Handing Your Words Over

Recently, I handed over one of my plays for development to a producer and a group of professional actors. I say handed-over, because it as done with some reluctance and internal struggle before I could do so.

On the one hand, as with every scriptwriter, I really wanted to hear the play come to life. I wanted to hear the characters, to test the pacing and the dialogue and see what audience engaged with, and what didn’t work. I needed to know if the play worked as well outside my head as inside it.

On the other hand, I was full of fear. Fear that the work was terrible, that everyone who worked on it knew it too, but was too polite to tell me. Fear that the audience would feel sorry for me and avoid all eye contact, knowing I was just the crappest writer ever.

Keep in mind, I’m in a country that is not my own, with actors accents and intonations that are totally different from the ones I’d heard in my head as I wrote the play. I worried the words were going to get lost in the subtleties of interpretation, colloquialisms and regional accents. It is also a story I’ve carried in my head and worked on for years. I’m so used to having the main character around, he feels like a friend. I almost couldn’t bear to hear him change, at the hands of an actor who didn’t know him as well as I did. Weird, huh?

Overwhelmingly, I felt like I was putting my heart on a plate, and handing it to a group of people who I didn’t know, to let them gently dissect it between them.

The development process culminated in a live read to a public audience, to get as broad a view as possible on the work. That’s when all the limiting thoughts rolled in, the imposter syndrome, the self-doubt.

I didn’t sleep much the night before the reading. Small grabs of rest were filled with different disaster dreams. The first was that I’d given the producer the wrong version of the script. In the second dream, the actors refused to perform the play because of its poor quality. In the third I watched audience members walk out mid-show.

Friends who were attending the reading, received last-minute texts I’d carefully constructed, advising that I was totally ok if they couldn’t make it to the show, it wasn’t going to be a big deal at all, hardly worth leaving the house for, in fact. I turned the stress on myself and told my husband three hours beforehand that I didn’t think I could attend the performance.

Luckily, in his brilliantly nonchalant way, he just said, “Oh no you don’t. You’re not sabotaging yourself on my watch. We’re going.”

Two Fold. Photo by Fiona Georgiou Hunt

When the time finally arrived to start the show, I took my seat in the far back corner and curled myself into the foetal position, muttering quietly to myself that I really needed to grow a thicker skin.

As it turns out, it was much more educational and far less scary than I’d expected. Actually, it was completely exhilarating hearing brilliant actors bring the words to life, far better than I’d written them. I can’t express enough the value that great actors bring to scripts, it constantly blows my mind.

For the script itself, it was clear some lines worked better than I’d imagined, but one line I thought was pretty funny just wasn’t. A couple of character interactions needed some reworking and a few issues needed resolving.

I can fix the problems, and hearing it live was like putting a magnifying glass to each page, showing up the things to tweak, and the opportunities to dig a little deeper. It’s such a valuable process, even if we go through such angst to get there. The audience feedback was better than I expected, encouraging and helpful. There seemed to be an authentic interest in the story, which gave my confidence a boost.

I know that scriptwriting is a collaborative exercise, and writers need to know when to let their scripts go, but I still can’t help but direct my plays as I see them being performed. This is a control freak character flaw I know, but at least I keep those thoughts to myself.

Hopefully one day I’ll learn to hand over scripts with ease. Maybe I need to meditate away the control freak. I definitely need to stress out less.

But then again, maybe it’s all just part of the writing roller-coaster.

Cover image Photo by Peter Lewicki on Unsplash

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