Double Your Character List with Doubling

Technically, I suppose that doubling (or double-casting) isn’t a playwriting technique: it’s more a casting/directing technique. On the other hand, if your story requires a decent number of characters (especially bit parts), it can sure help to keep doubling in mind when you’re writing the play.

Doubling: when the same actor or actress plays multiple parts in the same performance

For the most part, doubling is used for background characters (waitresses, clerks, people walking by, etc.). Legally Blonde: The Musical is an extremely good example of this kind of doubling. If you watch closely, you can follow specific actresses and actors through a variety of roles (most background characters play at least three roles, and even the actress who plays Vivian has a smaller role before that character is introduced).

If you want a big character list on a tight budget, doubling can help. In fact, as far back as Shakespearian times (possibly earlier), small troupes have used doubling to perform plays with more characters than they had actors – or more actors than they could afford.

Can’t afford another actor? No problem! Have Bob play two parts.

Think about it: yes, you still need two costumes, but you only have to pay 1 actor. That makes your play easier to perform, which makes people more likely to perform it. As a playwright, all you have to do is to make sure that certain characters aren’t written into the same scenes. If two characters are onstage at the same time, those roles can’t be doubled (unless you have a really creative director… The Flying Karamazov Brothers did manage it).

In any case, doubling is an opportunity that’s easily overlooked when you’re writing (that’s the director’s problem, right?). You may not always want to use it. You may use it all the time – it’s hard to say.

But if doubling really works for the play, wouldn’t you rather think of it as you’re writing instead of having to go back to make it work later?


The Drama of Dialogue

When it comes to dramas, it’s all about dialogue. Seriously. The script of the play is a long series of conversations. That’s it. So if you’re not good at writing dialogue, then you have a choice: don’t write plays, or get better at writing dialogue.*

If you want to get better at writing dialogue, I wish I could tell you that there’s a quick and easy solution. There isn’t – especially for plays.

Even beyond making dialogue sound realistic, building characterization through it, adding to the plot, or helping the pacing, a play’s dialogue has to add all the vital information you’d normally put in the non-spoken text. At the very least, it has to contain all the details that you decide have to be in the story (see “The Drama of Playwriting” for more on that).

So how do you learn to put all that in the dialogue without screwing up everything else the dialogue is already doing?

My best recommendation is a 3-step process:

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Playwright: A Compound Word for a Compound Job

playwright n. a writer who plays until the play plays right

Fun fact: in older English, a “wright” was a maker or craftsman, which makes a playwright a maker of plays, an artisan. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty cool. And entirely appropriate.


I’d Love to Know the Origin of “Sitting with the Bathtub”

I can see someone making a silly joke about this during a long night of playing, but how exactly did it catch on?

Apparently, euchre is more common to the midwestern U.S., so throwing this phrase into dialogue could be good characterization for a character from Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, or thereabouts.

I first heard this phrase when playing euchre with my grandma, grandpa, and aunt. My aunt and I were playing against the octogenarians, and my grandparents were beating us pretty badly (In that first game, I think they were up at least 4-6 points before we scored any). My grandma said she guessed they were “sitting with the bathtub.”

I honestly couldn’t stop laughing (what a phrase for playing cards!), and the game stopped while they explained to me that there was an old superstition that the pair of players sitting parallel to the bathtub would always win. I would love to know how that superstition started! It was true that night but not the last time we played (when Grandma and I were sitting parallel to it). My personal superstition is that whoever is playing against me will win…

Seriously, though, if anyone has a clue how this phrase started, I’d love to hear it. I can imagine someone making a silly joke about it during a long night of playing, but how exactly did it catch on?