Changing a Theatrical Script to Suit an Audience – No

As a playwright, I have chosen words and phrasing to best relate my story in a finished form that will appeal universally or directly to some core audience I was trying to capture. As a director, I have often been given scripts that needed a bit of fine tuning to fit the stage, the actors, the timing and the process, but never the audience. This should be the goal of any theater, in showing respect to the playwright.

Junior high school drama programs should not schedule an annotated version of Glengarry Glen Ross (or other mature Mamet pieces) just to introduce the students and the school to adult themed theatrical showcases. It makes no sense. Just as it makes no sense to perform Equuis (with its fringe of nudity and mature content) at that same venue. The director would be cutting lines and scenes left and right.

There is a place for taking a script in a new direction using vision but also showing with respect to the material. There have been sci-fi versions of many Shakespeare plays, as well as updated street versions of Romeo and Juliet as an example. Though the look changes, the dialogue and its meaning can stay intact. Cutting out an hour of A Long Day’s Journey Into Night to appease someone’s belief a college theater’s audience patience only lasts so long does not wash in this instance. Ex. The Three Bears don’t just go for a walk and then discover a break in. You lose the essence of the story.

If the director or producer believes that their annotated version of plays or works is best for their perceived ticket holders, then they should become a playwright and create something original. Do that instead of sifting through a piece and pick and choosing what they think will or will not work.

We live in a Youtube society. There are a lot of funny clips and moments from TV shows, movies, even plays out there. But a viral 2 minute piece does not match the theater experience and what the theater has to offer. The theater is the bridge between the creator (The writer, the choreographer, the composer, et al) and their audience. A piece that is abridged or annotated without complete consent by the author or their representation follows a percipitous path. The culprit is cheating the audience out of the experience set up by the writer.

Now remember, I am speaking about re-writing scenes and dialogue. I am a key proponent for taking and using alternative, exciting and new steps in staging pieces. But the essence and the words have to remain the same. If the script needs major revisions to fit your theater’s core audience, don’t put it on the schedule. There are many different versions of Dracula or the Phantom of the Opera out there, don’t steal bits and scenes from all of them and try to piece together a perceived crowd pleaser. More than often, it does not work and you have insulted your audience and the purists that may be sprinkled within.

Give them credit, an audience knows best. Also an audience can handle most things that they have prepared for beforehand. Leave the script and dialogue to the writer, leave the vision to the director and let the audience experience it on their own and determine how it all worked out in the end.