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!