You and Your Producer: How to Help Make Your Play the Best It Can Be

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Okay, an enterprising playwright has written an excellent piece for the stage. After the waters parted to let the children of Israel escape, they re-converged on the pharaoh’s pursuing army, meaning he’s had his work accepted by a theater. Huzzah! Huzzah!

At this point, the writer’s job should be done. He has provided the tools; it’s up to others to mold the production. So it would seem, but is there anything else he can or should do? That is a question not so easily answered.

The last thing a playwright wants is to have some egotistical director make a hash out of the manuscript. There is a notice on all copyrighted scripts leased out to various theater groups that tampering with the script without the copyright owner’s consent is illegal. That law is generally regarded with the same reverence as the speed limit. 

On the other hand, the playwright does not want to be perceived as a nuisance by the performers or the production team, lest he never gets to sell them another script, no matter how good it may be. To sum up, the writer should pick his or her battles.

One excellent battle to pick came when The Music Man was set to become a movie after its tremendous success on Broadway. It was one of the best film adaptions of a Broadway musical you would ever hope to see, but it did not come without a rather large bone of contention. The film producers hoped to cast Cary Grant or Frank Sinatra as Professor Harold Hill. The writer, Meredith Willson, flat-out informed them that, without Robert Preston, the stage version of the music man, there would be no film, period. In hindsight, that proved to be a wise decision.

On the other hand, Willson offered no resistance to the many other cast changes, and they all lived happily ever after.

Often, after the writer comes up with a script, it may be useful also to provide a character analysis. This can be a helpful tool for the buyer of your script, but it can also be perceived as a damned insult. A good bit of advice would be to offer it, but don’t insist.

If the project happens to be a musical production, the playwright must rely on a composer. If the writer needs to enlist one, he or she should do anything within reason if the composer is having trouble with rhyme of scansion. It is very important to have a happy composer, but again, within reason. The composer should not be allowed to mar the lyrics beyond reason.

If the work is a historical piece involving real and eloquent people, any imported quotes these people said, perhaps, could be put in bold type with an instruction to the producer that these words could not be subject to fudge, as actors will sometimes do.

It is always a thrill to see your work performed on stage, whether a straight play, a musical or an opera. To realize that happy emotion, the writer should embrace the spirit of cooperation. Then again, whatever words eventually come out of the performers’ mouths will be attributed to the writer in the end — something to be kept firmly in mind.

The best thing a playwright can do is wish your buyers every success, with broken legs a-plenty. 

[Thomas Cleveland Lane is a member of the Dramatists Guild and provides playwright services via Ghostwriters Central, Inc.]

Published by: Martin De Juan

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