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STAGE DIRECTIONS: To adhere, or not to adhere? That is the question!

Written By Melvin Tunstall III

Directors of TheaterMaker Studios, lend me your opinions in the comments below! Too many stage directions? Not enough? Were they helpful? Annoying? (Please be gentle. This is a first draft!)

Now, back to the writers!

I won’t say too much about the “rules” of the amount of stage directions in your script, because even though there are preferences throughout the industry, there truly is no right or wrong. Every author has and should embrace their own style. Some contemporary playwrights are known for their complete lack of stage directions, while playwrights such as Ibsen, Miller, and O’Neill have stage directions aplenty.  If you are like me, you treat stage directions as a part of the script reading experience, trying to match the pacing of the action with the words on the page. For example, if the dialogue and action is rapid-fire, then I try to avoid too many interruptions. However, if the scene needs to move at a more deliberate pace, I tend to be more detailed, trying to approximate the timing of the action. Again, this is a personal preference. 

I believe the answer to your question of “Suggestion or Strictly Adhered To?” really lies in where you are in the process.  I am assuming your situation involves a new work. If your play has already been published- and I don’t mean to be the bearer of bad news here- no matter how much you demand adherence to your stage directions, it will be difficult to enforce unless you have the means to chase down every production licensed around the world! 

Even I- a librettist- am guilty of ignoring stage directions in lieu of my own vision when I am directing another author’s work. 

However, If you are in the “premiere stage,” then I say make your vision clear, fellow TheaterMaker. I would also advise you to lean towards “suggestion” and keep the “strictly” to the minimum. Always be open to the “best idea wins” method of collaborating. Your director and designers should feel your confidence in their ability to bring your script to life in ways you may not have imagined. 


MELVIN smiles as he types his final line. He closes the laptop but quickly reopens it and types again.


Shoot! I forgot to tell them to go to www dot the theatermakers summit dot com for information about the 2021 TheaterMakers Summit! That’s the place to get even more advice on writing your script. Maybe I’ll just send a link! 

He turns to the audience with a wink.




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