Best known as director and producer of the Wingfield series of solo comedies written by Dan Needles, performed by Rod Beattie, Douglas Beattie writes here as founding and current Artistic Director of Touchmark Theatre in Guelph.
What do you look for in a script?
For Touchmark I look for a well-crafted dramatic action and characters which will pique the interest and reward the efforts of experienced actors. Whatever the play’s age and origin, it should be capable of enriching the experience of our audience here and now.
From a practical standpoint – is there an ideal number of characters or script length?
Dozens of plays which would otherwise be ideal candidates for Touchmark are beyond our means because of cast size or scenic demands. I look for plays which have two to five characters and lend themselves to simple and imaginative staging. Occasionally we take on a bigger project.
Does script formatting matter or can it get in the way?
Our scripts tend to have a production history and are usually published so formatting is not a concern.
How do you feel about detailed stage directions?
I believe it’s important to pay attention to a playwright’s directions, especially at the beginning of a rehearsal period. Stage directions, character directions, character and set descriptions and playwright’s notes all have their place. But even a good playwright sometimes gets it wrong when it comes to the words in italics.
What turns you off a script?
If I read fifteen or twenty pages, and I still don’t know what the play is about (or whom) and where it might be headed, I will put it aside.
Does the topic matter as much as the delivery? Or are there topics so important any discussion is worthy of staging?
For me the essential ingredient of a play is a dramatic action. If a script doesn’t have one, it will not play effectively on stage, no matter how worthy the subject matter.
What bad habits from television / movie scripts does a playwright need to break?
Is it a question of breaking bad habits, I wonder, or recognizing that each medium lends itself to certain modes of expression and not others? Generally a stage play tells a story by means of words, a screenplay, by pictures. A series of short scenes with indefinite beginnings and/or endings can be effective in a movie but is exasperating to watch on stage. A full-length film or play should involve a life-changing experience for the main characters. A half-hour TV show doesn’t need to and in most cases shouldn’t.
What is the most important play of the past 100 years and why?
I don’t have a strong conviction about the importance of a particular play; I’m more impressed by the total legacy. As a director I seem to have an affinity for the plays of J.M. Synge and Tennessee Williams (among the acknowledged “greats” of the twentieth century). I’m also an admirer of Tom Stoppard.
Fill in the blank. I wish people would stop telling playwrights to _________________?
“Write what you know.”
If you could give emerging playwrights three pieces of advice, what would they be?
- Think dramatically! When generating ideas for plays, imagine motivated characters pursuing goals, meeting obstacles, achieving success or failure.
- Outline your play first. Then develop the outline. If ideas for dialogue occur, jot them down, but keep expanding the outline until you have a feel for the arc of each character and how every scene functions and contributes to the whole.
- When you come to write the scenes, let them take on their own life. Treat the outline as a guide, not a prescription.