i & me & you
A blog about a play
3. Smart Friends
A first draft of a play can send a tricky message to the guy at the keyboard; it took time — weeks, months, or even (eleven! [yes that’s a true story for another day]) years — and now you’re done. Yippee. It’s done. Right?
It really is just the very first baby step. Because here’s the thing: plays get made by a community of people. All plays. The writer builds the train, sure, but it’s just a train. It’s got an engine, some cars and wheels, but it’s completely undecorated. Other people are gonna join you soon enough to help with that. A director, actors, designers, producers, audiences . . . but we’ll get to all of them eventually.
Because before that, if you’re a resourceful guy (and I try to be a resourceful guy) you show it to a couple of smart friends. The trick is knowing who those smart friends are. Showing your play to ten people is going to get you ten different opinions. I have learned that showing your play to four compassionate-yet-honest people who (a) know about plays in general, (b) know about your plays in specific, (c) aren’t afraid to tell you what they think but (d) care enough to listen as well as talk is the best way to find out what you have.
And what you don’t.
In the case of this play, I showed it to four of my first readers and one of them, who I really trust, said: “you talk about a mom, but the mom isn’t in the play; I think the mom should be in the play.”
And my heart sunk a bit, because what I wanted to say was “don’t you think I thought about that? I didn’t put the mom in on purpose. Isn’t that cool?” But the truth is, he didn’t think it was cool, or he wouldn’t‘ve said it. And I knew he was 389% right.
And I didn’t know where the mom could go.
But instead of giving up hope, I just did the only possible thing: I wrote a scene with Mom. I didn’t know where it would go. I didn’t know how it fit into the play. And I was pretty sure that once it was in the play, the play would be way too long. But I wrote it anyway. And I loved it. It changed everything. I mean, everything.
So I got a couple of actor friends together and read the play to hear it with this new mom scene. I invited my friend to listen with me. We heard the play. The play was already pretty tightly constructed, and this new scene messed with that tightness and made the play, as I expected, too long. And my friend said “well, I was wrong, you were right, the mom doesn’t belong in the play.”
And I said “Oh, sorry, smart friend, but that mom scene is now always going to be in the play.” And he said “But now the play is too long. What will you do?” And I said “Well, I’ll just make it shorter.”
So I did. I cut an entire other scene. Moved things around. And found a cozy and perfect place for Mom to live. Because I have smart friends. And Mom really, really needed to be in this play. Because my smart friend said it. And my smart friend is very, very smart.
And . . . now what? See you back here soon. We’ll find out together.
—Jeff Talbott, Playwright