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Senior Citizen's Guide to North Jersey

From Page to Stage
How a Play Goes From Concept to Production

The curtain falls. The audience applauses. The lights rise. Theatre patrons stream out the doors a buzz with discussing the performance they've just witnessed. But the performance is the end product of a long involved process beginning with the playwright.

Even the longest running play The Mousetrap, by Agatha Christie was at onetime a new play. Most theatregoers have at one time seen a world premiere of a new play. However, it is a select few that actually know how a play goes from concept to production.


The process of putting pen to paper (or hands to keyboards) varies from playwright to playwright. The idea for a play can come from a current event, something that has happened to the playwright in the past, or even just an overheard conversation on a train. From there, it can proceed in different directions. Some playwrights prefer to complete an outline before they write down a single line. Others go through drafts and drafts before they have their final product. And some playwrights sit down to write and do not stop until they have finished. Edward Albee (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) was recently asked how many drafts does he write of a play. He answered, "I don't write drafts. A draft could give someone a cold. No, I think you should write the entire play down the first time, and then fix it with a few touches here and there."1

theatresA good number of playwrights, if not all of them, have a support group in one fashion or another. They may meet regularly with other writers to read and discuss exerpts of their plays. Or they may be involved with a small group of theatre professionals (actors, directors, playwrights) that meets on a regular basis to read, discuss and develop plays. Theatre companies such Playwrights Theatre in Madison, NJ, InterAct Theatre Company in Philadelphia, PA and Southern Rep in New Orleans, LA are just three such theatres that work with playwrights to develop and produce new plays.

Playwrights Theatre is dedicated to developing new plays and writers for the stage. They have several roundtable readings of new plays during their season. In it's newest model called FORUM, audience members can attend up to three weekends of new play readings and provide feedback to playwrights following each performance. InterAct Theatre Company, whose mission is to present new and contemporary plays that explore political, social and culturals issues of our time, hosts an annual new play development conference for writers, directors, dramaturgs and actors called PlayPenn. Southern Rep, produces new plays by American playwrights with an emphasis on Southern playwrights. A myriad of theatres, not only in the United States, but across the world make it their objective to develop the voices of new playwrights.

Once the play is complete and the playwright feels that it is in good form, they will work with these new play development theatre companies to have a reading (either private or public). In these readings, professional actors will present the play with script in hand for the playwright to hear his/her words out loud. In private readings, often the only people present are the playwright, the actors, the director, artistic director and managing director from the theatre. In public readings, not only are the aforementioned people present, but so is an audience. An audience that the playwright will rely on to give him/her valuable feedback on their play. At this point in the process, the playwright wants to see what they truly have because how a play reads versus how it works with actors, are two entirely different things. They are also looking to find out if the story line is working and if characters are believable. The beneficial feedback they receive from audience members will help them shape and make the needed revisions for the final version of the play.

performanceSo now the playwright has written the play. It had a private and/or public reading. The playwright has made the needed revisions. The play is selected for a full production at a theatre and that is that. Not necessarily. Once a play has had it's world premiere, it can still undergoe a metamorphosis. Once it's fully mounted and in front of an audience, a playwright may attend a performance (or two or three…) and find based on the production elements and the audience's response that the play may indeed need further revisions. At this point, often those revisions take the form of dialogue changes (what worked in the intial reading, may not work now night after night) or cuts are needed in order to make the production feel crisper and move at a sharper pace. When this happens, a play can have yet another world premiere or multiple premieres if theatre companies decide to join forces and co-produce the play. And so the development of the play goes on.

If you are one of the lucky few to have a new play development theatre company in your city, be sure to attend a public reading of a play and be a part of the process. Then when it has a full production, and you are leaving the theatre with your friends, you will be able to say "I not only experienced the performance of this play, but I was a part of the development."

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