Friday, December 17, 2010


Revision is an important part of the writing process. However, as we've found for some of our young playwrights, it can also be the most painful. That makes sense. You've put in so much time and effort to get your play together. Everything feels right and after all that exertion the last thing that you want to do is to start making cuts, or additions, or completely rewrite certain sections. I've been there, too - I get it. But remember that a play is written to be performed, or to think of it in more general terms, a play is written to be shared with an audience. To make the revision process a bit more enjoyable you can try a couple of things to see how an intended audience is reacting to the work.

Critique sessions (or "contructive criticism" sessions) where others read your work and provide a response can be nauseating, especially when the responses become anything but constructive. However, as you are in control of how your script is written, you can also exercise some control over the kind of critique that you receive.

First, be sure that the people who you ask to read your play are those whose opinions you trust. It is equally important that these readers are people who will speak to you honestly and respectfully. That seems like a no-brainer, but when it comes to critique you should never take anything for granted.

Second, ask those who read your play to provide you with responses to specific things about the play. For example, you might be unsure about a particular event in the play. You may want to provide your readers with a question about that event, or simply ask them to tell you their reactions to it. There is also a great protocol for feedback created by Liz Lerman, which can be found on her website at I've used the four steps of Lerman's process as a framework for talkback discussions of new plays both with students in a classroom and with audiences after a show. I find that it creates a respectful atmosphere where the audience is free to express their reactions and opinions, but always mindful of the story as the playwright has written it.

Once you have a draft of your script that you feel comfortable with, pull together a handful of friends and/or family and read through the play. I find that a group of four (2 male, 2 female) tends to provide enough variety to cover the character population in most students' plays. Of course if you have a play of all female or all male characters, you may want to adjust the numbers.

Assign roles to each actor and have them read the play out loud. I find it best to do this sitting at a table. This way the actors don't need to worry about acting out the character. At this point, you just want to hear the play.

I strongly suggest that the playwright does not read anything in the script, with the possibile exception of the stage directions. When you are reading a character, it can be difficult to hear everything that has been written, so try to fight the urge to perform.

These two approaches should provide you with some useful feedback about your play. They may also help you identify certain parts of the script that could use some revision. Perhaps there was a section that your readers/actors had a lot of questions about? Maybe a suggestion was made that you find would help strengthen the play and/or take it in a direction that you want. Remember that in the end, no matter who the people are providing you with feedback, this is YOUR play. It is your voice and your ideas, so be sure that you are comfortable with it in the end.

Hope that's helpful. Happy (re)writing!