Writing Plays/Screenwriting/Working with actors


Hi Mr.Kelley,

How important is it for a writer to work with actors, or is it even necessary, to determine if the dialogue can be delivered in the manner you may intend? Or is it more a situation of the writer being entirely divorced from the production ( assuming it's adopted )?

Thank you very much for any insight and experience you may take the time to offer.

Best regards,

Hi, Pamela.  First of all, I'm so sorry for taking a month to answer your question.  Another person who asked me a question, unfortunately, ended up waiting awhile for me to answer and I have the same reason for both, I have been under a lot of emotional upheaval in my life recently which I'm still recovering from, I understand we all have emotional upheavals, but the particular series of traumatic experiences I have lived through for the past six months have left me very unnerved to say the least in the past two.  I am truly sorry, sincerely, for your inconvenience.  So, to my response.  As having been a professional actor and a playwright, I will tell you first and foremost, it is vital for the writer to work with the actors, especially if the dialogue needs to be delivered in a particular manner.  Unfortunatley (and this is why I refuse to do screenplays), screenwriters more times than not are not allowed even on the set or even to talk to the director or the producer about how the production is to run.  Screenwriters are almost treated like non-entities in the United States by Film Studios.  European film studios respect the screenwriter, however.  In the theatre world, which I love because of this very fact, the playwright is respected and treated like royalty.  In the theatre world, you don't even have to ask to work with the actors, they and the director and the producer, artistic director and even the crew will work with you and cooperate with you throughout the production process and you will be considered an equal part of the team. In getting the actors to deliver the lines in a manner that is important to convey what you want to convey in your piece, you will be working with the director actually more than the actors.  In fact, the two of you will be working as a partnership.  The director, if he or she is indeed professional, will not overpower you and, in turn, you should not overpower the director.  The director will listen to your concerns about how the dialogue should be handled by the actors and will, again if he or she is professional, will discuss with you his ideas and take your ideas into consideration until an agreement between the two of you is made as to how the actors are to handle their lines.  As a playwright, you may not be aware of what an actor needs to do in order to accomplish a convincing portrayal of the character(s) you have put into life on the page.  If the actors are not convincing then your work will not go anywhere you want it to go in the production (the same goes with shoddy craftsmanship on the part of the crew, unprofessional direction, etc.  That's why the theatre is team work where every member of the team is important).  In order for the actors to be convincing they must be as lifelike as possible.  In order to do this, the actor must stay true to the character you created and stay true to his or her vision of the character at the same time.  One of the director's jobs is to help the actor do this while staying true to his or her vision of the play at the same time as staying true to your vision.  This is why theatre works as a team.  Everybody's vision must be taken seriously on an individual level and also combined cooperatively in one piece to create the play itself.  Your vision is included.  The crew, too, has their visions.  All the visions must be combined equally, one no less important than the other, to create one unified vision, the production.  Voila, the miracle of the theatre.  As I have implied, in the theatre, the playwright and his or her work is never divorced from the project at all if the theatre is professional (and a theatre can be very professional, even if everyone is a volunteer, by the way).  I mention this because I assuming that you want to be included in the production.  In the theatre, you will be.  In Film, at least in the United States, it is an almost certainty, you will be totally divorced from the project.  In fact, the movie that comes out will almost certainly not even be infinitessimally close to what you wrote.  Your vision, your hard work, etc. is wasted in Hollywood as a screenwriter.  The theatre will never divorce you from the project.  The theatre, like a warm loving family, will include you in its fold and nurture you and nourish you.  Hollywood-power and ego.  Theatre- love and art.  One last thing,  I take it you are still new and haven't had your work produced yet.  Every playwright has a chance to be produced and even be successful.  Every playwright, like everyone else, starts with nothing and, with hard work and talent and the willingness to work as a team without selling your soul of course, can become very successful.  Have confidence, keep a stiff upper lip, stand tall, don't take rejections too hard, they're not personal.  Putting my actor's hat on, Jack Nickleson had been rejected approximately 100 times before he landed his first role, which was a stage production.  Keep at it.  I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors. James Edward Kelley  

Writing Plays/Screenwriting

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James Edward Kelley


I cannot answer questions about writing screenplays. I can, however, answer questions about playwriting.


I won the Henry Fonda Young Playwright's Award for the first play I ever wrote. Faculty at Brown University allowed me to take free writing courses, resulting in two play commissions. I was an actor-in-residence at Brown University's Rites & Reason Theatre. I was a member of a comedy troupe called Daydream Theatre. I was a professional stage actor for a spell. I got into Mensa through my score on the Miller's Analogy Test, a verbal skills test you can take after receiving your Bachelor's Degree.


On-line literary journal, "Slurve"; "The Mensa Bulletin"

I was allowed to take free writing courses at Brown University. I'm currently enrolled in The Gotham Writers Workshop.

Awards and Honors
Henry Fonda Young Playwright's Award, nominated for Expert of the Month

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