Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Taking my cue from directors

So, I've *cough* mentioned my background in theater, haven't I?

It can't come as any surprise that I'm always somehow comparing theater productions to writing. In my head, anyway, if not always here. But you know what?

It's true.

Producing a play is a lot like writing a book. Especially its ultimate goal--to entertain an audience, and give them a few hours of escape from everyday life.

The director of a play is like the writer--in charge, at least nominally, but really more of a herder of ideas. The director has to look at the big picture--s/he is responsible for making sure the curtain goes up on something worthy come opening night.

The director casts the play, just like the writer "casts" a book. Sometimes the director is surprised by a cast member who doesn't perform as expected--or directed--same goes with the writer.

Nothing is ever perfect the first time through. That's what rehearsals--and rewrites--are for.

And here's the biggie--the one I really wanted to talk about: not everything that goes into making the play a successful production is visible to the audience.

In fact, most of the very necessary underpinnings are backstage, never to enter the consciousness of your typical audience member. If it's working right, viewers should be so caught up in the story unfolding in front of them that they never give a second thought to the stagehands, the props coordinator, the costumers, the lighting technicians, the sound engineers, etc., etc., etc.

Same goes with a book. Sure, you know and I know how much painstaking research went into getting the facts behind the fiction precisely right--but the reader shouldn't be aware of it.

We know every last detail of our protag's life history--but the reader doesn't need to. If it's not entertaining in its own right, leave it "backstage."

If it's something the reader has to know for the story to make sense, try to keep it short and sweet. There's a reason stagehands dress in black and learn to work in dim lighting. It's unobtrusive.

Back at Melodrama Theater, if we had to do a scene change in view of the audience (sometimes unavoidable) we added a bit of interesting "stage business"and let the actors do it, staying in character.

If it can't be invisible, at least make it entertaining. ;)

Finally, book launch = opening night.

Whether you're playing to a full house or a half-empty theater doesn't matter, as long as the audience enjoys the show. (Though, yes, I admit full houses are more fun.)

Then, if you're really lucky you'll get rave reviews, and be asked for an encore performance. :)

10 comments:

Deborah said...

Good advice, Linda!


Take care,
Deb

Karla Nellenbach said...

ha! very true. I've always likened writing to movie production...mostly cuz my work ends up with action sequences that are kind of hard to bring to life on stage...but to each his own, right? Great post! :)

Linda G. said...

Deb -- Thanks! :)

Karla -- It's all about your frame of reference, isn't it? I suppose movie production would be a more accurate analogy, though, since you do end up with a piece of art that's "set." Unlike live theater, which can change with every performance.

KarenG said...

This was an awesome post! Very insightful and right on.

Linda G. said...

Thanks, KarenG! :)

Cherie Reich said...

I completely agree. I've noticed that writing a book is a lot like the theatre. I sometimes use my old acting knowledge to get into the characters' heads. :)

Linda G. said...

Hi Cherie! I've found the same thing. Handy thing for a writer, isn't it? :)

Eileen Wiedbrauk said...

I recently found your blog and I just wanted to say that I really like it! As a former stage manager (and really atrocious actor) I totally get your theater frame of reference. In fact, I like it so much that you made my last blog post @ http://speakcoffeetome.blogspot.com

:)

Tawna Fenske said...

Love the analogy! I offer a standing ovation for this post :)

Tawna

Linda G. said...

Hi, Eileen! And welcome. :) Anyone who has ever stage-managed has my utmost respect. The theater god was my stage manager when we first met, so I know how much crap they typically have to put up with from the cast. ;) And thank you so much for the mention in your blog!

Tawna -- *bowing* Thenk yew veddy veddy much.