The Philosophy of Play Format

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If youíre reading this, youíre probably a professional. Someone who takes their work very seriously. Someone who spends the minimal time it takes to properly format their plays.

At least, that seems how it should be. I run a play reading series in San Francisco (currently untitled, as Iím changing from the trite "From the Page to the Stage" moniker that I inherited). I look at a fair number of plays.

Havenít seen one done neatly yet.

Now, Iím not the Seattle Rep, I donít have so many submissions piling up that Iím looking for an excuse to say no. So I present them. But every playwright gets a lesson in format.

"Itís the words that are important, not the format. My playís brilliant, and theyíll see that!" I can hear it running through playwrightsí minds now. Itís been my opinion.

But itís like having a stunningly beautiful baby that youíre entering in a baby pageant, but bringing them in a soiled diaper. Youíre hurting their chances, no matter how divine the baby.

For an example of what Iím talking about, letís look at three lines from the moving play "Café Depresso" by Tom Vegh (as originally formatted):

JEREMY

Like Joan Crawford on bad speed. But, you know I love it when get crazy like that. I was surprised that Roko handled as well as he did.

KATHLEEN

I was relieved.

German music is heard.

JEREMY

Bri, any e-mails from Heiner?

Okay, thatís enough. Now, Jeremyís first line does have at least one accidental word omission. Truthfully, that sort of thing doesnít really throw me. You of course donít want any of them. But as often as not, if your meaning was clear, it slips by unnoticed because the readerís mind follows your thoughts, your voice.

But German music part grinds my read to a halt every time. The message itís sending my brain is that this is more of the sameÖ more of Kathleenís line.

I realize the truth eventually. Usually. There have been a couple that may very well have intended a Brechtian narrator.

The point being, donít make the person whoís reading your work confused unintentionally. Not talking about plot twists, here. Theatre should have more of those. The curse of the oppressive structure isnít only present in the film.

Back on track, look at a portion properly formatted:

KATHLEEN

I was relieved.

(German music is heard.)

JEREMY

Bri, any e-mails from Heiner?

Imagine yourself reading merely five scripts a week: isnít that easier to follow?

Of course the future audience is a big concern, but you canít neglect that guy reading it, either.

Make him want to like you and your script.

Write with whatever format you want, but love your child enough to dress it up nice. Spend the time formatting it.

Or if you just canít bear to spend the time at the computer, hire another playwright to gussy it upÖ at least youíd be giving money to another artist.

Love your words enough to make them heard.

 


©2002 Dawson Moore
Parties interested in publishing this article in any manner
should contact the playwright directly.

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