So you finished the first draft of your play. What do you do now?
As you know I'm a big fan of getting actors together to read and rehearse when a first draft is finished. I think it's the best way to play explore and learn about a play. But if you don't have the ability or time to get some actors together and you want to refine your play the next best choice is to make educated cuts.
What do I mean by educated cuts? Often when playwrights are writing a play they feel compelled to TELL too much of the story when actors who are living the roles can actually convey much more information. So the first step in making an educated cut is to look at how much you're "telling" the audience -i.e.what the actors are saying versus what the actors are doing and expressing in the relationship on stage that could actually tell the story much more elegantly.
The next thing you need to to make educated cuts is to look at how much you are repeating yourself. You make a point or characters will make a point and then they and you continue to make the point again and again and you end up preaching to the choir!!!
So look at how much you repeat yourself and cut some of that repetition.
At Manhattan Rep, we do these play competitions where we have about 30 plays compete for $1000 cash prize. The thing I have discovered after 18 competitions and over 500 plays is that four out of five of the short plays between 10 and 20 minutes could be cut by 20%, because even in a short play, often the playwright is saying the same thing over and over again and we get it early on, so why repeat yourself?
So here are the questions you need to ask yourself when looking at your first draft:
How can you streamline your play today?
What are you saying too much of?
What are you repeating again and again and again?
Do you need that backstory or is just some of that backstory enough?
And here's the most important question:
Does all the information and the material of your play propel the through line of your story?
If it doesn't, it needs to be cut.
So take some time to streamline your play, make some educated cuts and see what manifests.