#8 - The Most Important Thing to Focus on In Production: Creating a Clear Context! Jan. 23, 2017
This is probably the most important element to beginning a good play, be it a 10 minute play or a full-length masterpiece.
SET UP THE CONTEXT OF THE PLAY CLEARLY.
MAKE SURE THE AUDIENCE GETS THE CONTEXT OF YOUR PLAY!
Now in a written script, this is pretty easy. You can describe the set, the time period, and the situation and it works. But when bringing a play to life with live actors and a creative team, that is when the problems with SETTING UP THE CONTEXT often begin.
I have seen so many plays brought to life here in New York City, where the director and the actors do a terrible job of setting up the context pf the play!
And if the audience doesn't know the context of the play, the setting, the time, and often, the problem of the play, nothing is going to make sense. You see, often, when bringing a play to life, the director, the playwright and the actors KNOW the context of the play so that everything makes sense to them, but the context is not spelled out, or clearly created, so the audience can't make sense of what makes sense to the actors and the creative team.
I SEE THIS ALL THE TIME. ALL THE TIME, and it makes me nuts!
I once had a conversation with a playwright about this context issue with play creation right before going into see her show. She spoke about how important context is so that the audience "gets" the play. As the play started, I had NO IDEA where, when or what was happening - and I had read the play! But the context wasn't created clearly ON STAGE. It was in the actor's heads, not shown or illustrated or created on stage. It was wild!
As a playwright, how can you make sure that the context is created clearly in production?
Let's say your play is surrealistic and takes place in HELL. Write in your rehearsal draft that there is a sign on stage that says: "THIS IS HELL!" or just "HELL." Or give dialogue to the actors where one says, "I never knew living in Hell can be such fun?" Crazy, huh? But spell it out somehow creatively (maybe not so completely obvious) but SPELL IT OUT somehow so that the context is clear. If your audience doesn't get the context of your show, they are going to check out. Immediately! For they won't understand what the heck is going on!
So when you start a new play, get super clear on the context and create it clearly so that even a baboon in the audience would understand. I know it seems silly, but so often the context is in the creative team's mind and not fully manifested on stage.
Again, I see this all the time. All the time.
This is the best advice I can offer any playwright new or old:
SET UP THE CONTEXT OF YOUR PLAY CLEARLY AS YOU WRITE IT AND MAKE SURE THE CONTEXT IS CLEARLY CREATED WHEN IN PRODUCTION.
If not, you will lose your audience.