Monday, August 23, 2021

Belmont diary: First draft done

Or, in the theater world, END OF PLAY.

It always feels good to type those three magic words. It feels especially good when you have a hard deadline and you manage to finish five weeks early.

That's how I felt today as I emailed the completed script of my commissioned play to Chris Parsons and Susan Dempsey at Belmont Day School.

Six weeks ago, when we first discussed the play, I wasn't sure I'd make it. At ninety minutes, the play is one of the longest ones I've ever written. It also has by far the most roles. In the past, a play like this typically took me more four to six months to write. Knowing that, I started writing an extra half hour a day--two hours in total. That definitely helped. 

But I got lucky too. I don't know if it was the pressure of the deadline or just the story itself, but everything just seemed to click. All the characters came to life with their own unique personalities and their own agendas. The plot points all fell into place. And things that I'd introduced in the first scene suddenly took on a whole new meaning when I got to the last scene. Amazing when that happens, but it happens more often than you'd think.

As for the goals I set for myself after completing the rough draft, I was only moderately successful. I was able to cut the lead role's lines from 163 to a slightly more comfortable 154. But balancing the acts proved to be a little tougher. I only managed to slim down Act One from 56 to 54 pages and boost Act Two from 24 to 25 pages. I wish I could have done more, but I was afraid that any additional surgery would kill the patient.

One of the challenges with this particular play was coming up with a place to hide the treasure which the audience could figure out for themselves but wouldn't be so obvious that everyone would figure it out. I think I came up with a good one--a location that's fully visible to the audience for the entire duration of the play. I even provide a clue in the form a riddle that one of the characters finds, but it's coded enough that it should he tough to solve.

Still, every mystery writer knows that solving the mystery isn't enough. You also have to include a big fight scene or some other physical confrontation after the mystery is solved to serve as the climax. Something that puts the detective or whoever is solving the crime into real danger. It adds tension. It adds excitement. And it shows exactly what the hero was risking all along by poking their nose in.

In The Butler Did It!, the climax was the murderer attempting to smother the helpless butler with a pillow. In Lights! Camera! Murder! it was the murderer trying to trick the perky publicist into drinking poison.

This play is lighter than both of those so I made the climax lighter as well. Instead of putting a character in danger, I put the treasure itself in danger through some humorous swordplay. I think the moment works well, but I'll have to see what Chris and Susan think.

That's another reason it was nice to finish early. We now have five weeks to revise the play before rehearsals start October 1.

And that may prove to the hardest part of all.

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