Script Analysis Basics for Students: Understanding the Play, Part One

Daniel Craig, 
Rachel Weisz
 and Rafe Spall rehearse the recent successful Broadway revival of Betrayal by Harold Pinter.
Daniel Craig, 
Rachel Weisz
 and Rafe Spall rehearse the recent successful Broadway revival of Betrayal by Harold Pinter.
Daniel Craig, 
Rachel Weisz
 and Rafe Spall rehearse the recent successful Broadway revival of Betrayal by Harold Pinter.

Formalist script analysis for production is an important skill for directors, designers, and actors to master. Although each approaches analysis a little differently, there are foundation elements that everyone in the theatre shares when it comes to analyzing a script for production. In this article, we’ll consider how formal script analysis works and its use for those headed into production.

What’s Formalist Script Analysis?

The term “formalist script analysis” may sound inert, highbrow, or simply boring. But it’s anything but that. A formalist analysis is uses standard categories in its approach, such as given circumstances, background story, character, external action, etc., and focuses on the text in an attempt to understand the play. Although research is involved, the central focus is on the script and the person performing the analysis attempts to distill the essence of the play through careful analysis of about 10 different categories of information.

Going Hi Def

Going from the page to stage.
Going from the page to stage.

Script analysis is the major tool directors and others use in the theatre to turn a written script into the three-dimensional production. Point of fact, although plays are written and may be read silently, we don’t go to the theatre, buy a script and sit in a seat reading the thing. We go to the theatre to see a play or musical jump off the paper and entertain us through what is the most artistically all-inclusive and closest to life art form you can find, the living theatre or a theatrical production. In essence, script analysis is the tool that allows an artist to interpret the various words the writer has given them and, ultimately, to transform them into live action. It is that which allows for the transformation from page to stage.

Can’t I Just Read the Play?

Director Mike Nicholas, who has 10 Tonys for directing, once again revealed his ability to bring insight to a production with Betrayal.
Director Mike Nicholas, who has 10 Tonys for directing, once again revealed his ability to bring insight to a production with Betrayal.

The answer to the above question is, “Yes, you may just read the play,” but in order to get yourself ready for production, you’re going to have to read it many times in order to understand how all of the elements function independently and then how they all work together. Formalist script analysis is a powerful tool that allows you to go beyond basic understanding of a script and to a place where you can, as a director, orchestrate an entire production, guiding everyone to a successful opening night. Directing a show calls for the ability to communicate highly complex information in a fairly simple to a lot of people and it also requires that actors, designers, technicians, stage managers, publicity managers, and others share ideas, concepts, and information about the script in a precise and concise manner. The more you know about a script, the better you’ll be able to do this.

How it Works

In Part Two of this four-part series focusing on formalist script analysis, we’ll look at plot and examine techniques useful in understanding how it works. In other parts of this series, we will examine character and dialogue in Part Three and tempo, rhythm, mood, and style of the play in the final section.

 

  • This Author:

    Paul Mroczka

    Paul Mroczka has served Theatre By the Sea as associate director and playwright-in-residence. He has directed for companies including North Country Center for the Arts, Pontine Movement Theatre, The Theatre of Newburyport and the Palace Theatre. A former National Endowment for the Arts fellow in playwriting, he has also garnered a Shubert Fellowship, the Jason Miller Award and has received grants from the New Hampshire Council for the Humanities. His plays have been performed at New York’s La MaMa La Galleria, Nat Horne Theatre, and Manhattan Punchline Theatre, among others. His interactive planetarium show, Pathfinders, is running at the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium in Concord, NH. Recent directorial assignments include Good People, Steel Magnolias, and The Complete World of Sports (Abridged) at The Barnstormers Playhouse in New Hampshire, and Rumors, Orpheus in the Underworld, and The Glass Menagerie at PSU. This summer Paul finished an initial draft of his new play, Smart Money ... Read Full
    Loading Disqus Comments ...
    Loading Facebook Comments ...

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *