My reading went down today, and I took notes all the way through. And I did it for you, of course. There aren’t notes about the show itself necessarily–they’re about observations and ideas inspired by what I saw. Some of them have times attached, but many do not–I’m covering the thoughts in the order I had them.
3:07 — The show starts. We’re a little late in kicking things off because crowds have been (a) light and (b) late. There isn’t a super full house today–maybe a little over a hundred people in a 299 seat theater. You’d like to see more, but it’s the first year of the festival. And we’ve got some rain at this point too. A few more folks will straggle in throughout the first act.
*Pacing is a huge deal, especially at the beginning of the play. My play, I feel, starts too slowly. The first few minutes really set the tone, and my play, while it’s a comedy, doesn’t become really funny until fifteen minutes or so have passed. I gotta work on figuring out how to strike a balance there. That’s task number one.
*People laugh for rhythm as much as for actual jokes. You don’t even need to provide a satisfying punchline sometimes–just set up the joke, put something where the punchline should be, and the audience fills in the space after where they expect to punchline to be. You don’t get great laughs–you don’t get real laughs–but you definitely get the response.
*You gotta get to your points fast. More accurately, *I* gotta get to my points fast, otherwise I feel like ripping my eyeballs out. Everything that remains in a play after you’ve done a major rewrite or two should be essential information (or vital comic relief and color). The hard part, of course, is that you fall in love with some of the lines you’ve written, and you think they’re essential, but they’re not. When I’m watching a reading, almost all I hear is the inessential stuff.
*A note to actors: any kind of movement onstage can be impossibly distracting, especially in a reading. For the most part, the best actors are the ones who stand strong on both feet. If you’re gonna be moving around, you better be doing so with purpose. For the writers, the thing to keep in mind is this: if a line doesn’t land the way you expect, take note of what the actor was doing when he delivered the line. If there was extraneous movement there, your line might not be the culprit.
*Music is tricky onstage. I did a high school show a few years ago where we used Mo Money Mo Problems for a celebration, and it was spectacular. We used Mo Money Mo Problems as a wrestler’s entrance music in this show, and it just didn’t work for me. You’ve got to be real specific about your song choices. I’m just learning how to work with music onstage.
*Here is a verbatim line from my notes: “Words words words — ugh — this play is so fucking slow — ugh ugh ugh.” Now here’s the thing: this is anything but a slow play. Most audience members think things are moving quickly–I write plays that are paced more like movies, I think. Because of that, I can’t deal with anything that feels remotely slow. I’ve written that same note at every reading (and most performances) of every play I’ve ever written. It’s all abou condensing things to what is absolutely essential.
I’ve got a bunch more notes…but I’ll post them tomorrow.