Is New Script App the Future of Playwriting?

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19 May 2014

Kay Matschullat
Kay Matschullat

Playbill.com chats with the creators of Scriptopia, the latest app to hit the performing arts scene.

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The theatre, it seems, is currently living in a golden age. Of musicals, you ask? Of acting? Of set design? No. Of apps.

First, in 2012, there was Jeff Whiting’s Stage Write, an app which documents digitally the stage blocking and choreography of shows. It is currently being used on shows from Mamma Mia! to The Book of Mormon. Then there was Jeffry Denman’s casting app CastPRO, which offered a streamlined, tech-savvy way to navigate the casting process and was launched in February.

And now there is Scriptopia, just one month old. This new software application, the creation of stage director Kay Matschullat and developer by Andrew Mirsky, is meant to do to the rehearsal practice of script alternations what the above apps did for choreography and casting — that is, usher it into the smooth and slick digital age where neither paper or time is wasted.

“I’ve worked with many writers and have great respect for what we do in the room in theatre, how playwrights craft these plays,” said Matschullat, who has 20 years experience as a director and teacher. “It’s a beautiful thing. So I wanted to figure out how to enhance that process, or even elevate it, so it can all be more fluid.”

Matschullat had been mulling the notion of a rehearsal app, in which script changes would be incorporated and distributed to all parties with a keystroke, for some time. But her eureka moment came last year.

“I had thought of it in the past as I was rehearsing plays,” she told, “but last winter I was directing a workshop of a play with a very good artistic team. One day, it was the third delay to incorporate script changes. You have to hold the rehearsal and get everybody on the same page. It was the third time that day! I had all these actors on the floor cutting and pasting their scripts. I just thought, there’s got to be a better way. We’re not using our talent right now.”

She began work, drafting the assistance of Mirsky and, eventually, strategy and marketing consultant Marc Huey. They worked on the project part-time last summer. From September on, however, is was a full-time task.

“He’s my tech director, I guess you might say,” she said of Mirsky. “It’s an intense collaboration. It’s a lot like theatre.”

The end product allows writers' script changes to go instantaneously to the complete artistic team, allowing quick comparison between old and new versions of the play. Revisions to the work can be shared and heard immediately.

Scriptopia on a tablet

While Matschullat likes to compare here collaboration on Scriptopia to theatre work, there were certain aspects of the job that she learned were nothing like stagework.

"The thing about technology I have learned — you know how in theatre there are happy accidents, where something unintended happens that is better than what you were aiming for?" she said. "In technology, there is no such thing. Programming is very, very unforgiving. It has to be very exact."

Nonetheless, the development process produced a few "happy accidents" of a sort. One feature of the app is that playwrights and directors can share notes with one another without disturbing the rehearsal process.

Explained Matschullat, "When writers are writing out post-it notes and putting the notes in from of the director, if often makes the actors nervous because they wonder if about their performance. This way they can have private communication and it doesn’t ruin anyone’s focus."

And while the saving of paper was an expected outcome, the reduction of noise pollution was not. Apps, after all, do not make as much racket as paper scripts. "Actors mention how they love the silence," she said. "There’s no page-turning. Those things we didn’t anticipate."

Scriptopia went on sale in later April and is sold as a subscription. Following a free trial period, subscribers are charged via a three-tiered system: Small theatres pay $49.99 a month; large theatres $149.99 a month; and “Enterprise” shows pay $249.99 a month.

So far, feedback has been positive. One director communicated that "he thought he saved a day and a half to two days rehearsal in a ten-day period."

Matschullat is concerned that some might think that Scriptopia, with its replacement of paper scripts with technology, might somehow deaden the feeling of the rehearsal process. Her intention in created the app was the exact opposite. Scriptopia, she hopes, will allow artists to be creative more often.

"We’re trying to enhance the 'live-ness' of the experience in the rehearsal hall. People don’t necessarily understand that with technology. This is to enhance the live-ness and make the artists more dynamic."