Hulk Smash(!): worthless descriptors

Mr. Boothby enters Spellmen’s train compartment with CHARLOTTE, an extremely attractive young woman.

I am not going to attribute this quote, because I do not mean to lambaste the play I am in the middle of reading. Well I do, but I do not want it to take the full brunt of an anger that has been growing in me over the past two years of professionally reading scripts.

Do we really need “an extremely attractive young woman”? Do we? For one thing, it’s theater: isn’t it safe to assume that, whenever possible, casting directors are going to employ the most attractive young actresses available? A stage note that reads, “She is really pretty ugly,” I understand more.

For another thing, does the character have to be extremely attractive to perform her function in the play? Maybe she does, but then won’t we learn this from the interactions that follow, and therefore do we need to be told of her beauty in a stage direction? Won’t we figure it out?

Whose standard of beauty are you using anyway? The playwright’s? Who cares what the playwright gets off on? So let’s talk about the audience: I happen to like brunettes, but, wait, maybe the characters in the play– who are presumably supposed to be taken with this character’s beauty–prefer blonds. Maybe they prefer unique women with beautiful eyes over cookie-cutter figures, but we just don’t know do we? Maybe we should have stage directions like that: Spellman enters the train compartment. He likes leggy, middle-aged women and has a slight librarian fetish.

So “an extremely attractive young woman” doesn’t really say anything and, because the audience is never going to see this note, it serves no real purpose in my mind other than to piss me off because there are a number of not particularly extremely attractive young women out there who are damn fine actresses and are much more interesting to watch.

In general I think stage directions should be minimalist, specific, and well-crafted. Minimalistic and specific because directors and actors are going to ignore them for the most part anyway (especially if they are ambiguous), and, really, you should be controlling what happens in your play (as much as you want to control it, that is) through the verbal action. Don’t try to direct your play from outside of the rehearsal room. And well-crafted because the only people reading these things are going to be theater-practitioners, so you are really just doing yourself a favor by making them enjoyable to read. Why say, “extremely attractive young woman” when you could use an epic simile?

Charlotte, fleet as the wind, obeyed him, and as the cold hail or snowflkes that fly from out the clouds before the blast of Boreas, she entered the train compartment.

See. Much better. And if you ever have a staged reading with someone is reading the stage directions, you’re all set.


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