Celebrity 5: Shaping The Script
The tickets for ‘Celebrity’, priced at a very reasonable tenner, go on sale in one week’s time. Am I terrified yet? Not really, because I’m learning some good new habits. And as everyone gets to know one another, we’re working as a team.
We’ve now nearly finished blocking the play, and I’m starting to see why acting is different to writing. For a start, much of writing is about sketching in – as a reader, you understand I’m not going to write down every last detail in my novels. I provide the main points and your imagination fills in the rest. But with a play you needs specifics. Example; I have our leading lady, Victoria, taking a phonecall, but then I switch her to another conversation. So what happens to the phone? Well, she has to put it down. But she’ll first need to say goodbye to her caller.
The actors need to find the truth in their characters even when it’s a comedy, so the words are changing. All of this will lengthen the play, so then I’ll need to trim it to length – so I have to allow for that. Everyone warns me that plays get longer at during rehearsal. Then there’s the set – which has to be very simple, because this is a fringe show and there are no scenery shifters.
My designer’s first idea was to build one all-purpose piece of furniture, what he called the ‘Swiss Army Knife Desk’, which would rotate and fold out in endless combinations. But that’s not really practical, because someone has to move it, and if it breaks we’re screwed. So now we’re looking at keeping the same furniture onstage throughout and changing backdrops.
Another question arises. In one scene one of the main characters is on the floor of the stage – but that will make her invisible to half the audience. How can we raise her up while she’s unconscious?
And here comes a huge problem; just how many jokes make a comedy? Do you put in so many that the laughs cut across the dialogue? Do you let each one settle before you start another? And what happens if nobody finds it funny at all? As a writer onstage, when I know that when the audience is cold I can tear out pages and replace material, but the actors can’t do that on the night. What if it all starts to go wrong?
Strangely enough, the blocking has gone very smoothly – next come the rehearsals which will concentrate on the performances. I’ve promised to lock my script down in one week’s time, so the actors don’t get messed about. Right now, I’m cutting awkward words that look good on the page but are hard to say aloud. The good news is that the key scenes are all intact.
And the best part of all? Collaborating to get to the best script is a great new skill to be learning. Let’s see what happens with the next rehearsal.