Sometimes it needs to be heard

When to cut? What to cut? How to cut?

Working through a process with actors and making cuts is a delicate process. It’s on a spectrum from ‘excellent choice’ to ‘How could you cut that?’ and most of the time it’s clearly ‘excellent choice’ – especially in a developmental process when a script is in its early stages – and capable of change.

Lines are emotions words are emotions – we must always remember that. If the line is not charged with emotion you are not cutting an emotion you are making room for the emotion to come through.

Then there is the moment where you have to insist as the writer that something stays – and you must hold your ground. That’s because there are some things we simply must hold on to – because we believe deep down to the core of our being that it needs to be heard by an audience. Sometimes, not all the time and often enough that I would mention it here, we have written things not solely for the actor to feel – we have written something that we want an audience to hear. Ideally, there is a complete synthesis between what an actor can feel, the text, and the affect on the audience.

It can be the case that the actor has to really work at feeling the text and bringing it to life – they have to charge that text that doesn’t sit well with them with some significance that brings life to it. Each thing in a work for the theatre needs its full expression and significance to resonate and have some meaning – if that’s not the case then there has been a break in the creation of the work – a little vacuum opens up in a moment and it’s dead air.

Writers, rather than impose your intention on an actor for whom it may well mean nothing (our delight is another’s Meh) talk to your director about creating the way to make that line mean something. If your director simply cuts the line you must stand your ground and ask them to work with the actor on bringing the line to life in their imagination. The imagination is an incredibly supple and transformative phenomenon – you can work with your director and actor for them to imbue the line with a significance that resonates personally for the actor. An actor can say anything in any way at any time – and what it personally means to them is none of your business.

What you must not do is insist they agree with your specific sentiment regarding the line. The actor must bring it to life in a personal way that has significance to them and justifies their work. Don’t insist they interpret it your way if it will stop them feeling it. If the line is blue for you and the only way it works for them is if it’s vermillion rest assured if you go with vermillion the line will be heard by an audience (who could turn it yellow for themselves).

This supple and subtle process of working out how to feel requires sensitivity, cooperation, patience, and generosity.

Don’t get drawn into cutting before this process has had the chance it deserves – imagine how wonderful it is for an actor to turn something they don’t feel into something that becomes energized and active with the life they create for it.

Know when to let go and when to insist and don’t impose.

Enough To Get The Feeling

At a recent and beautifully curated scratch night, I had the pleasure to not only watch my work deftly and boldly thrown out into the air, I also got the chance to field a few questions.

I was asked if I researched my work. Now, research is useful, and there are many ways to do it. For some, it involves sitting in a library, for others surfing the net, and for others still lengthy interviews with experts. Any combination is possible, and sitting in a cafe and simply listening is research.

During my time as a writer I have interviewed sex workers, journalists, met with experts, and more.

I consider it important to be informed, and I consider it sensible to expand the lens.

I also consider it important to only do as much research as allows you to feel, to be credible, and to create the given circumstances of the world coherently. As much as helps you find the spark that ignites the inner life of your characters. In short, research is only useful if it helps you tell the story.

I know when I have reached the point I can write credibly and honestly, and do not consider it necessary to be an expert. I do enough to tell a story and I never do too much. It’s a fine balance, sometimes the unlikeliest thing can open up something really rather important – research is exciting like that.

When I was researching the sex industry I had the pleasure of sharing drinks with a specialist in BDSM. We spoke about her career in the army, her way into BDSM, and her typical encounters. All of this was useful, and what was really extraordinary was the feeling of growing mutual attraction during the process of discussing the research. It was this aspect of the interview that was most revealing and most useful. (The attraction had nothing to do with her work, and I was in no doubt she was very good at it.)

So research is, like everything to do with writing, about what you can feel.

I want to feel as much as is humanly possible and always leave off research if it starts to clog up this process.

In short, enough to tell a story.