The Revision Decision

To revise, or not to revise, that is the Question

Last semester I penned a play called The Decision and asked for comments from a variety of sources (including in the comments of this website). The comments did not flood in. One of the difficulties of crowdsourcing something like dramaturgy with lengthy material (even as short as my ten-minute play) is that a play is too long. The concept of crowdsourcing almost requires something that can be consumed in one quick gulp.

Plays, however, are never really short enough to fit into that criteria. It doesn’t help that my plays are in PDF format instead of the quick to open HTML or TXT, but I really like the clean format that LaTeX gives me with the Sides class. I’ve also found Vim to be an ideal writing environment. For all the talk of distraction-free writing environments on productivity blogs nothing really compares to the simplicity of Vim (after, of course, you’ve learned the commands). Here’s my distraction-free writing environment:

At any rate, the comments did not come. While many people downloaded the play I don’t imagine that all of them read it. I also don’t imagine that all those who did read it had a particularly strong reaction to it (at least not strong enough to tell me what they thought). As luck would have it, however, my show is being produced. That means people have to translate those words from that “distraction-free” environment into the bodies of living actors, the reality of a physical space, and (eventually) into something an audience would pay to see (read: not my computer screen). These people must have an opinion.

Directors, and Dramaturgs, and Designers! Oh, my!

These wonderful people are tasked with something incredibly difficult. They are tasked with translating my 2-D writing into a 3-D production. If the writer is alive (Me = Alive / Shakespeare = Dead) and they are available (or it is the first production of the play) they are typically consulted as more of a collaborator during the production phase than our dear friend Shakespeare is these days.

One result of this collaboration happened recently when some of the production team graciously met to discuss my play. They came up with a series of statements and questions about my play that they shared with me. This is extremely helpful. Part of why I am interested in crowdsourcing the dramaturgical function for my plays is that I like ideas. I’m not the smartest person in the room, even if I am fairly intelligent, because we’re all smarter together. Together we come to better decisions and ideas than we do apart.

The list of questions they asked of me (and statements they made about the work) really help me see the play from a different perspective. I’m able to figure out what is working and what is not working. Oftentimes my wonderful production team helped identify why something wasn’t working (or was confusing). This is even more helpful.

The process also forced me to describe what I’m doing in non-playscript format. You can no longer hide behind the metaphoric language of a play or the suggestive stage directions — you have to explain yourself concretely. It turns out that this is an important step as it solidifies your goals and refocuses your selective eye. To that end, I wrote another draft.

The Words They Are a-Changin’

Of course it’s more than just words that change. Since plays are composed of “just words,” yet are able to elicit emotional responses, physical environments, and human actions, more than words change in even the smallest changes for a new draft.

I’m not going to get into the various changes here. I will, however, note two things that stand out to me in this draft.

  1. The idea of stopping the world with your finger.
    1. Once in reference to a small globe to find a new place to live (or possibly run away to).
    2. Finally in relation to the passage of time — the spinning of the actual earth.
  2. Mathematical skill, terms, and metaphors.

If you’re interested in locating the differences between Draft #1 and Draft #2 those concepts are the main ones that I’m aware of (because writers do not know everything about what they write).

The Drafts

These are both under the unfortunate All Rights Reserved until after the production. Then they will be released cc by-sa. Enjoy — and I’d love to hear what you think in the comments.

Draft #1: TheDecision
Draft #2: TheDecision(draft2)

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8 responses to “The Revision Decision

  1. Hello. Your photo with glasses looks like your sister.

  2. Hey Kyle – for what it’s worth –

    Third line down – Why would you? (it’s a question)

    Top of page 7 – neighbors is misspelled

    Also “thrice” and “in the post” seem awkward in terms of the boy’s speeches. He reads at a medium education level then sounds “hoity” or perhaps British with these words/phrases.

    I liked the story and the symbolism in it. One thing – the boy shoots someone, or at least he talks about it and I found myself wanting that resolved. Of course, this could be because I’m freshly off of my quals and my brain is mush. HA.

    That’s my two cents. I enjoyed it.

    Hope that helps and/or makes sense?? This is off of the second draft.

    • Kyle Reynolds Conway

      CD — Thanks so much! Typos fixes! You’re a champion. I actually wasn’t sure how to do a spell check before you reminded me that I probably should. Thanks so much. (Anyone wanting VIM spellcheck can see here: http://tips.webdesign10.com/vim/how-use-vims-spellchecker)

      The play was written with British characters in mind — so I’m flattered it seemed “off” in that way actually! Good to know.

      I’m a big fan of non-resolutions in a certain sense. One question though — *what* did you want resolved? The crime? The outcome of his life? The old mans?

      Thanks again for the comments — very helpful!

  3. Hey Kyle –
    Yes, it wasn’t so much tha I wanted the crime resolved, it was the boy’s plan of action – I wanted to know what he planned to do about it or, for that sake, what the man thought he should do. To me, it seems “forgotten” by the end (which maybe that’s what you want?). Maybe a resolution isn’t the answer, but an acknowlegment of the crime and some kind of catharsis? Perhaps I’m too linear. I just know that when I finished reading I was like “what about the shooting?” Hope this makes sense.

  4. It just seems unlikely that after committing a murder, they’d be sitting somewhere discussing the situation as if it were a distant event. I can’t see the Boy not being still amped up on adrenaline (or crushed by the seriousness of the situation if the adrenaline has worn off). The Man is also a bit of a problem in this respect. Older, living more “on the edge” than the Boy, but he still ought to show some fear of being caught at least. But he just comes across as amoral given the gravity of the crime. And if he’s that amoral, he probably wouldn’t give the Boy the whole $500.

    It would probably be less of a stretch if the crime didn’t involve murder. The Boy should agonize just as much over a simple robbery, maybe with assault so there’s a physical victim ( but a simple theft– perhaps with a witness — or he fears there was a witness– would be just as good). That would be enough to make him question his own self-perception. But do you really want this character to believe that a college education justifies murder?

    I don’t think the Man should have only one change of clothes yet wear diamond earrings and a jeweled bracelet. That’s a pretty annoying disconnect for this reader.

    And after reading the above exchange with CD Adamson, I still don’t really get that either of the characters is English/British. I tried to hear it that way in my head but, for some reason, I kept sliding back into hearing American voices from these characters. And the Boy at one point refers to five hundred “bucks” which certainly sounds American to me.

    I did like the imagery in their conversation of the spinning globe being stopped by a finger. But I felt touching the ground in real life was a bit much. It might be better to have the Boy (or Man) wishing the world were as simple as that. Or go the opposite direction and drag a finger along the ground to keep the world spinning. Somehow acknowledge that the world isn’t spinning the same as it was earlier that day.

    Sorry if some of these comments seem disjointed. I read the first and second drafts back-to-back and probably commented on some things that weren’t in the later draft. I really like the Man’s dialogue though. But I didn’t like his character as much.

    • Kyle Reynolds Conway

      Thanks UD (Denny)! These are great thoughts. I’ll sort of try to respond to them in an equally disjointed manner (that’s how my brain tends to work).

      One of the readers who selected this play for production commented that it works for the theatre and only for the 10 or so minutes of playing time because if we start to think about it too much it falls apart. I think that’s what you’re getting at with being on a hill, treating it as a distant event to be reflected on, fear of being caught isn’t mentioned outright (and certainly not at the forefront), and with murder maybe feeling like too strong of an event to spawn such comparatively smaller actions and motivations soon afterwards that are depicted in this play. Man does sort of list the options open to the boy at one point — indicating that he could turn him in or kill himself or move, etc.

      To an extent, then, this is theatrical trickery (and I want to be clear that I’m not considering this a bad thing — these are the tools). Unlike film, theatre tends to focus on a different type of event — responding to things that happened (see my professor’s post here: http://normanbert.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/economy-of-characters/). It’s often mistaken as a subtle difference between the forms but it is quite major. The problems we’re hearing about concerning the Spiderman Musical probably speak to this better than I ever could — theatre tends to have a different focus. To that end the stakes are ramped up (murder instead of robbery) and I don’t focus on the event itself but the characters’ reaction to it. Somewhere the man alludes to when this is (I think several hours after the incident). That too was deliberate. Theatrical trickery? Maybe. Would they be so calm? I think they could be — Man certainly. I don’t think the boy would agonize as much over a simple robbery as he would murder. Again, theatrical trickery — the stakes are raised.

      “I don’t think the Man should have only one change of clothes yet wear diamond earrings and a jeweled bracelet. That’s a pretty annoying disconnect for this reader.” I get that. The original script was written based on a street photograph of a person. They were older, not really well dressed, but adorned with these jewels (real or fake). The jewelry is the in the stage directions (not the dialogue) so I kind of feel like it’s more for the actors and directors than for the reader or audience member. Also, I sort of suspect that he’s lying about the one change of clothes thing. I also suspect that he’s had the jewelry for a long time — possibly inheritance or something. I do understand the seeming incongruity though.

      The American/British thing is an ever-changing thing. While I was sort of inspired (at least for Man) by a certain amount of Britishness this has altered in the 2nd draft to a tentative state because we know we won’t have a dialect coach (or probably the time) to get the actors into a dialect for the show. I don’t actually think the dialect is important. At any rate — it’s in a state of flux.

      I’m a fan of the finger/world imagery as well. It came about, in fact, when I removed “across the pond” (which we felt was too non-American) from the first draft. It got replaced with something much more interesting (the globe spinning). Touching the ground is certainly weird, but it’s more of that theatrical trickery — an augmentation of reality — that seems to work for me. I think that they are wishing the world were as simple as that at the end. When Boy lifts Man’s finger he does go the opposite direction by choosing to let the world spin (metaphorically). To me, it’s telling that he doesn’t “spin it” himself — he lets things happen naturally so to speak — his action only allows nature to take its course. I think this might be our point of disagreement. You say “Somehow acknowledge that the world isn’t spinning the same as it was earlier that day.” I think the world is spinning exactly the same as it ever was. (I don’t wish to minimize death — but the focus of this play is about how one might carry on afterward).

      Disjointed comments are the best! I’m going to point the Director and Dramaturg specifically to this page so they can read your post. You’ve got some real concerns that will have to be addressed for production. Depending on their thoughts things may (read: will) change more before production. Probably nothing drastic but who knows.

  5. Pingback: The Skills I Happened Upon | Kyle Reynolds Conway

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