(Sigh) Though writers often wish it were otherwise, there is no truer maxim of scriptwriting than this post’s title. (“What? My first draft wasn’t perfect? You gotta be kidding me!”)
That maxim has been staring me in the face the last six months as I’ve struggled with rewrites on my genocide/primate research/Holocaust/Africa-play. All those slashes just might explain some of my travail – I may have packed too many stories into one play.
So it was consoling to read a recent story in the New York Times about John Patrick Shanley and the extensive rewriting he did on his new play Storefront Church, now nearing the end of its world premiere at Atlantic Theater Company in New York. That would be the John Patrick Shanley who won an Academy Award for original screenplay for the 1987 movie Moonstruck (one of my all-time favorite romantic comedies) and in 2005 the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Drama Desk Award and Tony Award for his play Doubt: A Parable.
The Times reported that during rehearsals Shanley rewrote Storefront Church’s final scene 20 times. Then once previews began and Shanley could observe audience response, he realized other scenes also needed revising. Shanley told the reporter, “Preview performances are like trench warfare. You troubleshoot scene by scene based on your read of the audiences. They know when something isn’t working. You respect them or you’re dead.”
I wasn’t able to see Storefront Church when I was in New York earlier this month but judging from Charles Isherwood’s review in the Times, Shanley never did get that ending right. Isherwood found it weakened by “artificial maneuvering” of the characters. In defense of the author, endings are the most fraught aspect of scriptwriting.
Given my own rewriting struggle, I couldn’t help but note another observation Isherwood made about Storefront Church: “The play is so stuffed with character, incident and ideas that not all of them feel thoroughly digested, even by the writer.”
Hmm. On that note, I better end this post and get back to rewriting my own script.