Beating A New Ending Into Shape

Remember that thing I was saying yesterday where I was like ‘my work is so brilliant I didn’t have to change a thing to my final scene’?  Something to that effect anyway.

Well guess what?

C’mon.  Guess.

Yup.  I tore the final scene apart last night and rewrote half of it.  Completely changed the ending for ‘Kate’ and ‘Richard’.  ‘David’ shifts slightly and ‘Becky’ remains the same.  Maybe a page and a half of new material, with an equivalent amount taken out.  Not a significant change in terms of word count, but a gynourmous huge shift for ‘Kate’s’ journey.

It’s the correct shift too methinks.  It was a major glaring problem and I didn’t see it until we attempted rehearsing it last night – nine revisions after I first wrote the scene.  Funny how that works.  Am I missing anything else?

I hope not.  In general terms, I was always unsettled with ‘Kate’s’ journey in the story.  Something about her was missing from the pages.  The vast majority of Version 9 spoke to ‘Kate’s’ missing pages.  But for a tweak of a line or two, the new material with Kate held up.  I’m hoping for the same with this final scene.

The rehearsal itself was great.  I spent three and a half hours with Andy and Laine (‘David’ and ‘Kate’), going through their scenes in my apartment, while sitting around my coffee table.  There were times where I needed to read ‘Richard’ and/or ‘Becky’ so we could get through a scene, but that was kind of fun too.  Being a Director is a very different job from being a writer.

We would read a scene from beginning to end, then stop and go back to the beginning.  No notes.  Maybe some questions were asked of me, but I wasn’t too interested in diving in that deeply into the script after the first cold read.  Actors can usually figure things out on their own if you point them in the right direction.  It takes a bit longer, but it provides for a far better performance in the end.

Upon the second read, we set out to identify the ‘beats’ of the scene – those moments of understanding between two or more characters.  Beats provide the shape of a scene.  The actors use them as markers.  We start off slow at the beginning of a beat, then pick up momentum, surging towards the next beat.  We hit that beat, drop the pace slightly, and surge towards the next beat.  Hit that beat, drop the pace slightly, and surge towards the next.  Think of it as shifting gears in a car with a manual transmission.

Much discussion comes from discussing where the beats are in a scene.  In order for the actor to surge towards a beat, he needs to understand what his character wants and what tactic that character will use to achieve it.  The pursuit of that objective is what ‘drives’ a scene.  Conversations around subtext – what’s really being said with a line – happen here too.  From a lofty perch, the actor can look at all his scenes in the play, with those beats and objectives clearly marked, and see how his character’s journey progresses through the story.  Just as he gives his scene a shape, he then gives his character’s journey through the play a shape.

It was incredibly satisfying to see these characters come to life.  The script held up to close scrutiny with the exception of that one scene.  Laine and Andy are soooooo good.  I could not imagine a better fit for those two characters.  I can only hope the audience agrees with me next Sunday.

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