A recent conversation about proper stage play formatting has me wondering about its history. I see readability cited as the reason the name-above format has prevailed, but when I look at a page, my eyes track this:
MADDOX: My last boss considered himself full of whimsy. Now he lives in a psychiatric hospital.
JULIA: Your last boss walked naked into a junior pond hockey tournament. Relax. It's not that kind of whim.
more easily than this:
I'll be good, I promise. This is hardly my first rodeo.
My last boss also had an interest in rodeos.
So how did we end up with name-above as the standard format?
Because when you are an actor the name in front of the dialogue slows down the speakability of the text in rehearsal. With the name above i can keep the flow of the words moving with interrupting the flow with the name in front.
It also improves readability. But I find it is primarily helpful for a new play in this format in the hands of actors.
I think the layout you're asking about is based on screenplay layout. What I've heard about screenplay layout is that following the format results in a script that runs about one minute per page. But how people came up with it, I don't know.
I was a cognitive scientist in a previous life -- I studied how people think and work with information in their environment. I'll bet that if someone really did a study of how easy "standard" format is to read, they'd find out it's not.
Starting with the use of Courier. Fixed-width fonts, on a fundamental level, are harder to read than proportional-width fonts.
Character names in the middle of the page. Ick. In English we read left to right; information left-aligned is easier to find than information in the center.
In publishing through Samuel French or Dramatists Play Service, it is always Flush Left.
Most likely to save page numbers so it is cheaper.
I find reading a new script is easier with the format this discussion is talking about. Thise also means reading a new script for a public reading
Somehow the eye scans better down the page. And can "grab" (as we call it) more words better.
And for cold or rehearsed readings, I have found that is truly the case with actors.
Somehow the eye "grabs the page" better in this format. I have no idea why. It is just from experience. The rest is for the psychologists.
Being a working actor who has made a very nice living at this for many a year, this I can attest to. I have seen sooo many of us "sell" a crappy script.
All I know is, no matter the format, some man or woman is going to have to MEMORIZE those lines...and it makes no damn difference how they are written or in what format they are...nor does it matter how beautifulyl the lines are laid out nor how shitty the lines look on the page...they have to be memorized and performed in front of an audience. That is the actor's job. And in the end, if people hate the play, it is usually because of the actors because we are the ones they see. (They seldom see the director.) They never SEE the writer. They only say, "Wasn't she awful?" or ""God, he was so boring." We "front" and "buffer" for the writers/directors. (P.S. I've also directed. But my promise/vow to the actors is this "I will never make you look stupid on the stage.")
Although terrific actors CAN make a shitty script shIne to a degree. I have seen this done over and over, and have done this many a time.
But when you have shitty script meeting up with mediocre to shitty actors, it is usually the actors who take the heat. Not the writer.
And, I acknowledge, bad actors can absolutely destroy, ruin. castrate a great script. But also, terrific actors can polish a crappy script up to some respectability. Tricks of the trade!
However, I have also seen mediocre to bad actors/directors destroy a brilliant script