and typed up onto a page. It has form and purpose, and it must work for directors, producers, actors, backstage crew and the casual reader. Is your play fit for purpose?

A play script should:

  • Be logically laid out
  • Be easy to read (stage directions should be clearly marked as separate from dialogue)
  • Include a list of characters (unless it is a monologue or can allow multiple ‘blank’ players)
  • Include a list of properties (the props people will thank you if they don’t have to create a list themselves)
  • Include staging, technical and lighting directions if they are vital to the performance
  • Include a stage plan if a certain layout is required
  • Be free from typos
  • Include a synopsis (to help the director quickly tell if this play is for him/her)
  • Be a joy to read.

The easier it is for the cast and crew to read your play, the easier it is for them to be inspired by it. Give your play the treatment it deserves and it could end up being staged, rather than being kept on the slush pile.

If you need help with your play, why not contact me?

3 thoughts on “The Stand Out Script

  1. This is a SUPERB checklist! I’m rarely called on to write scripts, but you’ll certainly help me do a better job next time the need arises. Thank you so much.

  2. PS: My company employs a full-time editor and a proofreader, but if I get a large freelance project I will definitely contact you! 🙂

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