I'm hoping that an experienced playwright might be able to answer this question for me.
A character in a play I'm writing has several telephone conversations. In performances, the audience will only hear one (his) side of the conversation.
I have written both sides of the conversations, I wonder if I should include the ('silent') second side of the conversation in the finished script? Can someone please tell me, is there is a convention for this?
(these conversations advance the plot, the audience does not have to hear the second side, but I wonder whether the actor might find it useful if the second side were in the script.)
Write just the one side and hear the other side in your head. This will force you to make this end of the conversation clear. Then polish the hell out of it. If you do it well, the actor and the audience will know exactly what is being said on the other end.
If you want an example, go to my website and then go to nearly the end of Act One of "Flowers out of Season." There is a longish and crucial telephone conversation. The character has a conversation with several others on the other end who get on the phone at different times. This sort of thing, to keep it fluid, requires little to no overly-obvious exposition.
Something else just occurred to me. It's not required, but it is helpful if some of the references, or allusions, used on this end of the conversation were set-up earlier in the text, as in the "Flower's" conversation---it lets the audience "in on it."
If any other playwrights have suggestions on how to script telephone conversations please let me know.
I like Edd's thinking. Yes, the actor might appreciate being privy to the second side of the conversation, but all things considered it's probably better if I do the work insead of assuming the actor will (hehe).
Another choice is whether to use line, ellipsis or parenthetical breaks in the character's dialogue to indicate that he's listening to the second side of the conversation. Hmmm...
Last edited on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 03:26 pm by MontyD
This question touches on one of the more important components of compelling drama -- the line between explicit and implicit narrative.
The more interesting work for an audience and for actors alike is implicit material. The more explicit a passage, the more air goes out of the work. In this case, making the other side of the conversation explicit makes the work of the actor less exciting. A script excites actors and directors because there are problems to be solved, ambiguities to be worked-out. If you remove the problems, you remove the risk and the adventure that your play can provide for a group of artistic explorers.
The balancing of these two takes both practice and the opportunity of hearing the work to derive the correct mixture.
Pasting a first draft of the conversations below, if you are interested. This sequence is mostly exposition. Oh and the script layout looks better in FD, anyway:
EBISU HOTEL - TELEPHONE CALLS - SAT. MORNING
In his hotel room, Balmori, with a can of ‘Boss’ coffee at his side, is standing before a small ironing board. As he irons his shirt and handkerchief, he drinks his morning coffee and makes and receives telephone calls, the receiver frequently sandwiched between his ear and shoulder.
TELEPHONE CALL 1 - BALMORI TO HIS WIFE
Balmori calls his home in the Philippines and speaks with his wife.
BALMORI Dials number, waits for phone to be answered.
Yup, I’m still here...
(nodding his head)
My story’s coming along... And how are you and Rosa...?
Yup, I can hear her...!
Give her a big hug from her papa!
Well, that’s why I’m calling...
Honey, I won’t be back tonight. I’m going to have to stay here for another day...
I know... sorry...
(shaking his head)
No, no, everything’s alright... It’s just that something came up, and I’m going to have to stay another day to finish up...
You don’t mind?
Yup, the same... Diosdado airport, same flight number, same arrival time, but tomorrow...
It’s alright...? Thanks honey!
I know, sorry... And I miss you too...
Alright then, see you tomorrow... Hangs up the telephone, pauses for a moment, then picks up the receiver and dials another number.
TELEPHONE CALL 2 - BALMORI TO HIS EDITOR
Balmori calls the Manila Gazette to speak to his editor, ‘TEDDY’. Telephone rings, another staff member answers.
BALMORI Dials number, waits for phone to be answered.
It’s Victor... Is Teddy there...?
Ah, see if you can get him away, will you? Tell him I’m calling from Tokyo...
Yeah, since Thursday...
It’s nice... Listen Luis, I’m in a bit of a rush here...
Hi Teddy! Pulls receiver away from his ear, he is being yelled at. Yes, that’s right, still here... Getting another earful.
I know, Teddy... But I changed my flight, I’ll be back tomorrow...
No, no problem, we’re good for Sunday. I’ll file tonight, by 10 p.m., your time...
I’ve got something new, and it’s good... You’ve got to front it...
Yes, front page, and above the fold! Can you hold a jump slot? I’m also going to send it in English, so you can put it out on the news wire...
I know you asked for human interest, but this is breaking news... Actually, it’s breaking news and it’s human interest!
...trust me. He stops his ironing and drinking coffee, listens anxiously for quite some time.
Alright, thanks, Teddy! Resumes his ironing.
I promise, clean copy by ten tonight...
Yup ...not a minute later... Thanks Teddy! Hangs up. Takes a swig of coffee. Suddenly the telephone rings.
TELEPHONE CALL 3 - MUKAIDE TO BALMORI
Mukaide calls Balmori, who is surprised to hear the phone ring, and answers with some curiosity.
No, you’re not interrupting anything...
What? You want me to come and see you?
Well, that’s very convenient, Inspector... Because I was just about to call you...
You see, I have a few questions, a few rather serious questions about a rather serious matter. These are questions that I hope you will answer. And so, I’m very happy to hear you’re available this morning...
Alright, I’ll be there in an about an hour...
Good. See you then, Inspector. Hangs up. Drinks back the last of his coffee, hurriedly finishes his ironing, turns off the iron, puts on his shirt.
Last edited on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 02:58 pm by MontyD
Not sure if this will help, as mine is a little different. While I also agree with Edd, I have a play called April, Mae & June in which the same half hour is relived from each of the three sisters' perspectives. During the course of this half hour, each calls the others at various times. This forced me to write both ends of the conversation, as the second side of it is revealed later on. I had to write it so that it (1) flowed well, (2) made sense, (3) let the audience know what was going on the first time they heard it (except the things that were supposed to be a secret until later, which I would make them guess at). I included both sides of the conversation in the script each time it happened, so that each actress would know what they were responding to. I'm still unsure that was the correct thing to do.
Thanks for the additional input. I think my first draft (above) fell into the "repeat" trap ("What? You want me to come and see you?") which is the easy but not so interesting way to communicate the second side of a conversation. I've rewritten and they look better. Hearing something in my head doesn't mean repeating it hehe. Thanks again people.
Since you wrote "I'm still unsure that was the correct thing to do" what else would you have done (and still can do by the way) to make it better?
in media res
Well, personally I like that I did it that way. But since I've never seen that sort of thing in any other script, I'm unsure if that was "acceptable" practice. It was either that or do it the "normal" way, with only the onstage half of the conversation shown in the script. But then an observant audience might notice if someone didn't respond correctly once they hear the other side of it (unless the actress went to the other part of the script and determined which line was response to which other, which would just be a mess).
This script has gotten both pans and praise by those who have read it (not many sit in the middle), and the way the phone conversations are done is part of the reason for both. The general response by those who have seen it however, was praise. So I'm happy about that.