In the annals of theatrical chutzpah, this latest missive has to rank fairly high.
A theatre that shall remain nameless booked several performances of Radium Girls for the coming fall. Okay, cool. I’m excited, because this one looks to be a professional company, even though it’s only a single weekend run. Then comes this request, sent to me via my publisher: Would I approve some cuts to the script? Attached is a file containing a heart-stopping number of red scratch-outs.
Now, I’m accustomed to approving cuttings for competition. Radium Girls has been presented in a truncated form multiple times and won awards for the schools involved. I don’t mind; it’s clear in the context that the students are presenting excerpts from a larger work, and that’s fine. In fact, a lot of those competitions have generated subsequent full productions by other schools.
In this case, though, the theatre would be presenting a radically pared down version of my play for paying audiences. When I asked for the reasoning behind these cuts, what I got back was a doozy:
1.We have a limited time for rehearsal, due to the fact that much of the cast is professional. We are unable to properly rehearse the full script, nor will the actors have time to memorize word for word which is how we work.
2.We do need to bring school groups in and out quickly; there will be up to three shows on Thursday and Friday, if our booking goes as planned. The show will need to run no longer than an hour and a half, with intermission, quite possibly shorter.
3.We also have a speaker whose mother was a Radium Girl. She will be adding to the length of the program.
There is so much to unpack in that email that I can hardly get started. But mercy me, if you know you’ve only got a 90-minute slot what are you doing booking a two-hour and ten minute script?
Strange, to say the least, but not nearly as strange as the declaration that without deep cuts, there’s no time for the actors to memorize word for word “which is how we work.” Great. Glad to know you don’t routinely allow your actors to ad lib their way through your productions. Particularly with this play because a lot of lines are set-ups for speeches that follow. Go off on the line and the next speech makes no sense. I know; I’ve seen it happen (it was excruciating, too, because the actor was playing the lead role of the company president – and he has a lot of lines.)
Now, I’m not so in love with my work that I think it couldn’t stand a little trimming. And frankly a few of the cuts they suggested made sense. But gutting 40 minutes out of the script? So you book more shows in the day? I’m sorry, but that takes a bit away from the experience—which is, in my opinion, a cumulative effect of language and image—and worse, it’s not being done in the name of educating young actors (the point of competitions, after all) but to sell more tickets.
The best I can say for the producer is that it is an organization accustomed to producing streamlined Shakespeare for youth audience. So I suppose they routinely take long plays and cut them down to their liking. And that’s fine if the playwright has been dead for 400 years. But I’m still kicking and I have a strong aversion to watching my scripts mangled in service to a purpose that has nothing to do with the art and everything to do with box office.
I guess I’m just funny that way.
So I said no.