Nathan’s Corner: Rewrites at the O’Neill

Nathan’s Corner: Rewrites originally published on Seven Lively Arts.

Rewrites can be an exciting thing. Of course, what a writer really wants to hear when his or her work is performed is that the text is perfect as it is. The next best thing is to know that it does need work, but to have a clear vision of what to do and the ability to do it.

This weekend we had two performances of Broadcast. It was extraordinary opportunity to see the show in a close approximation to what we ultimately want it to be—seen beginning to end, complete with “blocking” (the actors’ movement around the stage) and a live audience.

It’s like magic, to be able to sit there in a performance, listening to the little sounds an audience makes. Attentive silence and laughter are good. Coughing and rustling programs are bad—it signals that attention is waning. This weekend, I was overjoyed to watch the intense focus of the audience. Broadcast asks a lot of its viewers; but you can only ask as much as your audience is willing to give.

Broadcast is about the human struggle to communicate, and how technology helps or hinders that. Specifically, it follows fifty years of the history of radio, from wireless telegraphs up to the dawn of television, with new characters to meet in every scene. Because we’re not tracking a single story, it’s particularly important to make sure that each scene is engaging.

What we learned from our performances was that we had some work to do in the final third of the show. And through discussion with our director, Joe Calarco, as well as various advisors provided by the O’Neill Center, composer Scott Murphy and I were able to narrow in pretty quickly on our trouble spots.

Monday was a day off for our actors, but a day of intense rewrites for Scott and myself. I made changes—ranging from individual line tweaks to entire reconceptualization—on seven different scenes, in a show that only has fourteen scenes.

Scott did an enormous amount of work, but also has a double amount of effort required: when I create a scene, it’s captured on my computer screen as I write it, but when Scott composes music, he does it at a piano with pencil and paper. Putting it onto the computer is entirely separate process, and involves additional compositional work, fine tuning and tweaking as he goes along.

Yesterday and today, the focus of rehearsal has been on integrating the new material into the show, helping the actors get familiar with it, and incorporating it into the blocking. And tonight—we get to see it with a brand new audience!

About Emily

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2009. I serve as a Chaplain, and work as a counselor. I got bilateral cochlear implants in 2010, but will always love sign language. I choose books over television, and organics over processed. Nothing is as close to flying as ballroom dancing - except maybe running, when in the solo mood. I would rather be outside than anywhere else, especially at the river riding my bike or kayaking. PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and currently doing a post-doc in Jewish Studies and an MDiv in Pastoral Counseling. The best thing about Emily World is that it's always an adventure, even if (not so) grammatically precise. The only thing better than writing is being married to a writer. Nathan Christensen and I were married in the Oklahoma City temple on 13 October 2012, and have since fostered more than eighty-five children. We have adopted the six who stayed, and are totally and completely and helplessly in love with our family. Nathan writes musical theater, including "Broadcast" (a musical history of the radio) and an adaption of Lois Lowry's "The Giver". He served his mission in South Korea, has taught song-writing in New York City public schools, and worked as a theater critic for a Tucson newspaper. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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