One of the major problems I had to deal with in the process was figuring out how to filter out all of the feedback and suggestions I got, to implement the good ones and discard the rest. It’s difficult to know sometimes when you are getting useful advice and when it might be leading you astray. I realized that I am not at the point in my writing where I am confident enough to know when I have done something really great or really horrible – usually it feels like it is somewhere in between – and additionally it is hard to turn down other people’s suggestions or be able to tell them their opinion about a particular issue does not necessarily mesh with my own.
Throughout the process, I found myself wrestling between the notions of wanting to entertain the ideas that the actors, the director (Ryan Hemphill), and sometimes even the stage manager had to offer, and wanting to maintain my own personal vision and artistic ideology. But as I said, it can be very hard to determine when an idea might be an improvement, and when it might be detrimental.
In discussing the contributions of others to his plays, Edward Albee once said, “I’ve evolved a nice rule: If an actor or a director does something to a play of mine which diminishes it, which makes it less interesting than I thought it was, they’re wrong, and I will not take any responsibility for it; if, on the other hand, a director or an actor finds something in a character of mine or a play of mine that makes it far more interesting that I have consciously known that it was, I instantly take credit for it”(15.)* Albee’s take on the issue is very funny, but somehow has a ring of truth.
There are moments in the play which I ultimately may receive the credit for, but which wouldn’t have existed without the contributions of an actor or the director. I’d like to take the credit for all of the things that ultimately worked in the play, but too many people contributed too much to it for me to do that. It’s nice to get praised for your work; but it’s also nice to be able to share the praise with a group of people who really put a tremendous amount of effort into their work, and this was certainly a case where everyone put that effort in to their maximum ability.
The rewrites began small in the first few rehearsals, and continued at various levels up until the final week, even the final days of production. They began with the simple cutting and changing of lines. Ryan Hemphill would run scenes with the actors, and I would listen to how things sounded.
If I heard something I didn’t like, I’d ask the actors to try something different. If I heard something unnecessary, often times I would ask the actors to cut out lines, often entire sections and link the remaining text together. If the actors found something they had problems with, I asked them to always voice those problems to me so that we could find a way to address them. Often times if it was just a word or a line that was giving them trouble, I would simply tell them to replace it with something which felt more comfortable. As long as my ideas were still there, there was room to play with the actual presentation of those ideas.
As we got further into the process, the cuts and rewrites became more involved. I often found myself taking out large chunks of dialogue which simply seemed extraneous. I wanted to push the action along and get rid of those things which were somehow awkward, confusing, or even too neatly constructed. As Jean and I discussed several times, sometimes a little mystery is good in a play. You want to keep the audience wondering. At various points in my original script, I almost felt like the characters were saying too much. Part of the rewriting process was attempting to deal with these moments and editing them down to the most essential pieces of information.
Additionally, we reached a point in rehearsals where I knew certain scenes had to change drastically. I think that the way these scenes finally did change was largely dependant upon the people that I was changing them for. I tried to stress the idea that I was writing for characters and not for specific actors, but at the same time, the direction of the work was inevitably influenced by the way the play was working in the hands of this specific cast and director.
The first scene to be almost entirely changed was Act Two Scene Three, the second to last scene of the play. This was a scene in which the protagonist, Charlie, experienced a series of revelations through a conversation with his mother, Madeleine. Ryan Hemphill had been running the scene with the actors – Dan as Charlie and Evelyn as Madeleine – and just as I had felt about the scene at the beginning of the semester, it simply wasn’t working. Charlie’s change was boring and, as E. Brogger had noted in the past, the character in general did not seem to be volitional enough.
Much of the dialogue seemed stilted and/or melodramatic and the actors were having trouble connecting to the scene. It had to be changed. Over the course of two nights I rewrote the scene, scrapping all but a few exchanges of dialogue, and creating the rest from scratch. What resulted was a much more intense, much more interesting and active scenario. Charlie’s actions and recognitions were better dramatized, and both actors found a great deal more to connect to, both emotionally and intellectually. The success of this change, essentially a primary experiment in rewriting, resulted in a heightened sense of personal confidence for me and helped lead to several other major rewrites in the play over the course of the following weeks.