Published in the Hanford Sentinel Newspaper
October 30, 2020
Attending play readings, also called staged readings, is a wonderful way for an audience to see a work in progress. In most cases comments and suggestions are encouraged. Many times, the playwright is in attendance and will ask questions from the audience to finish the play. Then productions are sought, and if received well a publisher will ask the playwright for publishing rights.
I remember being in the audience for a play reading in Chicago. I don’t remember the play that I saw or the author, but I remember the coupl
in front of me sighing with dismay after the staged reading and said, “Well, remember David Mamet’s first plays.” If you don’t know who David Mamet is, he started out as a playwright and now writes screenplays. His films of note are The Verdict (1982), for which he received an Academy Award nomination; Wag the Dog (1997), for which he received an Oscar nomination; and Hannibal (2001).
The interesting thing about the couple in front of me is how well versed they were with the process. They saw a staged reading that still needed work, and understood it was in development phase. I am sure the playwright was in the last row scribbling notes and making changes for the next draft. The fact is, plays take time to write.
Final play readings are considered to be in the ‘polishing’ phase. The playwright may add or subtract lines for clarity and experiment just a bit knowing that any adjustment may misalign the play. Much like a card-tower where one card can topple the whole tower if subtracted or added. When the tower stays up, the play is done.
Some playwrights, like myself, have a rule. Once the play is published, no more changes. Otherwise you will be rewriting the play your entire life. In fact, changes can do what I described above; misaligned years of work. It is almost better to write another play.
A curious thing happened at a play production of mine. A play participant said her boyfriend and she had some ideas for changes to the play. I thanked her but I explained my policy that when a play is published, no changes can happen. Sure, interpretation is allowable by a director. If lines need to be adjusted, it must be a phone call to the playwright for approval. That’s the rule and fortunate that playwright works are protected by the Dramatists Guild. However, this wasn’t quite understood because she was checking her calendar for available dates to meet. I politely thanked her for the deep thoughts about my work and suggested that maybe she and her boyfriend should write their own play. The subject matter is in public domain and she can create whatever she desires so long it doesn’t use elements of my work that were created by me.
I do like the deep thoughts of my work. In fact, that is the experience I personally like to have when I see a play. I want to come out of the theater thinking about the work and the journey it took me. My gauge of satisfaction is, if I still remember the play after a few weeks of seeing it, the play made an impression on me. I strive for that with my plays.
Silvia Gonzalez Scherer
October 27, 2020