I had the pleasure of directing an R&D at the Spark Highland New Play Festival a few weeks ago. R&D’s – Research and Developments – are some of my favourite projects. While their scope differs widely, the main goal, from my standpoint, remains the same: to help the writer deepen and broaden their script. If a session is useful to the writer, then I’ve done my job. As I prepare to do some R&D’s on the script I’m currently writing, I wanted to reflect on some questions as a director that I find useful in the development of the work.
What words, images, phrases, or moments stand out to you?
This is something I would think about when directing and staging a show as well. The beauty of theatre is that the same piece can speak to an audience in an infinite number of ways. For a writer, I think this is a helpful question as it highlights an audience’s perspective. It allows the writer to reflect on how their play is received and determine changes they might want to make to ensure their message is clear. It might also highlight something that the writer had never thought about. This can also be helpful when thinking about their script.
Whose story is it?
I think it is normal for a writer to get drawn into their story and it can sometimes mean that the audience becomes less clear. When you’ve read your script a thousand times, newness dissipates. For an audience, it’s the first time. This question can be especially useful if you have a variety of perspectives in the artists hired. For example, if you’re writing a play about football, it would be equally helpful to have artists who both have and haven’t played football. Each opinion is valid, as your audience will be comprised of an assortment of people as well. This might change the audience’s perspective on the story, so it is a useful question for a writer to consider in development.
Did listening to the story make you think of any questions you would want to ask?
This centres directly into what the audience was interested in knowing more about. It helps to direct the writer’s focus and gives them an idea of where they might want to (potentially) add or change some text. Sometimes the point is that these questions remain unanswered; sometimes, however, the writer wants a certain point to be clearer. Knowing which position you are in as a writer clarifies your story and your storytelling.
Did anything not make sense?
I was once writing a show that derived from a historical event. When I showed my work to a colleague, they mentioned that there were some minor gaps in the story for them because they were unfamiliar with that history. It was a good reminder to me artistically that you must be aware of the story from an audience’s perspective. Writing is a solitary sport; development broadens that perspective.
Each development contains a set of specific questions targeted to the stage of development in which the play rests and depends on the type of feedback that a writer wants. At the end of the day, it’s the writer’s work and these questions help to shape their work, rather than dictate (as an outside artist) what the play must be. Happy developing!