Authors say altering scripts can dampen the impact of plays

Published on Thursday, 26 December 2013 21:00 - Written by By Felicity Enas Guest Columnist

“Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it, trippingly on the tongue,”— “Hamlet,” Act III, scene II.

Since I began teaching speech and drama, many years ago, I have used this phrase often when instructing my students in voice production. If the audience cannot hear what an actor is saying then they will turn a “deaf ear” to their performance and end up unsatisfied by the whole production. This eloquent phrase from Hamlet also can be used to illustrate that actors should speak the exact words the playwright has written and not “cut” or change words that are deemed unsuitable by some audiences.

Playwrights spend years honing their craft, and well written plays have characters that are deeply researched and meticulously constructed. So for directors or actors to hack away at the playwright’s dialogue diminishes its impact on the audience, thus making the entire play something less than the author intended.

Most who are reading this column will immediately think of profanity-laced words that can make us uncomfortable, but it is precisely that uncomfortableness that engages the audience. If art is said to imitate life, then profanity should be included in dialogue.

But this is not just about keeping profanity in plays. Recently, in Lindale, a performance came under fire for wanting to keep the original dialog in a school-approved production. The dialog this time was more sacred than profane. But because the performance was being attacked by individuals who wanted the script rewritten, I came out in favor of the school sticking to their priorities. The show will go on, and unchanged from the playwright’s original script.

The bonus for both sides of this argument is free publicity. When the media gets hold of a controversy they are tenacious to the end, and that coverage keeps the performance front and center (the sweet spot on any stage) in any community. With this free publicity more people become aware and want to see what all the fuss is about, thus generating greater ticket sales!

This not only works for live theatre but also the movies. It’s pre-Oscar time and the betting is on as to who will win best actor, actress et al. If it wasn’t for the playwright (if the movie was originally a stage play) who constructed the characters and their dialogue, then the actors would not be in the running for “best of.” I’m thinking of “August, Osage County” as I write this, which is in the running for top pick. Tracy Letts, the playwright, has written many plays that have exceptional characters that when brought to life by the acting greats of our time, the impact is tangible. Talking of “August, Osage County” — not only does the incomparable Meryl Streep take the cake, a home grown actress, Margo Martindale (who hails from Jacksonville) holds her own character with equal aplomb.

Speaking of local talent and of brilliant playwrights, this January, APEX Entertainment is bringing Del Shores, who was born in Palastine, to conduct two workshops. Jan. 11 for “Get Out of Your Head and Trust Your Gut” and Jan. 12 for “The Oscar Scene Study.” In-depth information can be found at APEXtheatre20.com. If you have not already made preparations to attend, I suggest you get right on it, maybe there will be an opportunity for you to find out why playwrights write.

Happy New Year, thespians!

Felicity Enas is an instructor at Actor’s Preparatory Exchange and the resident director of Theater 20 @ Potter Place.