The idea of producing a play daunts most of us. So many elements have to be organized and brought together in theater that even the suggestion of doing a drama sounds intimidating.
I wish it weren’t like that. And, honestly, I don’t think it has to be. I believe only three things are truly necessary to put on a great play. The rest is extra. Valuable, sure. Useful. But not necessary.
If you had to peel away all the add-ons, I think you’d find that drama, at its core, is simply a script, performed by actors, powered by commitment.
1. A Script
I would venture that a good script is the #1 most important requirement for good drama. More important even than the acting. And here’s why:
The best actors in the world can’t vitalize a weak script. Convincing emotions and expressive body language can’t cover for plot holes. Perfectly-delivered lines are useless unless the lines are apt and meaningful.
People come to theater to experience a story. Not to watch people walk around on a stage and talk to each other meaninglessly, but to experience an interesting, relevant story. If the story is hollow, or incoherent, or artificial, the experience will be the same.
On the flip side, you might ask, what good is an amazing script if the acting is poor? A valid question, certainly. Dry, stilted, or melodramatic acting can cripple the best of stories. That said, however, the story is still the substance. The acting is just the channel of communication. It’s important, of course—vital. But when it comes down to it, I’d sooner watch mediocre actors deliver a mind-blowing script than watch world-class actors deliver a lifeless one.
In defense of actors, however, I repeat: people come to theater to experience a story. Not to read a story, but to experience it. To see, hear, and feel it. Despite my argument that the script is the most important element of drama, I think we can all agree that actors are still necessary! Although a script can communicate on its own, a script by itself is not a play, but a piece of literature. To become a play, the script must be incarnated.
But I would add one more requirement for putting on a great play. You have to love the story you’re telling and the people you’re telling it to. Theoretically one could say that a script and actors are the only two necessities, but in reality no play will be successful without true commitment from the people involved.
And what I mean by commitment is a blend of grit and vision. Grit because the process of rehearsals is long and laborious. Vision because you can’t actually see what you’re making until you present it to an audience. The performance of a play is practiced creation, and that requires a lot of preparation and a great deal of faith.
All the Things You Don’t Need
I’ll admit, many other things can add to the experience of a great play: a cool set, elaborate costumes, all the spotlights…. But are they necessary? If you want to put on a play but just don’t have those kinds of resources, are you stuck? Absolutely not. Next week we’ll look at the second half of this discussion—all the extras that might seem essential but, when push comes to shove, really aren’t.