Author, Actor, Playwright, Excellent Parallel Parker

Rules of the Lake and Ashes to Water are now available for Kindle and Nook!

Friday, June 11, 2010

In Which I Get to Create a Character in a New Play

Last night, I got paid the ultimate compliment. David Robbins (books by this author) told me that in his novel, Scorched Earth, he created the character of the Judge with me in mind.

How cool is that?

And here’s the other thing. David has adapted his novel for the stage, and wants me to play the Judge!

What’s her character like? Well, she’s officious, menopausal, curmudgeonly, snarky, sarcastic, and generally P-Oed. In other words,

I’m perfect.

After the table reading in late May, David asked if I would help him with a little script doctoring. (Me? Hail yas!) Had I known at that time that he was going to ask me to play the Judge, I would have suggested a few changes in her persona, but oh well.

David is a novelist, and while a long-time patron of the theatre, his adaptation was cinematic, and therefore, expensive to produce. Lots of scene changes, a cast of thousands, and a narrator. I sharpened my red pencil and went to work.

First to go: the narrator.

I’ve never been fond of the narrator technique, even when the narrator turns out to be a significant character in the story. Remember Road Warrior with the (then) hunky Mel Gibson? The narrator turned out to be the Feral Child. And Fried Green Tomatoes. The old woman narrator turned out to be the main character in her narrative.

David had used that device in his first play draft, but it just didn’t blow up skirt. The solution? Instead of a narrator, employ character soliloquies. That way, each actor gets a nice juicy moment in the sun, while still serving the play.

Second to go: phone calls.

I’m not crazy about phone calls on stage, either. Put your characters in the same room. If there’s a time/distance problem, ask yourself: am I God of my own world or not? As Tim Gunn would say, make it work.

Third: combine scenes.

While screenplays benefit from numerous scene changes, stage plays (IMHO) do not. David, true to his novel, structured his play in short scenes, which made for constant plotus interruptus. Solution?  Combine scenes. Do you really need to move this conversation from the cemetery to the living room?  No? Then keep it in the cemetery. Much more interesting setting, and your lighting designer will love it.

Fourth: get rid of reporters 1, 2, and 3.

In my experience, theaters prefer a cast of eight or less. Ten, if they’re in love with you and really want to do the play. (Twelve, if it’s a musical and they know they’ll pack the house.) Can one reporter do the work of all three? Or, if you need the crowd effect, is it possible to double-cast? If not, time to get creative. Can you create the same effect with voiceovers and camera flashes?

Fifth: remove all dialogue and start over.

Kidding. I kid. I’m a kidder. Great dialogue in the book, great dialogue in the play. Especially the part where the Judge breaks out in song and kisses the Bailiff, who looks like Mel Gibson in Road Warrior, full on the lips. Then Mel Gibson confesses he’s been in love with the Judge ever since he first saw her at the boxcar derby, lo, those many moons ago, and…

Oh, sorry. Went away there for a second.

So, yeah! I get to create a character in a new play that was written with me mind. An actor’s dream, and the ultimate compliment. Thanks. David.

Oh, and do you think you could make the part of the Judge a little bit, um, bigger?


Okaaaaaay. It’s your play.


  1. When you turn your book into a play, can you make it a musical?