Thursday, January 23, 2020

On Editing

We have corsets!
Revision is an act of change, or alteration. Re-writing is as or can be even more important than original writing. The version of Sherlock Holmes Meets the Bully of Baker Street I presented to the touring company was only the third draft, play scripts can go through many more revisions before production.

Editing, however, is an altogether different enterprise. Editing and revision can be synonymous. In this case, however, we are talking about cutting, excising, weeding. You can only assume how long a text might take to perform until it’s actually read, and even then you need to account for set changes, the use of music or the arrangement of song.

And then there are the words themselves. Until you hear them, hear actors perform them, you might not understand how they are received. And editing will be required to provide clarity, eliminate repetition or redundancy, drop jokes or turns of phrase than simply do not land, eliminate repetition or redundancy, and in general, to make the thing shorter.

We want, we need a fifty minute show. That’s what we’re selling, and schools need to account for the actual duration of the performance. To that end we have already struck out entire verses from almost each of the five songs. Not that the songs are terribly long, each first lasted a little over two minutes. Now they run between a minute and ninety seconds.

221B Baker Street
Does this bother me? Not at all. Yes, the verses are delightful and fun to hear. But we’re telling a story and each song is a means to an end, they are not the thing itself.

And then there’s the text. At the end of every rehearsal we ditch a few lines, or entire exchanges. And I say yes, thank you, to each and every one.

Lines you won’t hear in performance:
VICKY: … you will have to excuse me if I am skeptical about your … reformation.
SHERLOCK: Good word, “reformation.”
VICKY: Thanks.
SHERLOCK: Good for you.
VICKY: Stop it.
It’s a funny exchange, it speaks to the nature of their relationship at that moment. But a similar exchange happens again, a little bit later, and with greater significance.

At another moment we hear the description of an incident in New Jersey harbor, in which the hold of a ship was packed with asphalt, and during a sudden heat wave the cargo melted, sinking the ship. This is something which did in fact happen at the turn of the century, has happened several times in maritime history, in fact. It’s all very interesting, I guess, but who cares? The ship sank. No one died. All cargo was destroyed. Moving on.

This is why I do not like to direct my own work. I have written several tours for Great Lakes, including On the Dark Side of Twilight, The Mysterious Affair at Styles and Double Heart, and in each case judicious editing made the plays so much better than if we had proceeded with the draft provided. These productions were directed by Andrew May and Lisa Ortenzi, and in each of these cases overseen by my supervisor at the time, Daniel Hahn. They each provided vital contributions to editing the script, and so did the acting companies involved.

The Great Globe Itself (2015)
The only time I have directed an outreach tour was The Great Globe Itself, which I also wrote. And the experience reinforced my belief that I am my own worst director. Don’t get me wrong, it was a funny play. The actors, Arthur, James, and Roderick, they each did tremendous work. The designers and builders, our choreographer and our dialogue coach, and our interns who created the educational materials, it was all spot-on and well-executed.

But the script wasn’t sure what it wanted to be. I had thrown so much into the pot, arcane history about the Globe Theatre, the Great Lakes Exposition, Doctor Who, it’s like my every minute, personal artistic interest had been chucked in a blender.

It wouldn’t have taken much, it wasn’t a terribly long play. It was just that much too long, speeches should have been trimmed, gags dumped, and someone, anyone, could have asked, what are you trying to say here? It is a mistake I hope not to repeat.

To be continued.

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