Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Stealing from the best

I don't know why I didn't see this before, but this clip of Million Dollar Meatballs has been posted on YouTube since last October. In fact, the clip is from the world premiere, which was produced by Discovery Canyon Campus in Colorado Springs, CO.

As described earlier on this blog, the cast was phenomenal. They improvised readily, and a lot of their bits ended up in the final, published version of the script.

One prominent example can be seen in this clip. Starting around the 1:00 mark is a scene between Cecil Blueblood, the arrogant restaurant critic (played by Josh Owen), and Humphrey, the snarky maitre d' (played by Grant Lattanzi).

As you'll see, Grant drew out much of the scene, giving the character a languid air that was not at all what I had in mind when I wrote the scene (I usually prefer more rapid-fire dialogue) but works really well here.

Humphrey tries to get Mr. Blueblood's name, which the critic wants to keep a secret.

HUMPHREY: And what is your name, sir?

CECIL: Uh, just put me down as Mr. X,

HUMPHREY: Very good, sir. And how do you spell that?

CECIL: M-i-s--

HUMPHREY: No, no. I mean the X part.

CECIL: Just draw two lines that cross in the middle.

In my original script, the gag ends there. Humphrey writes an X in his reservation book and the scene continues.

But Grant and Josh came up with a really clever bit. Humphrey draws a huge plus sign on his ledger and holds it up for Cecil--and the audience--to see. Cecil then tips the ledger in Humphrey's hand, turning the scribble from a plus sign to an X.

Man, why didn't I think of that?

A contrary example is shown later in the clip, starting around the 10:00 mark. Frazzled restaurant owner Sue DeJour (Ashley Miller) is looking for smart alecky dishwasher Olive Pitt (Tayler Scriber) and when she asks Humphrey, "Where's Olive?", he responds with a wry, "I imagine she's in a martini."

It's a funny line, and during the show, it usually got a good laugh. But I didn't include it in the final script.

Why? Because of pacing. The momentum in this scene comes from Sue's search for the elusive Olive, not the dialogue, and I thought it was more important to maintain that momentum than to squeeze in one more laugh.

How does that saying go? If you're going to steal, steal from the best? Well, these students were some of the best I'd ever worked with, so I had no qualms using their ideas in the script.

After all, in the theatre at least, there's another word for "stealing". It's "collaborating".

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