Tag Archives: new play development

What I Learned Writing for Toddlers

Tomorrow my first play for Very Young Audiences – A Bucket of Blessings – will close at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta after a one month sold-0ut run. The play is an adaptation of the best selling children’s book written by Surishtha Sehgal and Kabir Sehgal, and as a TVYA play, is meant for an audience of 0-5 year olds. A Bucket of Blessings was directed by the ridiculously brilliant Rosemary Newcott, and I developed it in the rehearsal room with Rosemary, our cast, our choreographer, designers, and of course, our multiple adorable test audiences.

Me, top right, with our lovely cast.

It was a very intensive writing process, perhaps the most intensive theatre project I’ve done so far.

Here are the two things I want to take with me from that experience into future plays.

1. Theatre as service.


Theatre for very young audiences is, more than anything else, 100% about the audience and only the audience. There’s no room for the artist’s ego, the artist’s special voice, for flourishes, for statements. The only thing that matters is the audience. For a TVYA writer, this comes from a point of love. How could you not love these little ones? How could you not desperately care for them, and want with all your heart for them to have a safe, enriching, adventurous time in the theatre?

Now let’s take that same sacrifice of ego and unhesitating love for the audience to our work for grown ups as well.

2. Every second counts. Every line matters.

When children are that young, and their attention spans so brief, we are aware that every second we have with them is precious. The work we did in rehearsal was the most precise, exacting writing I have ever done. We worked hard on crafting every single moment to mean something, to engage the audience, and to carry the story forward.


Let’s be as ruthless as that with our writing for adult audiences. Even when we don’t have to be.

We must admit that playwrights are often coddled. What we lack in monetary compensation we make up for in creative control, but sometimes that can get indulgent. So the next time we’re in a room with our collaborators, let’s take our play to task, moment by moment. Is every single line crafted in the exact way required to communicate the story to the audience? Is every pause earned? Every word vitally necessary?

Seriously, what if our audience had the attention span of a toddler? Would our play still work? Have we built something captivating enough, engaging enough, to truly serve the audience that’s spending their precious time with us?


We should be doing these things anyway, but nothing brings it into perspective like trying to keep a room full of 2 year olds inside the world of your story.

Have you seen or worked on a play for very young audiences? What did you take away from the experience?


Control Freak

Of all the readings and workshops that In the Company of Jane Doe  has had over the years, this – my first NY production – is the first one I haven’t been able to help rehearse.  On one hand, it’s kind of exciting because it will be a completely new experience for me to walk into a space and see the play done based solely on someone else’s interpretation of what’s on the page (and a few email clarifications between myself and the producer).  On the other hand, it’s kind of terrifying to think that I will walk into a space and see the play done based solely on someone else’s interpretation of what’s on the page (and only a few email clarifications between myself and the producer).

It’s been a healthy challenge in learning to “let go”…

It’s been a healthy challenge in learning to respond to notes and questions coming from people meeting the play for the first time as well.

I don’t even remember sending the play to CAKE productions two (or was it three now?) years ago.  Apparently they had posted a call for female-focus plays and I had sent them Jane Doe.  They received so many submissions from that call that they  simply read till they found something they liked, produced it, and then went back to the pile of unread scripts for year two.  When they called me to ask if they could do a reading of the play, I was surprised (as I confessed, I didn’t remember sending them the script) and I was also over the moon excited.  When, after the reading, they said they’d like to produce it, I was over the moon again.

But when they asked me if I would take some script notes, I crash-landed at my desk and began to sweat like a mother-f***er.

My neurotic Playwright Brain began to torture me with panic:  What if I don’t agree with their notes?  Will they not do it?  What if I can’t fix the hiccups they’ve identified?  Will they not do it?   What if I make all the changes and it makes the play worse?  Will they not do it?  And even worse-   Do I even know how to write plays???  What if all this panic leaches into my brain and erases everything I’ve learned and I just sit here at my desk like a cucumber, staring blankly at the screen and thinking horribly blank vegetable-like thoughts…

Every email they sent, I sweated over, so dreadfully afraid was I that they were going to change their mind at any second and this super-cool-awesome-can’t believe-I’m-going-up-in-NY reality would dissolve into “Too bad, so sad, and bye bye Tiff!”

But only a few of those emails had notes –  really good notes – notes that challenged me to look at this thing I’d written at the start of my playwriting career and tighten it up with tools from my “7 years later” tool box.

So I wrangled the notes – I didn’t turn into a cucumber – and CAKE took the play into rehearsal.

They sent me a few more “Can we cut this, Can you write a bit more of that” emails that I listened to and worried over – it was really hard not being in the room and hearing these beats skip in the way they said –  but all in all, I had to trust them and trust myself, and negotiate my own view of the play with what they were hammering out in rehearsals in regards to which changes needed to be made and which did not.

It was a crazy new experience… and one I hope I managed well.  I guess I’ll know when I see the play on Thursday!

But all in all, this new step of “playwriting from the opposite coast” brought with it a lot by way of learning to let go, and just trusting in the play – quite a feat for an self-admitted control freak.