Re-post: Revising a Play

I am re-posting a piece I wrote a few years ago for my wonderful friends at the Inkwell. This article was originally posted on December 2, 2010. In this article, I reflect on the often difficult process of revising a play. For more insights about the process from playwrights, designers, and members of the Inkwell team, please visit the Inkwell blog!

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Clementine2 I am a relative newcomer to the Inkwell process, having been inducted into the “Inky ways” just this year as a script reader and dramaturg for the Inkreading of Krista Knight’s Clementine and the Cyber Ducks. A phrase the wonderful Anne McCaw mentioned during my initial training session (and one that has played on a continuous mental loop ever since Clementine rehearsals) is something I believe is a tenet of The Inkwell’s new play development viewpoint: beginnings are hard, middles are hard, endings are hard.

SPOILER ALERT: In this post, I will discuss the current ending of Clementine and the Cyber Ducks.

Krista Knight burst into the rehearsal room at Woolly Mammoth Theatre bubbling with energy and exciting ideas for revisions. She was troubled by the play’s ending, finding that it lacked the visual punch she desired. The play is inspired by the Gold Rush tune, Oh My Darlin’ Clementine, in which the miner ’49er’s daughter Clementine drowns, so Krista had a clear image of the final moment of death in the play, but the journey towards Clementine’s demise was a bit murkier.

During discussions with Krista and our marvelous director, Shirley Serotsky, we agreed that three events needed to occur in order to establish that Clementine’s tragic death was inevitable. Clementine needed to lose her father, her money, and her independence — the three pieces of her life she emphasized the most. Once these three pieces were gone, she would be emotionally rent and, literally, unsteady on her feet. As the necessary losses took shape, we turned our attention to the final scene.

Krista wrote a few versions of the closing scene for the reading, incorporating the honest and useful feedback from Shirley and the incredibly dedicated and focused team of actors, but during our last rehearsal, she found herself torn. She said that it is easy to know when something is completely wrong, but much more difficult to make a decision when two choices feel right, albeit for different reasons.

The first version was exciting and bold, and included Clementine’s famous song right at the end. It was also more familiar to our team. The actors read through this version more often throughout our week of rehearsals. We felt comfortable using it. The second version was rawer. It was written towards the end of the rehearsal process and satisfied the need for visual punch. In this version, a veritable sea of oranges pours over the miner’s sluice gate, overwhelming the landscape , and intensifying Clementine’s drowning scene. Clementine’s song is interspersed throughout the scene, prolonging her death. As a group, the team discussed choosing one or the other ending, and Krista and I proposed the idea of presenting both versions, Choose Your Own Adventure-style, at the reading.

Eventually, someone mentioned the word risk. We were reminded that the point of the Inkreading is to be brave, bold, and try something new. Krista and I agreed that both endings could work, but the one to use for this particular reading was one that was a bit scarier, the riskier choice.

Working on new plays is a brave endeavor. To be part of the process, it requires the understanding that it is, in fact, a process, a journey, and it will not always be easy. Beginnings, middles, and ends are hard, and making risky choices takes a lot of guts.

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