If there’s ever any issue around time (eg. being part of a larger evening and needing to fit within a certain amount of time, trying to run without an intermission, just being too darn long, etc.) do your cuts before you get into the room.
I didn’t think I would need to remind myself of this, but I recently made this exact mistake. It fell into the category of “I thought it wouldn’t be an issue, so I didn’t worry about it.” Admittedly, you can’t worry about everything. There are only so many hours in the day. But this particular instance wasn’t about a lack of time. It was laziness (and perhaps false security).
Script cuts are not something I feel comfortable doing on the fly. They can be emotional for the playwright, who worked very hard to make the lines sound just so, as well as the actors, who are working hard to memorize and shape them. When working on a new piece, my ideal scenario is that I think through the cuts by myself, then discuss with the playwright, then let the actors know what the new landscape is (and allow them to petition for anything that they feel strongly about). For an established script, any cuts should be done before the actors ever see the production version of the script.
It’s my responsibility to be smart about what I think should be cut and why. It’s also my responsibility to avoid wasting our time in the room (if at all possible) while I suss that out. And ultimately, it’s my responsibility to make the piece work within all of its confines. Limits are limits. You’re welcome to be creative within those limits. But if you refuse to accept reality, it’s only going to come back and bite you in the end. Nobody wins a Tony for the potential of their idea. They win a Tony for how their idea is executed.
Make the cuts that should get you where you need to be. Then take a second pass and make the cuts that will get you well beyond where you need to be. If you can make it work with the more severe version, go with that. This applies to any cuts you need to make regarding time or money. Cut early and cut hard. It’s significantly easier to add things back. And once you’ve tried the lean route you’ll have a better sense of what would be most beneficial to add back in.
Only taking action will get you the information you need. If you make the cuts, you’ll learn whether they are too much. You’ll learn what’s crucial to this story. You’ll learn what’s crucial to this production. Giving yourself the opportunity to think through those choices beforehand will help you make a decision about a direction to take. (Alternatively, being forced to make a choice in the moment forces you into guessing. Sometimes you make the right guess, but that’s definitely not the lane I like to travel in.)
I will repeat. If there’s a possibility that time might be an issue, plan your cuts. If there’s a possibility that you might not be able to afford the production that you’re hoping for, plan your cuts. Maybe you won’t need them. But if you do need them, you won’t be guessing. You’ll have a plan. Part of your job as the capital of the ship, is to anticipate and plan for what could go wrong. And time and money are reliably sparse in this business.
Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Post them below. The more, the merrier.