The 2022 New Works Festival Awards

The 2022 New Works Festival Awards

It is quite a feat to produce an Off-Broadway play or musical; it is quite another to produce an entire festival of Off-Broadway showcases – during covid.

Yet that is exactly what we did with the first 2022 CreateTheater New Works Festival, in association with Prism Stage Company.

From April 15th to May 15th at NYC’s prestigious Theater Row (410 West 42nd Street), we showcased seven productions – six new musicals and one new play – from writers across the country who had developed their work in-house through CreateTheater’s resident writer company, The Expert’s Theater Company (ETC). The productions in the festival were Finding Madame Curie by David KurkowskiThe Golden Cage by Deborah Henson-Conant; Fire Island: The Musical by Jarlath Jones; Sewing the Dream by Judith Estrine, music by David Kurkowski; Ocean in a Teacup by Joel Krantz, lyrics by Neil Selden; Rewind: An 80s Pop Musical by Geoffrey and Sam Rose; and the play Retraction by David Z. Gutierrez.

CreateTheater’s mission has from the beginning been to help develop and produce new plays and musicals. Writers trust me with their new scripts and librettos as a dramaturg-producer. That’s a sacred trust. It’s my job to help them craft work that delivers over their intention to the audience, what they need to say in this time, in this space, through this story. Once I feel the script or libretto “works,” then it must be tested out in front of an audience – which is what we just did.

As an Off-Broadway producer I am known for a certain level of quality, which it was important for me to retain even at the festival level. If you look at the photos on the newworksfest.org website, you can see that each of these shows reflected our high production values. Most sophisticated NY audiences were surprised at what they saw onstage, which went far beyond what they’ve come to expect in a “festival” format.

“The New Works Festival on Theater Row, produced by Cate Cammarata, was an exhilarating display of new work by playwrights with new voices,” said Ed Levy, one of the festival adjudicators.  “From the exuberant 80’s rock and roll of Geoffrey and Sam Rose’s Rewind to the deep philosophical reflection of Joel Krantz’s Ocean in a Teacup, from the Golden-Age melodious, lyrical and comic numbers in the period musicals, Finding Madame Curie by David Kurkowski and Sewing the Dream by Estrine and Kurkowski, to the delightfully fanciful and innovative Golden Cage by Deborah Henson-Conant and the lively and beautifully choreographed Fire Island by Jacobs and Solla, the musicals were dramatic and joyful.  The one straight play, Retraction, by David Gutierrez was charged with electricity, incisive and provocative.  Coming after the drought of the shutdown, this festival of wonderful new works is a welcome shower of delights.”

“Cate Cammarata has established a most needed and important organization in the form of ETC,” said Neal Rubenstein, a veteran Broadway producer. “It is here that those aspiring to be part of the theater community, under the auspices of Ms. Cammarata, have been instructed, guided, and in many instances seen their respective projects produced for viewing.”

Rubenstein also found much of the new work promising. “For me, Finding Madame Curie was especially exciting. It was an enlightening story which should be performed in elementary and/or high schools. Kerry Conte & Kyle Yampiro’s voices soared!  The casting brings this musical to vocal heights.  Kudos to David Kurkowski for amazing music & lyrics that carry Marie Curie’s story forward under the deft direction of Stas Kimiec and musical direction of Larry Daggett.”

We had four adjudicators for the 2022 New Works Festival, all experienced theatre-makers. Steve Marsh is a playwright/director, and a member of the nominating committee for the 2014-2015 Drama Desk Awards. Neal Rubenstein is a five-time TONY-nominated Broadway producer and also a producing member of The Experts Theater Company (ETC). Two other writer members of ETC served as adjudicators: Ed Levy, a librettist-lyricist, and Chris Sherman, a playwright.

“CreateTheater’s New Works Festival on Theatre Row in NYC is one of the most hopeful theatrical events in recent years,” says Marsh. “It has given great opportunities for playwrights, composers, and librettists to have their works produced professionally, Off Broadway, in front of a true NYC crowd. This year’s festival was truly inspiring! I can’t wait to see more.”

“CreateTheatre, under the skillful and loving eye of Cate Cammarata, has produced a new festival that showcases a wide variety of top-notch plays and musicals,” added adjudicator-playwright Chris Sherman. “Calling it a festival does not do it justice.  I’ve never seen such professional and polished production values in any other festival, complete with full sets, period costumes, and scenic projections.   Future productions are sure to be on every producer’s must-see list.  A true Off-Broadway experience!”

It is always my producing goal to give writers something tangible to take away from a production, something that  captures the ephemeral moment of theater once it’s over. Awards are important “proofs” of excellence, preserving the momentous work of so many theatremakers that collaborate to make a production unique. Although I cannot begin to recognize all of the amazing talents and hard work that went into this project, I am proud to present these  2022 CreateTheater NWF Awards.

The 2022 CreateTheater New Works Festival Award winners are:

 

Best Actor in a Play or Musical – (tie)

  • REWIND (Jason Denton)
  • GOLDEN CAGE (Chris Isolano)

 

Best Actress in a Play or Musical

  • SEWING THE DREAM (Aubrey Matalon)

 

Best Supporting Actor in a Play or Musical

  • REWIND (Nick Bernardi)

 

Best Supporting Actress in a Play or Musical

  • SEWING THE DREAM (Catherine Ariale)

 

Best Set Design & Projections

  • REWIND (Richard Oullette, David Forsee)

 

Best Lighting Design – (tie)

  • REWIND  (Zach Pizza)
  • FINDING MADAME CURIE (Michael Cole)

 

Best Costume Design

  • SEWING THE DREAM (Debbi Hobson)

 

Best Director in a Play or Musical

  • RETRACTION (Jen Wineman)

 

Best Book of a Musical

  • REWIND (Sam Rose & Geoffrey Rose)

 

Best Musical Score- (tie)

  • REWIND (Sam Rose & Geoffrey Rose)
  • GOLDEN CAGE (Deborah Henson-Conant)

 

Best Choreography

  • REWIND (Whitney G-Bowley)

 

Best Musical – (tie)

  • REWIND (Book, Music, Lyrics by Sam Rose & Geoffrey Rose)
  • SEWING THE DREAM (Book & Lyrics by Judith Estrine, Music by David Kurkowski)

 

Best Play

  • RETRACTION (David Gutierrez)

 

Most Innovative Production

  • GOLDEN CAGE (Deborah Henson-Conant)

 

To see photos of this work and for more information, go to the Festival’s homepage at www.newworksfest.org

Want to keep up with CreateTheater as we continue to develop and produce new work? Jump on our email list here.

New Play Development Goes Online

New Play Development Goes Online

Our New Online Reading Series is a Success

 

I launched CreateTheater.com a few years ago, dedicating it to the playwright and all aspects of new play/musical development. I always intended it to be a 100% online theater community. It’s now developing as a virtual space where the theater industry can go online to see readings coming up in the pipeline, network with other industry people across the globe, and lots more.

Our new online reading space, CreateTheater.com’s Monday Night Reading Series, launched this past Monday 3/23/2020 with Melissa Bell’s play ZOE COMES HOME.

Not only did we achieve a high of 47 online participants across the world, people were able to see that a Zoom reading can be almost as effective for NPD as an ‘in-person’ staged reading.

Jack Feldstein, a writer from NYC, found it to be “like a cross between theater and TV and YouTube. A new hybrid form to present new plays. And very helpful for the playwright in their development of their piece.”

 

The Power of Zoom for Readings

 

When an audience member attends a Zoom reading, they are instructed to use the “speaker view,” which utilizes the voice-activated camera technology. The effect becomes something like a multi-camera video shoot.

“The Zoom play reading technique works because we get to see the faces of the actors close up,” Feldstein said. “And actually, in a theater reading we might not able to see faces quite that clearly. Thus, a good actor who is in character and expressive is able to really add to the performance.”

Melissa Bell, the writer for ZOE COMES HOME, found the reading to be very helpful. “The reading gave me solid feedback that I was able to put to use in my writing the very next day. The format allowed me to garner many responses and feedback, from professional playwrights and dramaturgs to avid theatre-lovers.”

She added, “It felt intimate, and we could get a real sense of connection between the characters, even with the virtual format. People told me what was landing for them, and I was surprised by their “most memorable moments.” And I was truly moved by some of the comments I got from the audience – they really encouraged me to keep going! Working with CreateTheater was an opportunity I just had to jump into!”

 

 Desire to Keep New Work Moving Forward

 

Like everyone else, I asked myself what I could do to help my theater community get through this challenging time. As a creative producer and dramaturg specializing in new play and new musical development, I specifically wanted to keep writers’ work moving forward, and thus help them to stay focused, emotionally positive and productive.

What better way to do this than to create an online place for new work to develop? And to use the CreateTheater.com community for networking and meeting others?

 

If you’re interested in presenting an online reading, contact cate@createtheater.com.

 

Join the CreateTheater.com Community – it’s free!

The Place for Festivals in NPD

The Place for Festivals in NPD

Should I Submit to a Festival?

 

I’m coaching with a client this week, and we’re discussing the importance of submitting your work on a regular basis to theaters, festivals and other opportunities that are found on places such as playsubmissionshelper.com, the Dramatist’s Guild website, and on the createtheater.com newsletter.

When we sat down together to create a “best practice” routine, she balked at submitting her play to one of the festivals that I recommended.

“Oh, no,” she said. “One of my friends said to never submit to a festival until you’ve tried absolutely everything else first.”

Okay….

Well, I get it. Why should a writer self-produce a festival show when maybe someone else could produce it for you? The problem is that finding funding, especially at the beginning of your writing journey, is getting harder all the time.

Welcome to the 21st century American theater.

 

But I Don’t Want to Self-Produce!

 

“But I’m a writer, not a producer!” is the common refrain I hear. “It’s hard enough to write the play, much less learn how to produce it. I want to be the writer and let someone else be the producer.”

The reality is that unless you’re already a writer with a proven track record of produced work, no one is going to be lining up, checkbooks in hand, to help you get your work onstage. Sorry, sometimes it’s better to face the truth.

You’re going to have to be the one to jumpstart the process.

I always recommend a proactive approach first: submit, submit, submit. Build your regional portfolio of readings, workshops and residencies as much as possible, since many of these opportunities are funded by a nonprofit theater or theatre company. If your script is good and you submit the suggested 4-8 scripts each week, you’ll start to see some movement forward. But that being said, sometimes it is a long wait, and frustration sets in.

When that happens and I start to hear the frustration of, “but I’m not getting any younger,” then I believe it’s time to start considering self-producing your work in a festival.

With one caveat: to make a festival production count you need to be ready for it – otherwise, without preparation and planning, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment, more frustration, and a whole lot of money “wasted.”

 

The 3 Main Tasks of Self-Producing

 

Remember the 3 main tasks of self-producing all start with an “F”:

  1. Finding Your Audience
  2. Funding Your Project
  3. Filling the Seats

 

Finding Your Audience

 

Like any other producer, you have to know your show and who your audience is.

  • Who is your typical audience “avatar”? What is your audience demographic? Who will absolutely love your show?
  • Finish this statement: “People who love _____________ will love [name of your show”].
  • What is your show about, thematically and generally? Have a very brief prepared synopsis of 3-5 sentences and then identify its genre (epic musical, dark comedy, etc.). Talk briefly about the journey the audience will take and what they’ll learn at the end.
  • Do your research: what does your avatar do/believe in/desire? How will your show sync with that or reflect that?
  • Have your bio ready to send, as well as the bio for anyone on your creative team
  • Be prepared to share any production history thus far, with images (if available), 5 demo tracks (for a musical) and a formatted full script pdf.
  • Finally, talk about your WHY:
    • WHY did you write this script?
    • WHY does it need to be produced now?
    • WHY does an audience need to see it now?
  • Have a simple webpage available as your online business card for yourself as an author or for your show. You need it available to say, “Take a look at my website.” Don’t self-produce in the 21st century without it.
  • Make sure to have your “elevator pitch” committed to memory, documents saved on your phone and/or laptop, ready to talk about or present to someone at a moment’s notice.

A little reflection here goes a long way. Document your answers to the above in writing and images, ready to send out to anyone who’s interested.

Doing the work before you submit helps you feel like a professional, and creating professional-looking documents makes you look like a pro to the receivers as well.

 

Funding Your Project

 

This is where the rubber meets the road.

Know this: no one will believe in your show more than you do. You must “raise” your “child” as best you can until someone else will see what you see in your darling (your script). In order for others to see your work, you may just have to fund it yourself at the beginning, maybe with a little help from friends and family. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees in theater (or in child raising).

Once you’ve decided to go the festival route, it’s best to submit to every opportunity regardless of the expense. Even though if in the end you can’t raise the required “x” amount of money for a specific festival, it’s better to be able to say that a prestigious festival wanted your show than to have nothing to say at all. Any opportunity validates the fact that your script is well-written and sought out.

You will learn some very useful information about your show, the producing process, and yourself. You may also end up networking with other industry people who may be able to refer someone or something to you later on. Hey, you never know when fate will intervene on your behalf, so allow every path to unfold if given the opportunity.

Record every theater that had something good to say about your play, every person who said, “Sounds interesting, let me know when I can see it onstage.” These people will be your first audience and, hopefully, your first fans that will help you raise money.

 

Filling the Seats

 

This is why you’ve already done the first two tasks. You know who likes your script, and you’re prepared to invite people them to your festival show.

Failure to plan is planning to fail, especially at this point. Hopefully you have a following on social media, or a newsletter for your show. If you don’t you’ll want to establish one now.

Preparing for a festival show is exciting, so let everyone know what you’re up to and broadcast it everywhere: social media, personal emails, flyers, newsletters. You’re working to increase your audience, to allow them to buy tickets and to let industry theatre producers know that something so special is happening that they shouldn’t miss it.

Marketing is such a big part of the festival process (and all theater) it’s a shame to discuss it last. Once you decide to commit to a festival, realize that 75% of your time should be devoted to marketing and only 25% of your time to the production. Once you have a director on board your primary job will be as a producer, not a playwright. You must get people in to see your show.

This is where all of your previous preparation will show the most.

  • You’ll have a website to share on social media, etc., with a logo and synopsis already prepared.
  • Each day you’ll put out a new piece of content about your show,
  • You’ll ask your network to “share” on their social media, too.

Enlist the help of the actors and entire team now as well, and you should get more traction.

Write up a press release about your show and submit it to the local press. Make sure to capture any publicity on your social feed and on your website.

 

Use Each Step to Prepare for the Next

 

If you use this festival step as an experience to document your show’s first production, in essence you’re already preparing for the next step for a larger production to be produced by someone else. You’re creating a path for yourself instead of waiting passively by for someone else to notice how good your show is, and to step up to the plate to produce it.

Waiting sucks. It feels so empowering to make something happen yourself.

A festival production can be a valuable, empowering experience, or a depressing exercise that “proves” how difficult theater is. It’s all in the preparation and in your dedication to doing the work.

Don’t take this step until you’re ready. But if you’re frustrated where you are and need to take action, just make sure you’re prepared ahead of time in order to make the best use of your time, talent and resources possible.

It’s all up to you. Good luck!

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Do I Need a Star?

Do I Need a Star?

The Need for Stars?

 

 “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” – Steve Martin

 

Writing a play and then staying the course to see it produced is a daunting task. It requires tremendous focus and 100% dedication to each step in the developmental process.

 Once you think your play “works,” the next step is to have a staged reading to introduce it to the public, either in NYC or elsewhere. A reading is the step before a workshop or a production.

 So if a staged reading is the step before a workshop or production, what is our goal for the staged reading? Getting people to see the reading. And not just ANY people – specifically, people who could help us get to that next step, a production or a workshop. (We also want to get smart, experienced people to the reading for them to give us feedback as well, but for the purpose of this blog post let’s stay with the people who can help us move the play forward.)

 So, who are these people? How can I get them into my reading?

 

 It’s All About Relationships

 

Since everything in this business is about relationships, you should be developing relationships and networking like crazy as soon as you realize that you want to be a playwright. Specifically, you want to cultivate relationships with Artistic Directors, directors, producers, and generally, almost anyone in the industry.

 Sooner or later you realize that everyone in the theater lives or dies by their network of friends and friends-of-friends. And it’s helpful to be friends with or in close association with someone who knows or has access to a “star.”

 

Getting a “Star” Interested in Your Play

 

 I can hear the plaintive cry from many of you: “I don’t have access to a star, and don’t know anyone who does!”

 Sigh. That’s where most of us start, but if you’re in this industry for any length of time and make an effort to network, you’ll inevitably meet someone (or hire someone) who knows someone to make a connection for you. And if your work is good enough (and your price is right), you’ll probably be able to hire someone that’s worked on Broadway before to be in your reading. Often it’s not as expensive as you think.

For a quick answer, you can contact your intended celebrity by signing up for the IMDbPro, which is what most people use. You can also try contactanycelebrity.com.

 BUT the real answer is that quality work shows up very early, in the writing and in the score (if we’re talking about musicals). Sometimes I start to read a script and quickly become riveted to the story. When it’s this good, I smile and say to myself that “the magic is starting to happen.”

Losing yourself in a theatrical world established by a talented writer is a completely magical experience. The “magic” is found on the page long before it makes its way to the stage, and if you’ve read a few hundred scripts or so like many of us have, you know it doesn’t happen all that often.

“Star” actors see the “magic” when they read your script; the same with “star” directors, music directors, and yes, theaters and producers. The cream always rises to the top. Eventually.

 Unfortunately it usually takes its damn sweet time getting there.

 

I Don’t Have a Star – Yet

 

Notice the operative word here – YET.

In order to find that “star” you think you need to attract the theaters and producers that you think you need to help move your script forward – the most important thing you need to remember is that the first star of your show is …. your script. 

Let me say it again.

Your writing should be so good that your SCRIPT is your very first “star.”

 So, while you continue to network and develop each of your plays, remember it’s the constant fine-tuning to your scripts that is the real work.

No amount of networking or self-producing expensive staged readings can substitute for the nitty-gritty down-and-dirty daily work of meeting with yourself every day to sit down and write.

  •  In order to make your writing the true star it needs to be, remember to acknowledge the daily discipline to write (or re-write) every day.
  • Remember to recognize the need for real craft in your work, and
  • Understand the need to constantly keep learning.

You must be a constant student of life and of the craft of writing to master the craft of writing.

 

As Steve Martin quipped, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

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Make Submissions Easy

Make Submissions Easy

‘Tis the (Submission) Season

 

Ah, the coolness of the air, the crisp sound of the leaves rustling underfoot. It’s the time of non-profit galas galore and Christmas party networking.

For playwrights and librettists, it’s also the season of submissions.

I’m sorry to say that some of the major submission opportunities have already passed (the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, the Richard Rodgers Award, the Jonathan Larson Grant, and Sundance Theatre Lab, for instance). If you didn’t apply this year, there’s always next year.

However, there is still time for some other major festivals, like NYMF (which has extended their deadline to November 18).

 

Why Submit to Theaters and Festivals?

 

If you want to get your production on its feet and onstage, there’s no better way to begin the process than by participating in an established theater company or festival’s lineup, if you’re ready for it.

What do I mean by ready?

  • Your script has had at least one table reading and seems to “work”
  • You have had a few theater professionals advise you to move forward with the piece
  • You’re through with the re-writes, and it’s time for your script to live and breathe onstage in order to learn more about it.

I believe we’re living in an Age of the Playwright, something akin to the ancient Greek Fifth Century era, where the power of the theater and its storytelling was at its peak. Never before has there been so many writers and storytelling for production (which includes film, tv, and internet storytelling in addition to live theater). Our society is primed to consume storytelling via visual dramatic action, much more so than in previous eras when vital storytelling was shared primarily through words: through oral tradition or through text (novels, newspapers, poems and radio theater).

I call this the Age of the Playwright instead of the “Age of the Director,” since the ideas come from the playwright’s vision. A director interprets the theme and makes it come alive on stage, but the original vision, intention and form – the raison d’etre of a piece – remains embedded within the meaning endowed unto it by its creator, the writer.

And unfortunately more and more, the costs associated with birthing it to life come from the writer as well.

Enter the non-profit theaters and festivals. Drum roll, please.

 

Creative Playmaking in the 21st Century

 

I’m certainly not saying anything new, but the cost of putting your precious show onstage can be daunting. This is the world that I live in too, as a producer and mentor for many writers.

How do we create opportunities to put stories on stage in the 21st century? How can we produce our work, or help others to produce our work, without needing to take out a second mortgage on our home or risking money that we really shouldn’t risk?

The secret is two-fold of course:

  1. Through constant pitching for OPM (Other People’s Money) and
  2. By consistently submitting your work to as many opportunities as you can.

In a field where it seems as if “they” hold all the power, this is a wakeup call to remind you that YOU hold all the power.

  • This is your “baby,” your creation, and no one will foster it and promote it better than you
  • You hold all the cards, because at some point it is really a “numbers game” and entirely within your power to pitch or not to pitch, to submit or not to submit.

Let me say it again: “they” don’t hold all of the power; YOU hold all of the power.

You create your own opportunities.

 

Pitching and Submitting: Make It Easy

 

There are differences, and you must do both.

By “pitching” yourself and/or your work, usually in person, you are demonstrating that you are a professional artist that believes in yourself and in your work. “Submitting” is the process where you submit your work to a person, theater or festival, and then wait to see if you are selected through their process.

Every artist should have their two minute “elevator pitch” down pat, ready to go at a moment’s notice when fate puts an opportunity smack dab in your face. How many times have you felt yourself unprepared for that moment when the universe put someone in your path who could help you professionally,? Get your elevator pitch ready now.

That’s why I now insist that I constantly have a memorized elevator pitch for the shows I’m currently working on ready to “present” when an opportunity shows itself. You can follow up by email with people you meet in person with “pitching” materials prepared ahead of time, that give information about your show, reviews, a sizzle reel, etc.

Pitching should happen in person and over email if you know someone personally. A “cold” pitch is less effective, unless introduced by a common acquaintance. I try to always remember to follow up with prepared material after meeting someone and speaking about one of my shows. I keep their business card in my pocket or in plain sight as a reminder, so I don’t forget.

That may be a good goal for you in 2020.

 

People Are Interested in You!

 

People are interested in hearing about you and your work. They may also be willing to help you produce it or connect you to others who can, because either the work sounds compelling or, more often, they just really like YOU and want to help you succeed.

It’s up to you to sound articulate and represent yourself and your work really well by being prepared beforehand.

While pitching usually happens in person, submissions are done in the privacy of your own home or office. They rely on your organization of material and the productive use of your time. You MUST set aside a regular time each week to submit. Make it part of your weekly routine to submit to at least 4-5 opportunities a week on a regular basis.

 

You Hold All the Power

 

Writers who make a routine of setting aside a regular time each week to submit create more opportunities for themselves than writers who submit in a haphazard “I’ll get to it when I get to it” manner. Ditto those writers who have their pitches memorized and follow up afterward with pitching materials.

It’s all part of being a professional playwright in the 21st century.

 

It’s my job as a dramaturg and producer to inspire you and to help you in every way I can. I’m constantly trying to think of new ways to do this.

Recently I’ve been sitting down with writers to help them figure out ways to send out submissions more easily and quickly, making it “no big deal” to submit their work. If you make it part of your routine and have the needed documents at your fingertips, it actually becomes no big deal.

And that’s how you create opportunities that come to you.

 

Upcoming Submission Deadlines

 

I always advise my writers to join the Dramatists Guild and Play Submissions Helper to keep up with their submitting goals. I also am now reminding writers of upcoming deadlines in my weekly member newsletters. It helps to have the prodding come from a few different places!

Here are some of the upcoming deadlines for approaching deadlines for November that may be of interest to you:

The Eric H. Weinberger Award for Emerging Librettists at Amas Mustical Theatre

  • Deadline Nov. 29

The Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival

  • Deadline Nov. 30

Lost Nation Theater (see their Artistic Vision)

  • Deadline Nov. 30

Waterman’s Playwrights Retreats (Female Identifying Playwrights only)

  • Deadline 11/30

 

If I can help you dramaturgically with your script, help you achieve your submission goals, or if you would like a production consultation with next steps for your project, email me at cate@catecam.com   I’d love to speak with you.

 

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Writing Active Dialogue

Writing Active Dialogue

Let’s Get Some Action Going

 

Have you ever been reading a script when the action suddenly felt clunky, heavy-handed or, even worse, stopped mid-scene?

Probably it was the result of poor dialogue.

Like everything else on stage, dialogue must push the story forward and reveal character, plot points and exposition on stage. When inexpertly done, the action drops dead on its feet. Poor dialogue makes the audience disconnect, makes the plot unbelievable and results in actors overreaching in their attempts to make their character come to life.

It’s the worst.

 

The Rehearsal Process in Development

 

Recently I was directing a new play by a young, inexperienced playwright who was clearly overwhelmed by the production process. In a particular scene the actors were presented with some very poetic, very flowery dialogue. It was beautiful prose, but it definitely wasn’t something that would come out of anyone’s mouth.

My actor was talented and experienced, and everyone in the scene tried really hard to make this dialogue work – but it was extremely difficult to justify these words on stage. Our many suggestions for a modification of these lines were all turned down, and so we were left struggling with a very clunky, heavy scene that stopped the action mid-play. Not great for a comedy.

What to do?

 

Active Dialogue is not Prose

 

Aristotle wrote in his Poetics that diction was the 4th most important element of dramatic action. Although Aristotle seems to infer that diction was more part of the production process than the writing process (more pertinent to the art of the actor than the art of the poet), he also defined diction as the metrical composition of the play, the way that spoken language is used to represent the characters themselves.

Diction is the actual composition of the lines spoken; if Aristotle’s “thought” deals with what is said, then diction deals with how it is said.

In other words, Aristotle’s diction we now call dialogue – not only what a character says but how he says it. If the words don’t sound believable coming from a character in this moment, it is not good dialogue. If it sounds good on the page but completely wrong when spoken out loud, it is not good dialogue.

Prose is not good dialogue, no matter how eloquent it appears on the page.

 

How to Write Good Dialogue

 

Dialogue isn’t an issue with writers who know their characters. If you live with your characters for any period of time, you can write dialogue that accurately reflects who they are and what they’re thinking.

In writing dialogue, use this as a checklist:

  • Dialogue must accurately represent the character in terms of background (geographic, socio-economic, era, age, time of day and state of being)
  • The structure, or meter, of the spoken dialogue must stay true to the overall structure inherent in the play (that is, whether the play is written in verse, is a sung-through musical, is sparsely written with minimal lines, composed of long monologues, etc.) and true to the rhythm, pacing and tone of the script
  • Great dialogue reflects the internal action, or psychological action, of the character in that moment. What does the character want right now in this scene, in this beat, in this moment in time? It gives insight to the character through both psychological and physical choices, and changes to reflect a different intention.
  • Active dialogue moves the story, or the plot points, forward in every moment.

 

Is This Really How People Talk?

 

Always give yourself a reality check: is this really how people in the world of my play talk? Are these lines moving my plot forward, revealing something about the character or giving important exposition that the audience needs to know? Is it structured in a pleasing way? Typically, long monologues tend to stop the action, as will flowery, detailed passages trying to pass as dialogue.

So what happened in the rehearsal room after that? As a director it is my job to justify the words of the playwright, no matter how expertly (or inexpertly) written they are. My choice was to tweak the action of the character to read word for word the flowery prose from her journal, to reveal the “hidden poetry within her soul.” Since this character wouldn’t speak like this, I had her write like this to reveal something hidden within.

The audience bought it, enjoyed the scene and gave accolades to the young playwright. A job well done.

Ah, the hidden art of the director.