Reflections on revising a theatre script (2): Give it space

Publicity photograph for LeanerFasterStronger, to be produced by Sheffield Theatres/Chol Theatre in May 2012.

It is so difficult to get perspective on a script when in the process of being revised.   Computers allow us to ‘futz’ with the work continually – deleting, copying and pasting, shifting order, reallocating speeches to different characters… It wasn’t so long ago when such editing processes were time-consuming and demanded commitment: we thought long and hard before taking the scissors to the page, actually cutting and pasting. Perhaps today making changes are too easy and so we try different versions within seconds – and then lose perspective on which of these various edits, which we can effortlessly make, is the best.

I’m not suggesting we return to those ‘analogue’ days (if I can creatively use the term so) – but I think a small shift in our consciousness may assist when rewriting.   Writers can become exasperated with all the editing possibilities open to them, they can get tied up, knotted in the throughlines. I’ve lost count of the times writers I’m mentoring have lost their way owing to a dizzying succession of edits on parts of their scripts. They try a section that doesn’t seem to be working one way, and then another, and another – and then lose sight of the original intention. They really can’t see the wood for the trees.

I’ve learnt to take my revisions at a slightly slower rate. When editing a scene, I’ll try one version and then walk away – go outside, look at the sky, have a wander around, change my mindset and the view – and after twenty or so minutes, I’ll return and be able to read the revised section with fresher eyes. It seems time consuming and a little tree-hugging, but it works and saves time in the long run. For larger edits, I sleep on it and can get perspective on the script the next morning. For serious manuscript-length edits, I put the script away for at least a week.

This process enables me to commit to each decision I make in the editing process; it makes me treat the actions I take seriously, knowing there will consequences – and yet I know the decisions are not necessarily final, I can still shift and change. I’m simply giving space around revisions, so the air can circulate and I can clearly see the changes I am making, and whether or not they are improvements. It is allowing work to evolve and settle at a slightly more organic, human rate.

copyright Kaite O’Reilly 28/3/12

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