Presentation is Everything

I love writing for theatre because your words aren’t the be-all, end-all of the experience. The chance to collaborate with talented actors, directors and designers means that you’re getting contributions from all sides (in mind-bending 3D!), and they bring a script to life in ways that you could only ever dream of. Get the right actor, and you can even make the 50 worst video-game voice acting examples of all time to be entertaining.

And, coming off a week-long workshop of Paper City Phoenix (with the astoundingly wonderful Orfeo Group), I’m thinking about presentation even more, because this is a play with even more facets to consider than normal. It’s about the Internet (I mean that literally: the Internet is a character), and involves projections, video work, and special effects that probably don’t make it the most producible thing in the world, but hopefully will make it entertaining once it gets on its feet. There’s a lot of info to give to the audience, because the play deals with the nature of information itself, but the possibilities for that information are fun to think about. Lately, I’ve been considering the possibilities of kinetic text, as displayed in this rather relevant video:

And also good old-fashioned flow-charts (involving Dickensian orphans).

Of course, all those bells and whistles come later. The wonderful reminder from the Orfeo workshop was that a play is, at its heart, an interaction: the give-and-take between characters in a moment when they all want something from each other and are doing their best to get it. Putting it up on its feet for three days gave me a chance to process all of those interactions, and take a look at the various character actions from all different angles, as they were happening in front of me. Because if the human element isn’t squared away, and each moment isn’t thoroughly interesting just as an interpersonal event, then no projection design in the world can save you.

Presentation also matters when it comes to criticism: it’s easier to listen to honest, open critiques of characters and situations when they’re being given to you by actors you’ve spent fifteen hours with already, who you have a rapport with and who you know beyond a doubt are invested in making the best play possible. The same note sounds very different coming from someone like that as opposed to, say, your mother, or a random audience member at a reading (not that those inputs aren’t valuable too, Mom).

So much of what we do is subjective, right down to how we think about the pieces we create; a bit of indigestion that occurs during writing time can result in entire scenes being scrapped. The only real way to succeed is to be as cognizant as possible about what you’re trying to say in each moment, and make sure there isn’t a single wasted beat, action or item on-stage. The more cleanly you present your ideas, the more likelihood there is that people will engage with the work on its own terms.

2 Comments on “Presentation is Everything

  1. I’ve been thinking about presentation too in a slightly different way. I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with my play I wrote in undergrad, and I think lots of the problems lie in the basic presentation of it (it uses a narrator and tells the stories of three separate folktales that follow a similar theme). And it’s like “how do I make it feel more coherent and show the progression from one story to the next?” And I’ve been trying to get over the “nooo, I can’t change it too much, it was my college thesis!” feeling and just figure out what is best for it as a play rather than as sort of a symbol of my undergrad existence. 😛

  2. “The only real way to succeed is to be as cognizant as possible about what you’re trying to say in each moment, and make sure there isn’t a single wasted beat, action or item on-stage. The more cleanly you present your ideas, the more likelihood there is that people will engage with the work on its own terms.”

    Quotable. Inspiring. It’s now in my database of quotes. Thank you!

    But of course there’s hardly ever just one “only real way” for anything.

    The contrarian in me is thinking of how random events in a script or in performance can enhance the illusion of reality, where random events rule. And I think of a playwright I know who always allows at least one “meaningless” line in his scripts for the same reason. And I think of how dicey it gets whenever a playwright creates anything besides dialogue, the notion that this intrudes on the director’s or the actors’ purview.

    I’m also thinking that there simply is no formula for success, there are no rules, and that plays take on a life of their own and, as creatures in their own right, are never “finished” but only more or less alive or dead.

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