I feel like I’m always the one with the opposing point of view when it comes to practicality. I’ve always been a huge fan of practicality. Practicality in casting, practicality in location, practicality in concept. A large part of this, I think, is because I self produced my first couple shows using my own money.
You know what I mean—money I saved up from the first job in retail. When you're using your hard-earned minimum wage money, the last thing you want is an elaborate concept when a more practical one would do.
Also, there's my experience making rehearsal schedules. Do you know what a nightmare it is to schedule actors who have completely opposing schedules? For me, I’ve always chosen a more available actor over a more talented actor who was involved in a million other projects.
What’s the point of having an all-star lineup if they can’t actually meet to rehearse with one another? Besides, with training and direction, a more dedicated/available actor will pay off in the end.
From a screenwriting point of view, I can’t count of the number of scripts I’ve rewritten because a prop or set wasn’t within budget.
One of my favourite films was Love at First Sight, a short film I wrote that initially took place in a convenience store. We couldn’t find a convenience store that would let us use it—but one of our actors knew a laundromat we could shoot in. We ultimately decided to go with the laundromat, and I reworked the script to make it fit.
And you know what? I loved the reworked script just as much, if not more. Why? Because we got to doa lot of cool effects with the washing machine doors. What was initially a dead end with location scouting turned into an opportunity to do something even cooler.
Another example is a monologue I wrote called Doing It for the Fame. The first draft I wrote had a giant game show wheel. It was the kind of wheel you might find on Wheel of Fortune, and it was integral to the script. But, the selection committee told me that would be too expensive a prop to create, and because the show was touring it would be hard to transport as well.
I literally rewrote this monologue without the wheel. And you know what? The next draft was actually so much better without the wheel. There were more punchlines in this draft because there wasn’t a tacky wheel to fall back on.
When I was doing Saturday Morning Club, every weekend or two, actors would phone me at the last minute to say they weren’t available. It was a volunteer gig after all, so that was to be expected.
We were going to shoot no matter what. We redistributed the lines if we were missing actors. If a line didn’t work with another character, then we were rewriting lines an hour before we started filming.
But, through all of that, we got the work done. Even that one weekend during flu season when the kindergarten teacher actors among our ranks fell like flies, and it looked like we wouldn't have enough actors to pull it off. We did it!
I seem to be on opposing ends with other creatives. I’ve seen people produce theatre shows with actors whose rehearsal schedules are so conflicted, they never have a full cast rehearsal until the tech rehearsal (and even then, one or two actors might be missing). The sets are so complicated it takes several minutes to change in between scenes. The artistic vision is so complicated and elaborate implementing the vision is nearly impossible.
What’s the point of being creative if your vision is so complicated that it will never be fully realised? What’s the point of making art if an actor phoning in sick is enough to derail the whole project? What’s the point of being creative if you have nothing to show for it? Not just show the world, but a completed project to be proud of.
I’m a huge fan of practicality. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think once you reach a certain point where you have enough experience, enough of a budget, and enough credibility as an artist you might be able to get away with having more elaborate expectations for your work.
But if you’re indie, or doing community theatre especially these are things you legitimately have to think about. If you’re not practical, will you even have a show? Before thinking of your next script idea, think practically. Can it be put on stage? Do you have access to this location? With your current resources, budget, and skill level, are you actually able to pull this project off?
I am, of course, one opinion. I know other people who will say the opposite. If you’re producing work, writing scripts, and doing things then it’s ultimately up to you where you stand on the matter of practicality.
However, if the opposite of “practical” is “artistic,” then based on my experience I have seen where limitations can actually enhance the quality of the work. Limitations force creativity, and show new opportunities—if you're able to roll with the punches.
So I’m not entirely convinced that practicality can’t be artistic.