One of my incarnations is that of director in educational and community theater. Although the gig it doesn’t have the romance and cliff-edge risk of professional theater, it offers opportunities and rewards not open to the broadway/off-broadway crowd. For one thing, I don’t have the liberty of casting strictly according to the demands of a particular script or production because non-professional theater often requires using who turns up whether they exist on the written page or not. Thus, have I put many Shakespearean males through figurative transexual surgery because the ratio of males to females auditioning is almost always in reverse proportion to those listed in the dramatis personae. At the moment I’m engaged to direct a production of Kaufman and Hart’s Once in a Lifetime for a community theatre group of mostly senior citizens. My joke is that I’ve gone from working with casts (high school students) who won’t remember their lines to casts who can’t. Thus, for the sake of both cast and audience, we slice the script down to essentials. I’ve done the same with high school casts, of course, more because the original scripts (particularly musicals) often require more technical facilities and expertise than we could muster. Professionals don’t normally have this freedom because they’re subject to copyright restrictions in a way that amateurs aren’t. Actually, non-pros should operate under the same rules, but no one watches as long as you pay your royalties as required. The current theater group is free of all requirements, though, because they don’t charge admission. So much for the business part of things and on to my artistic point.
The process of cutting a play always leads me to thinking about my own writing and how much of it can be pared away without losing the essence of the story. I will probably end up cutting 50% of Once in a Lifetime and still have a viable, entertaining production. Of course, we will lose many enjoyable characters and moments, elements that probably helped make the original 1930’s broadway production a real seller. However, beneath all the topical satire is an engaging and exciting story of love and show business which is the core of everything. None of us wants to cut out the stuff that entertains and enlightens. We certainly don’t want to cut out the stuff that sells. However, none of it is worth much without that story, and I think we can never ask too many times what a particular piece of writing is about and whether we’ve strayed from the central premise. If you can cut 50% without getting to the heart of the story, maybe you’ve buried it and it’s time for an exhumation.