The Screenplay Live Experience

By 2011 Winner Lorraine Portman

Screenplays are like children. If we raise them right, they make friends, move out, have a life that exists past us. We give them life. Whip them into shape the best we can. If we are healthy parents, we set them free, let them go out into the world.

My screenplay, Peace, Love and Law Enforcement was the Screenplay Live! 2011 award winner. The screenplay was performed as a staged reading during the 360 | 365 George Eastman House Film Festival in Rochester, New York.

I started writing plays before I jumped into film production and screenplay writing. I have had plays performed as staged readings and full productions. I have experience with the process of working with actors and directors in creating theater. Doing readings to see what works and then creating changes based on feedback to make the work stronger.  

I value readings immensely as a tool to improve work. I have learned to extend trust to actors and directors, which allows them to do their best work and allows me the best insight into what is working. I was only thrilled with my screenplay being chosen and was very excited at the prospect of working with a new set of people, in entirely new circumstances, in a new place. 

There’s an advantage, in extending trust. If all they have is the screenplay, I have a chance to see how it holds up. The work needs to speak clearly for itself.   

I met with Patricia Lewis-Browne, the director, the day before the final rehearsal and performance. She pointed out a scene that was not clear and a character choice that seemed out of character for our protagonist. I did rewrites. We incorporated the changes in the next rehearsal.

During rehearsal, there were questions that I could answer. In every question, a place in the screenplay that might need a bit of clarification. It was great fun to see actors take on these characters. Give them voices, give them life.

What wound up being interesting to me as well was the process of making a screenplay work as a theater piece. Patty and I had a wonderful ongoing conversation about this idea.  

Plays easily adapt to reading. Screenplays, we generally have more characters.And the usual convention is to have someone read the action description. But how to create a theater experience from a screenplay?

Screenwriter Lorraine Portman, along with Director Patty Lewis, and the cast of Peace, Love and Law Enforcement, at the 360/365 Film Festival (photo courtesy of McKay’s Photography).

Peace, Love and Law Enforcement was in good hands with Patty. She has done screenplay staged readings before. She approaches the work with respect and also with a keen eye for what we really need.  

Patty cast four actors that portrayed the core family of four. She then cast two men and two women to bounce in and out of the other characters and to read the action description. It was a wonderful choice to bounce the action description between different actors. It allowed for the two men and two women to play all the rest of the characters. There are a lot in this piece. Neighbors, cops, feds, Elvis impersonators, drag queens, and porn stars. 

The actors were all fabulous. Talented. Intensely dedicated to doing a great job. I was thrilled with them. ScreenPlay Live was in a great space. We had an audience that filled the space nicely. I sat in the back. Paying attention to an audience can show me if the work plays, if they get bored, if they are pulled in.

Peace, Love and Law Enforcement makes me laugh, but what about anyone else? I’ve been worried about how funny it may be as many years as I have been working on it.

What did I learn during the reading? It is funny. People started laughing and kept laughing. Some of the moments were even funnier than I anticipated.  

I learned that the audience enjoyed it. Loved the characters. Cared about and rooted for Zara, the protagonist.

There is one scene that happens too quickly – it needs a couple more moments.

I learned that Peace, Love and Law Enforcement is funny and it is working. I found a couple small places that needed cleaning up.

I am deeply thankful to BlueCat and Gordy for the award and the experience. I am deeply thankful to Patty, the cast, Eric Cubitt of Rochester Casting, and everyone who provided support for the reading. My faith in directors, actors, and audiences is only stronger. I can only recommend submitting to Screenplay Live! The experience was one I will carry with me.