If you haven’t seen this video before, please watch it: Toy Story 3: Mistakes Made, Lessons Learned. This is an hour-long lecture from the writer of Toy Story 3, Michael Arndt, about the process of making the film. My dear friend Mackenzie Worrall shared it with me, and I was able to finally watch it at just the right time. I believe there’s something that could be learned here about new play development and the idea of “iteration.”
The Pixar process (and also now the Disney process) is to write the story, create storyboards, do a cut of the film with storyboards and temp voices/music, and then meet to discuss what is working and what isn’t. Then, the process begins again and again until, boom, the final film is made.
Playwrights are always looking for new play development, but there are multiple things that don’t quite work in the process. If there is a developmental opportunity for a play, it usually doesn’t end in a production. Then, if there’s a production of a play, there isn’t usually time and space for iteration and development.
Of course, much of this comes down to money. I know that’s the case. But what are the ways that playwrights can iterate on their own? What does iteration look like? How can more theatres build iteration and actual development into their productions of new work?
So many questions.
What I’ve been doing for myself? I asked actors to read through my script together. I applied for local new play workshops. I used a grant from the Greater Columbus Arts Council to hire dramaturgs. These same opportunities may not be open to me in the future, so how do I keep going? How do I keep iterating? I’m living with that questions right now.
My book, Cowgirls Don’t Ride Zebras, celebrated its one year anniversary of being published in January. I didn’t get to celebrate with too much fanfare since I was preparing for rehearsals of Peter Pan Jr., which I’m directed for the Worthingway Arts Program. I look back at my journals and see the planning of the play version of Cowgirls Don’t Ride Zebras beginning to be created. It really is a situation of the chicken and the egg: which came first, the book or the play?
Cowgirls Don’t Ride Zebras began as an idea for a children’s book. You can read more about the evolution of the story of a baby duck to a book-loving girl named Penny here. My old journals have characters that were cut from the original version of the play: penguins and a giraffe. Cowgirls don’t ride penguins, they don’t want their tuxedos to get dirty. Cowgirls don’t ride giraffes, they’re too busy knitting scarves for winter. The giraffe existed somewhat to get a “winter is coming” joke in there, but also it’s ridiculous and funny to see a giraffe knitting a scarf worthy of the Fourth Doctor.