Today’s post is a continuation of last week’s, which outlined the three essentials of drama. Click here to read Part 1.
I’ve explained what I believe are the only three things you need for putting on a play: a script, actors, and a healthy supply of commitment. But as you were reading Part 1 of our discussion, you may have thought of a few other things that seem pretty essential to good drama. What about a stage? Technical equipment? Some experience or training? You can’t put on a good play without those, can you?
All good questions, all worth exploring. So today, let’s consider these extras that might seem necessary but truly, I think, aren’t. I want to show you that you can produce a play with only the three elements we identified last week.
Might seem essential, but I promise, it’s not. “All the world’s a stage.” You can make almost any space work if you have to. You can use a gym, a basement, a park, a parking lot. (Really? you say, Hamlet performed in a parking lot? Yes! If that’s what you have to work with and you’re willing to try it, it can happen. Hamlet transcends time, so it can transcend space too.)
Here’s the thing: theater is already a pretense of sorts. Cast, crew, and audience all know that. No matter how realistic the set is, we all know we’re playing pretend. And that’s not a bad thing; it’s just the nature of the art. We’re creating the illusion of reality to communicate a story with real significance.
So, if we’re all using our imaginations anyway, how much does it really matter whether we pretend a stage or a parking lot is Denmark? Yes, a fancy stage gives the imagination a boost; but no, it’s not essential.
Also unnecessary, for the same reason. I know the actor on stage is not Hamlet, and the most “realistic” costumes in the world won’t make me believe he is. His words and manner will come much closer to making me believe than his outfit ever will. If he’s wearing jeans and a t-shirt but acts convincingly like Hamlet, I’ll allow myself to be drawn into the illusion.
I’m not saying that costumes can’t enhance a production. Of course, we use them to try to fortify the illusion of reality and immerse the audience in the world of the story. But it’s still an illusion, and the audience knows that. The true realism rests in the script and the acting, so they alone will make or break a play.
See above. Props reinforce the illusion of reality, but their absence won’t shatter the illusion, as long as the script and actors are solid.
Project is a verb. If you do it, you won’t need equipment. Did Shakespeare have mics and speakers in the Globe Theater? Enough said.
See previous. As long the audience can see the actors, you’re golden. All the fancies—dimmed lights, colored lights, spotlights—yes, they can set a mood or direct the audience’s attention, but, honestly, they tug against the illusion of reality more than they support it. At least, spotlights never shine on me when I’m soliloquizing around the house. Maybe your life is different from mine.
This is tough, and I’ll readily admit that having no or little experience with drama makes the process harder when you do try it. But every director or actor has a first production. Sure, it’s intimidating the first time. It’s also intimidating the second time and the third and the twentieth. You’ve got to dive in at some point.
So Take Heart!
If you’re daunted by the idea of putting on a play, fear not. Even with very limited resources, I promise you can do it. Find a script, or write one yourself; pull some people together; and get to work. Don’t even think about props or mics or a stage if they’re not available to you. You have everything you need.
If you’re involved in theater already and have access to all the extras, good for you! Just don’t forget what the audience comes for, because it’s not the costumes or the set (unless you’re the Lion King musical). They come to experience a story. Make sure you tell a good one.