Script, Process, Product & Audience as Elements of Theatre

Instructor: Nathan Hurwitz

Dr. Nathan Hurwitz is a tenured Associate Professor in Theatre and has three books in print, two textbooks and a coffee table book.

This lesson looks at the elements necessary in order for a theatrical performance to occur. Script, rehearsal, performance and audience are all integral to this event that lives at only one moment in time and only at the intersection of all these elements.

The Production

Theatre exists in the moment, and only between artists and audience. It does not live on the page, the canvas, on film or in digital bits and bytes. Before theatrical events can exist, intent and planning join to become a product. Theatrical events then exist at the point where and when the product and the audience intersect - it does not exist without both coming together. Let's take a closer look at the four elements required to create theatre: script, process, product, and audience.

Script - The Plan

The script is the playwright's blueprint for production. The playwright has to begin with something they want to say - an artistic statement. This statement can be serious or comedic, thought-provoking or merely entertaining and amusing. This statement, usually a thought or reflection on the human condition, is the impetus for the theatre piece, whether it is a play, musical, dance theatre piece, ballet, avant-garde or old-fashioned.

Some types of theatrical performance are scripted in more detail while others are sketched out, leaving details like dialogue, music or dance steps to the directors and performers. Some are more structured while others are more improvisational.

Painting of Commedia dell

Commedia dell'arte was a style of improvised comic theatre popular in Europe in the 16th through 18th centuries. While the performance was improvised every night, the improvisation was based on a series of pre-existing scenarios and the improvised dialogue and staging were developed and honed literally over the performers lifetimes.

Today, improvisational theatre of the same comic type is practiced by companies like Chicago's The Second City comedy troupe and Los Angeles' The Groundlings. These troupes begin with very loosely prepared scripts that offer structure and great freedom to performers.

William Shakespeare
Painting of William Shakespeare

Dialogue-driven theatre, such as the plays of William Shakespeare, on the other hand, are much more heavily detailed, dictating to performers every syllable they will speak. Such intensely detailed scripts continue to exist today alongside scripts that strictly offer structure.

Process - The Rehearsals

Process, in theatrical terms, is the coordination of the various members of the creative team, such as the performers, musicians, designers and others, to bring the script to life. This element can be considered the work-in-progress stage of a production, and it is the director who typically leads this effort.

In a Broadway musical, for instance, the director, choreographer and musical director begin to shape their interpretation of the script well in advance, bringing on other artists as needed. Assistants, designers, orchestrators, dance and vocal arrangers, projection and sound designers are all an early part of the planning. Coordinating all of these elements to create a cohesive artistic statement is a mammoth task.

In less formal theatrical styles, coordination may be less complicated, but no less vital. Monologists like Spalding Gray or Anna Deavere Smith write their scripts themselves but then need to integrate with other arts in developing the performances of their materials. Directors, designers of sets, costumes, lights, sound, projections, and music all need to integrate their work into the artistic vision of the one-person performance.

Product - The Performance

When all of the pieces are brought together, there is now a product, and that product is called the performance. Every theatrical performance is comprised of all of the artists' work joining together to create an experience that, if it is successful, is greater than the sum of its parts.

While the performers are the largest part, the product will lack life without the creative efforts of all the other arts. Imagine a lighting cue in which a series of bright yellow lights dim while dark blue lights increase in intensity over 5 minutes. This crossfade is a simple matter of changing electrical intensity over a set period. However, in combination with the acting, scene design, and dramatic context, this effect might simulate a sunset, echoing the characters' shift from clarity and brightness to a place of shadows and uncertainty.

The performance counts on all of the artists working in unity to create the totality of the performance.

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