I had the exceptional good fortune to meet Rob Corbett recently. Beyond teaching acting at several colleges and being a playwright in his own right, he is a most insightful script reader. And a pleasure to work with.
One of the challenges of a first-time script writer (that’s me), is that you don’t know what you don’t know. Yes, there are similarities to books (I’ve written 8 of them), and there are similarities to my “day job” as a professional speaker on stage. But similarities do not mean the same as.
That’s where Rob came in. It would take pages to replay his feedback here in this blog, but a few of the key things stand out:
1) Show don’t tell. One of the goals as a writer is to allow the reader to imagine the scene and the characters, based on their own experience: literally, as a reader, you are filling in the blanks. This is often why, when comparing a book and movie, many people will say “the book was better”. (What they are really saying is that their imagination, cued by the writer in the book, was better.)
In fact, the paradigm – book vs movie – is just simply different. In the case of the movie, the director fills in the blanks with a visual canvas and with sound effects and music. In musical theater, it really is no different: there is a visual canvas, music, sounds, lighting, and more. The actors get a chance to act. They can put dimension into the characters… if only the script would let them. In the case of Esther, the first two rewrites didn’t do this. Obvious after the fact, and the the third re-write was VERY different because of it. Show don’t tell.
2) Tension and Release. This is what makes a story interesting. A conflict needs to be set up, come to a head, and at least be partially resolved. While the Esther story has several key turning points where this happens, there actually are many points within the play where tension can be built and then released. The tension must start at the script, and then be “amplified” through the music and acting. Yep, didn’t take advantage of this either in early script drafts.
Here is one before vs after example.
Before: The setting was the corporate kick-off. Mr. Verious was extolling the virtues of his VP, Vashti, in front of the crowd, while Vashti was sharing her discomfort with Verious’ advances, a la #MeToo:
Verious: Come to thank Vashti for her service to date, She is dutiful, smart, and can always relate. She'll win us the prize of our big acquisition, I see profits and money and stronger divisions, Vashti, thanks for your service to date. Vashti: I don't like my job, and don't want the attention, I'm no idol, or object, nor want his affection. I'm glad I could help but am thinking there's more. I'm not strong enough, to tell him no more. No thanks for my service to date.
After: The setting is Mr. Verious’ hotel room, before the kick-off. Vashti is in bed while Mr. Verious is speaking to her before he leaves the room.
Verious: Vashti, thank you for your service to date, You have great potential, just reciprocate. I know you'll do well, you know what I like, Just do it and smile, it's all business-like. Vashti, thanks for your service tonight. Vashti: (by herself after Mr. Verious leaves) I don't like my job, and don't want the attention, I'm no idol, or object, nor want his affection. I'm glad I could help but am thinking there's more. Am I strong enough, to tell him no more. No thanks for my service to date.
While Rob Corbett didn’t write this example, like all great teachers, he asked great questions, and as a result, the characters have far more dimension, and the story is vastly more interesting.