Production Diary (1)

Whenever I talk to a writers' group, or do a workshop, I am usually asked about the process of writing for the stage. What is involved with a production? How do these things work?
So - without going into many personal details - I thought it might be interesting to follow a small production through from beginning to end, from the point of view of the writer.
I have already touched on the process of writing, and submitting plays in previous posts, but now, here I am on the eve of rehearsals for Burns on the Solway, with a director, a cast and a musician in place. I've re-read the script, and spotted the typos (two of them, biggies, that I should have noticed several drafts ago. ) I've gone through the usual angst. What will the actors and the director - professional, sympathetic and inspirational - make of it? How will the play evolve? We'll see.
The production process varies, which is why it is so hard to be exact, when explaining it to people. Some directors like the writer to be there all the time. Some would prefer it if the writer never showed at all. (Best avoided, in my experience!) Some like the writer to "dip in and out" giving the actors time to experiment, make mistakes, thrash things out in the intervening periods without a looming writer. On the whole, I think this is probably best, although I have had at least one production where the director simply downed tools if I couldn't be there. I learned a vast amount in the course of that production, but it also involved a huge commitment in terms of time - and it was quite stressful. Good though. I'm glad I did it. I think on this occasion, and by mutual agreement, I will be "dipping in and out."
We have two weeks of rehearsal, and the play is approximately 45 minutes long. That's a lot to fit into a couple of weeks. The work will be intense.
There's one piece of advice which I always give to aspiring playwrights - if you don't like collaboration, then theatre isn't for you. Quite probably drama isn't for you. A play begins in the mind of the writer, but by the time it hits the stage it has gone through this magical process involving the talents of many other people, and what emerges, if you are lucky, like a butterfly from a chrysalis, is something you could barely even imagine. That's the reason you do it though. When it works, it's wonderful.
What's my main worry, at this point? That's easy. Doubts about my own writing.
Burns on the Solway is a play about Robert Burns. The sacred bard of Scottish imagination. There have been so many plays about Burns. And films. And books. Books upon books. How could I dare to do it? I have loved this poet and his work since - as a teenager with a romantic imagination - I traced his footsteps around Ayrshire, and then beyond. But the years have deepened my understanding until the urge to write about the poet and his wife became an ache inside - something I went back to again and again.
What have I written though? And have I even begun to say what I set out to say?
More later.....

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