Tracing the growth of a play from draft to “finished”, Pt. 2

When I left off in part 1, I had received some feedback on the second draft of The Parliamentarians, which involved two of the characters and a suggestion to change the timeline of the second act.

I had not ever considered that the play would not take place on a single night, and this idea of having the second act take place months later was unwelcome at first. I could accept the characters of Moreno and Madison might need to be removed, but the timeline seemed almost untouchable to me. At least at first.

I couldn’t think about anything other than that for a couple of days. I played with the idea and went back and forth between thinking that it was a great idea and that it might be the worst idea for the play. In the end, I decided that the only way to be sure, would be to try writing it. What would happen if the second act took place three months after the first? The answer, it turned out, was: quite a bit. Moving the second act to three months later actually opened up a lot of opportunities to explore the characters, and change their relationships. Ruben was no longer prime minister, his minority government brought down due to the scandal with with the call girl. Perkins was no longer working for him, and instead was working for the new Prime Minister, Stephanie Rivers, causing friction between him and Holloway.

As for the characters I removed, I replaced them with a couple of new ones.  The characters in the third draft were:

Ruben Holloway, Prime Minister
Perkins, his Chief of Staff
Lola, a call girl
Benji Collins, a reporter
Stephanie Rivers, Leader of the opposition
Vera Holloway, Ruben’s wife

I felt like the play needed some instigator, a role that Moreno had fulfilled, and I created the character Benji Collins, a reporter who had a crush on Lola. Madison was replaced with Vera, Ruben Holloway’s wife. Adding Vera made a lot of sense, since she is mentioned in the first half of the play. In order to justify bringing her in, I felt that I needed to feel her presence in the first half, while still not seeing her until the second act. So some business was added, that was suggested in an earlier draft. In this third version, I just played up that business a little more.

This new draft finished, I needed to have the play read. So I invited a few actor friends over to read it. The results were illuminating. Hearing the play meant that I heard all of things that didn’t ring true, or didn’t work. I took a lot of notes, and got some great feedback from the actors actors.

Now there was some tweaking to be done. The moments that weren’t working, needed fixing. And there was another question: did Benji Collins do enough to move the plot forward? If not, was he necessary to the play? So I started grappling with that question.


Tracing the growth of a play from draft to “finished”, Pt. 1

As I close in on the last draft of my play The Parliamentarians, I thought it would be interesting to look back at the journey this play took from its first draft to where it is now.

The play began as three words at the Red Sandcastle Theatre‘s first  24 hour play writing event this past summer. The pages of a dictionary were flipped in front of me and I put my finger on a page selecting a random word that I would use as inspiration for my play. This was done three times, and my words were: Popular, Moll, and Horde. At 7pm, we prepared to write, and where given the theme “when push comes to shove”.

I will admit that these words were giving me a lot of trouble at first. I had no idea what to do with them. I started staring at definitions of the words, hoping that something would spark an idea. I found it, finally, with the idea of “popular opinion”, which led me to think of politics, which led me to think of a prime minister. I mixed in a gangster’s girlfriend (the moll), which means I needed a gangster as well, and a horde of reporters. I wrote the first draft during the event.

The characters at that time were:

Ruben Holloway, Prime Minister
Perkins, his Chief of Staff
Lola, a call girl
Oscar Moreno, a gangster and Lola’s boyfriend
Stephanie Rivers, Leader of the opposition
Jennifer Madison, the Governor General.

The play was two scenes, taking place on the same night. The scene break came after a surprise revelation about the relationship of two characters. After finishing this draft, I put the play aside for a few weeks, and then came back to it to expand it into a full two act play. The scene break became the act break, but the structure and character arcs remained the same. I then asked a few trusted people to read it, and give me feedback.

The feedback I received was extremely helpful, and identified a few problems with the play. I’d been feeling like there was something not quite right, but the feedback identified it for me. First and foremost was the gangster character. While the play is a comedy, in the second act, he presented a certain darkness that overshadowed the comedy. I had to decide if that darkness added to the play or if it took away from it. Additionally, the character of Jennifer Madison, coming at the end, felt like a bit of a deus ex machina. Like with Moreno, the question had to be asked: what was her purpose in the story? The last suggestion was more of a question: what would happen if the second half took place much later? Not the same night, but a month, or two months later?

I had a lot to think about, before starting on the next draft.