Category Archives: Web Site Matters

Witterings about features of the Lazy Bee Scripts web site

What’s Hot – A Heatwave for the Stage

I have mentioned before that I don’t like lists.  Consequently, until now, I have resisted calls for a Best Sellers list on the Lazy Bee Scripts web site.  There are various reasons for this.  For a start, one size doesn’t fit all; just because something is popular, it doesn’t mean that it will suit your performers or audience.  Secondly, such a list is unfair to the scripts (and authors) that don’t feature on it, since it will tend to be self-perpetuating.  Thirdly, it’s unfair to new scripts which haven’t had time to become popular.  However, I think the principal cause of my resistance was summed up by John Betjeman in The arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel:

Approval of what is approved of is as false as a well-kept vow.

I want everyone to think for themselves and decide on their own tastes and priorities, rather than liking what everybody else likes.

Until now.

We’ve got over 2700 scripts and 60 murder mysteries on our books.  I’m convinced we’re way beyond the point where everyone has the patience to find for themselves material that will fit their needs.  Consequently, we’re introducing more signposts – easy shortcuts to suitable material.  We’ve had “What’s New” listings for a long time.  Recently, we introduced the “Find A Few” search to supplement our full search engine, and now we’ve added a “What’s Hot” list.

Best Sellers

People looking for Best Sellers also liked…

Actually, the “What’s Hot” is multiple lists, because there’s no point in enthusing about a popular two-hour drama to someone who wants a best-selling five minute comedy sketch.  Of course, this brings additional problems: should the categories be distinct, or should a best-selling one-act pantomime for schools appear in three categories? We’ve gone for distinct categories (accepting the risk of confusion because our general categories have fuzzier boundaries):-

This being a human endeavour, the results are imperfect.  For example, the most popular Youth Theatre plays tend to be for ages 8 to 12 (because there aren’t so many plays for younger children, and older children perform a mix of plays written for their age-group and plays written for adults).  Consequently, only two plays suitable for under-fives show up in the best selling youth theatre category, but (because it’s a musical) one shows up in the musicals category.  Ah well.

We hope that will make selection a faster and more rewarding experience for many of our customers.  I also hope that many others will ignore “What’s Hot” and strike a blow for independent thinking by searching and browsing in other ways!

A new way to find the perfect play script

Overcoming the tyranny of choice

Sue Gordon

Some time ago, Sue Gordon made a plea for us to add a “busy teacher” button to the Lazy Bee Scripts web site.  This was essentially “never mind all that choice, just give me the script I want”.  At the time I mocked Sue by suggesting that the real message was “never mind all that choice, just give me one of Sue Gordon’s scripts”.  (Nothing wrong with that.  She writes very well. If what you want is one of Sue Gordon’s scripts, then they’ll be absolutely perfect for you.)  The difficulty with Sue’s suggestion is the amount of mind reading involved.  On the other hand, her point is a serious one.  Offering a hundred scripts is off-putting to someone who has time to look at no more than three.  At the time of writing this, we are offering 2721 on our web site.  That amount of choice can be overwhelming.  (We even have scripts about the tyranny of choice.  See the sketches Skinny Cap to Go by Richard James and, in a different style, The Coffee Shop by Ray Lawrence.) So we’ve implemented a new search engine called Find A Few.

Find A Few doesn’t work quite as well as Sue Gordon would like (it sometimes suggests other people’s scripts), but it’s as close as we’re going to get.  It can be approached in two ways: firstly there’s a Find A Few option in the Search menu.  In that case, Find A Few will start with no prior information and will ask questions until it reaches a manageable number of scripts (or none, if the customer wants something we haven’t got).  Secondly (better in my opinion – but that reflects the way I would search) every time other searches or links lead to a list of more than three possible scripts, a Find A Few button appears which will allow the customer to narrow down within their current field of search.

Take for example, our wealth of scripts involving Cinderella.  Currently, if you approach this via the Pantomime pages and the Cinderella link, you will get to a list of 43 scripts.  Just above that listing, there is a button to [Find a Few] which will then ask questions to determine what manner of Cinderella you want.  Our goal is to narrow down to no more than three scripts.

Guess Who

Are you familiar with the Guess Who board game?  The object of the game is to identify a character from a field of 24 by eliminating those who don’t share particular characteristics (hair colour, spectacles, beards, moustaches, and so on.)  The game has been around long enough to draw academic comment about how well it represents demographics.  (It doesn’t.  The original characters were created for easy grouping into overlapping sets; so, for example, it under-represents women, not least because the designers chose two forms of facial hair which are easy to represent visually, as is male-pattern baldness.)
The Find A Few search engine works in a similar way: it asks (largely) binary questions to reduce the number of scripts suggested.  It chooses the questions by selecting characteristics that will (ideally) pick (or eliminate) half the remaining scripts.

In our Full Search engine, the customer chooses the issues that are important to them.  With Find A Few, the computer chooses the questions.  It may well ask something that the customer doesn’t care about, or hasn’t thought about (“Do you want a set with practical doors or windows?”)  In doing so, it will exclude lots of plays that the customer would enjoy, but it does so to find the most efficient path to a manageable set of scripts.

All this is to offer the customer a small number of plays without trying to tell them what they want.  (“People who bought Dig In for Murder also purchased a bottle of poison, a flash-light and a spade.”)

Build your own Catalogue

Photo by @LozCreamFor several years, Lazy Bee Scripts has offered a catalogue of our stage works, downloadable from our web site as a PDF file.   The biggest problem with this was that it was permanently out-of-date.   We built it off-line, then uploaded it to the web site, and by the time we’d done the work, we’d published something else, so the catalogue was out-of-date.

So, we’ve finally bitten the bullet and done the programming necessary to generate the catalogue to order.   Now any section of the catalogue (or the whole catalogue if you don’t mind over 550 pages of PDF) can be generated at the click of a button.   As a result, it will be up-to-date at the time you click the button.   The buttons in question are on the Catalogue page of the Lazy Bee Scripts web site.   (It’s under the [Browse] menu, in case you need to find it again.)  The catalogue breaks down into many sections, so there are lots of buttons.

Good, that’s one problem solved.
The next problem is that it doesn’t necessarily do what you want it to do.   This is a general problem of catalogues: they are organised in a specific order.   (In our case, we have multiple sections, with an alphabetical listing of the scripts in each section.)  The normal way to solve this is an index.  This is fine if you are looking for one and only one thing: an index will tell you the page number on which you can find it.  However, if you are looking for a choice of things – say play scripts with a duration of 30 to 50 minutes for two women and one man – then the index would point you to pages 4.1.4, 4.3.1, 4.1.10, and so on (if, indeed a single index entry would do that).

On the Lazy Bee Scripts web site, we have a search engine that solves the indexing problem: you can enter all sorts of criteria (numbers of actors, length, style, set complexity, and so on) and it will return a list of suitable scripts.  (Those plays for two women and one man, for example.)  What’s more, it links to the text of every play, so you’re a click away from reading the script on-line.

That’s great for one person searching, but what if you have a group of people who want to choose scripts from a list?  Some time ago, we added the ability to create a reading list from search results.  The list can be shared, so multiple people can look at the contents (and add or remove scripts from the list).  So far so good, but what if members of your reading committee don’t like sifting through potential plays on-line?

Okay, we’ve done it.   We’ve added another button to the search results page.  Any time you do a search on the web site, you are invited to [Save/Print as PDF].  Click that and you can save your search results (or your reading list) as a PDF and pass around printed copies to your heart’s content.

Effectively, you can build your own fully-customised, up-to-the-minute catalogue.

 

 

* There are many reasons for creating a catalogue.  The image accompanying this blog post comes from Chichester Library where Twitter user @LozCream took the picture without any explanation.

The Ultimate Question

Why?(To which the answer is not  42)

Some visitors to Damian Trasler’s blog have arrived there as a result of existential searches.  Damian found the following inbound search terms in the blog’s data log:-

lazy bee scripts/why
why/lazy bee scripts

I have no idea whether or not the searcher (I assume this was one person, although the first search term cropped-up twice) found the answer, not least because I’m not sure what the question means.  It could be

Why should I buy something from Lazy Bee Scripts? Or
Why is there a company called Lazy Bee Scripts? Or
Why did Damian Trasler choose Lazy Bee Scripts as a publisher? Or possibly
Why should I choose Lazy Bee Scripts as a publisher?

The answer to the first one is simple: we’re offering something that really appeals to you at a price you can afford.  Go ahead and buy it.  (Go on, you know you want to.  It’s only a few clicks away.)

The second question is about company history and how the name came about.  Maybe another day…

The third and fourth questions are questions about value proposition: what is the value of Lazy Bee Scripts to an author?
The Lazy Bee Scripts web site demonstrates what we do for authors (we sell their scripts and collect performance royalties).  There’s also plenty of information on the publishing pages of the site about the way we go about it.  What we don’t have on the web site is a simple statement of our value proposition to authors.
We don’t tell playwrights why they should use our services because, in my view, that’s putting the question the wrong way round.  I’m very happy to tell you about our service, but I don’t want to tell you that you need it, because maybe you don’t.  We’ve been publishing Damian’s scripts for around ten years – so it would be fair to assume that our services suit his needs – but only Damian can answer why that is.  So, in my view, instead of asking someone else Why Lazy Bee Scripts?, the questions for the writer should be “what do I want from a publisher?” and “which publisher comes closest to offering it?”

Sometimes “Why?” is a question you have to answer for yourself.

The Morality of Murder

As I’ve mentioned before, customers occasionally make complaints about the suitability of our scripts for their purpose.  These have included protests about scripts for children in which the characters called each other names.  I take the view that plays offer some reflection on the real world where people are not always polite to one another; some customers take a different view, and that’s entirely fair.  For that reason, we make all of our play scripts available to be read in full on our web site before purchase.

Murder Mysteries - the drama of deathInteractive Murder Mysteries are different. They are often played competitively, with the audience assembled in teams with a prize for the team which comes up with the best solution.  In those circumstances, putting the whole mystery – and therefore the solution – on the web site would be an open invitation to cheating.  Thus we don’t display the whole mystery on the web, but we do have “taster packs” for each one, giving a flavour of the structure and style.

We still get questions about the suitability of murder mysteries for particular groups.  I got one call from a guy who said (I think) that he was a Methodist minister.  His church group wanted to put on a murder mystery, but, because they were a church group, they didn’t want any of the characters to be involved in any immorality.  I think they were particularly concerned about sexual immorality, but I detected a certain logical inconsistency that he had not fully thought through.  I felt I had to point out that what he was asking for was a murder for which all the suspects had the purest of motives.

He hung up.

Magical Misery Tour

This post is about swearing.  If you don’t want to see rude words written down, look away now…

National Lampoon's Radio Dinner - Album CoverI think it was Dave Lashbrook who leant me his copy of National Lampoon’s Radio Dinner.  It usually was.  He was the sort of friend who would press twelve inches of vinyl into my hands with the words “you should listen to this”.  Radio Dinner contains a series of send-ups of the Beatles.  In 1970, John Lennon gave a rambling, sweary interview which was published verbatim by Rolling Stone magazine.  That interview was the basis of the track Magical Misery Tour, performed by Tony Hendra in a Lennon voice, very much in the style of I am the Walrus.  (You can probably find it somewhere on the web, but since that’s likely to be in breach of copyright, it’s not something I can encourage!)  It goes like this:

I resent performing for you fuckers tell me what do you know?
A lot of faggot middle-class kids wearing long hair and trendy clothes.
Look, I’m not your fuckin’ parents and I’m sick of uptight hippies
coming knocking at my door with a fuckin’ peace symbol
“Get this, get that,” I don’t owe you fuckers anything
and all I got to say is fuck you-oo-oo
The sky is blue-oo-oo

Dave was particularly amused by the parody inherent in that last line – an innocent, irrelevant platitude thrown-in just for the sake of rhyme.  What I remembered most was the comment (it is there in almost the same way in Lennon’s Rolling Stone interview) “I’m not your fuckin’ parents”.  Lennon didn’t want responsibility for the choices, taste or lifestyle of his fans.  Whilst it can be argued that he was a role model, I think his position was that he was an artist; he was what he was, and it was up to parents and educators to provide role models, not him.

I feel much the same about the plays we publish: some of the authors write characters who exemplify good behaviour, but since drama comes out of conflict, there are plenty of characters who are not there to be role models.  Some of our plays contain swearing, and sometimes this will offend audiences.  (After the inaugural production of Terry Hammond’s Ten Rods, there were some complaints about the amount of swearing.  Terry mentioned this to some friends who had come down from London to see the show, and they asked “What swearing?”)  On the whole, offending some people is a good thing: if swearing were not offensive, there’d be no point to it.  There are even occasions where there may not be enough swearing.  Whilst liaising with the author in response to a customer question about resetting A Controlling Interest in the USA, I found this production note:

“The characters don’t swear very much, even in stressful situations.  That’s just how the writing came out (the voices in the author’s head!)  If that seems understated as you play the characters, then there is scope for a little extemporisation in the fights…”

So, we’re not your parents.  I don’t see it as the publisher’s duty to be a guardian of public decency.  We are, of course, willing to offer some guidance, but only to people who recognise that we are imperfect.  We automatically check all our plays for offensive language of various kinds – there’s a sort of user’s guide to swearing in our on-line help which explains what we look for – and the results of the check appear in the on-line metadata, but we don’t necessarily get everything right because language is so mutable.  For example, it is entirely possible to mistake a female sex-worker for a chuckle from Father Christmas.

Ho, ho, ho.

Classified Information

A teacher complained about a script that one of her pupils had selected from the Lazy Bee Scripts web site.  She said that it wasn’t suitable for children.
We agreed with her.  It wasn’t suitable for children.  It wasn’t intended for children.  That’s why you couldn’t find it by browsing the Scripts for Schools and Youth Theatre section of the web site or by searching for scripts suitable for a particular school age-group.

In that case, it was a clear-cut issue.  (Our classification matched that of the teacher; our method of finding scripts didn’t match that of her pupil.)  Other examples of classification by age are more problematic.

Another note from a teacher said “in reading over the entire plays I noticed some offensive parts that I was shocked that elementary school plays would have in them”.  The drama in question was “Ambition” by Tony Best.  Amongst other things, the teacher drew attention to the star who doesn’t want to be a star because “a man with a telescope on a rooftop that keeps looking up her skirt”.
Now, Tony lives and writes in a world where there are uncomfortable issues and moral ambiguities.  There is an appropriate point to introduce children to those issues, and the fictional world of a play may provide a useful way of exploring them.
The problem here is that the “appropriate point” is not the same for all children – it varies according to local culture and according to the maturity of the children.  We have a further difficulty in that our classification system works in broad bands.  (Under fives, five to eight, nine to twelve, thirteen to sixteen and over sixteen.)  Our purpose is to be helpful, rather than prescriptive.  We’re trying to help customers to narrow down their search – there is usually little point in offering adults a script written for five-year-olds, and vice versa.  In the case of Ambition, we’d classified the script as suitable for the nine to twelve group and older groups.  However, the difficulty comes with the breadth of the group; I doubt that many nine-year-olds would get much out of the play.  In my view, a lot of 12-year-olds would, but not necessarily all.  We don’t know your group, so our classification is imperfect.
That’s where the other major feature of the web site comes in: you can read the scripts on-line.  That’s what the teacher had done in this case.  She had discovered that whilst she wanted her class to perform the play, there were some parts that were inappropriate and therefore, with our permission, she cut those parts of the text.
We always advise you to read before you buy.

What’s a Musical?

What is a musical?  That sounds like a simple question, with the obvious answer being something like “a theatrical piece where the dialogue is interspersed with songs”.  Unfortunately it isn’t that simple.  For example, is Evita a musical?  It’s certainly billed as one, but the dialogue isn’t interspersed with songs.  That’s because there isn’t any dialogue; the entire show is sung.  On that basis, it ought to be an opera, but it isn’t.  I think that’s because the form of the songs is designed to deliver clarity of plot, character and emotion through lyrics, rather than the operatic exhibition of the voice as an instrument.  I’m on very shaky ground here: it can be argued that bel canto opera has the clarity of modern musicals, or that the whole point of Wagnerian singspiel is to deliver the colour of emotion and plot…
But I digress; my concern here is not the upper boundary, where stage musicals merge into other fully-musical forms, but the lower boundary, where musicals merge into plays.

The reason that this is important to me is that in order to help customers of the Lazy Bee Scripts web site find the scripts they want, we need to classify them.  The classification has to mean something (the same thing!) to us and to the customers and each class has to have reasonable boundaries.  We found that the class of “all plays that include songs” was too broad, since it ran from pieces with an incidental song through to pieces with no dialogue.  (There are a couple of youth theatre pieces by Nicholas Richards and Tim Hallett which are completely sung; one of them – Saint Nicholas and the Three Purses of Gold – is, arguably, an oratorio, since it tells the story in song without (necessarily) having characters acting-out the story.  The other piece – The Lambton Worm – is fully sung but has definite parts for different characters.)

We could set the boundary on the basis of the ratio between dialogue and music, but what’s the rule?  And how would we deal with pantomimes?   (Panto is a form of variety entertainment in which it is normal to include songs, but frequently the songs are chosen to suit the available performers, so the length can vary enormously.)

Our compromise is to split into two categories, based on whether or not music is integral to the piece.  On the one hand, we have “Musicals” where the music is integral: the songs, regardless of the number of them, need to be performed as part of the piece.  On the other hand, we have “Plays With Music” where the songs could be left out without compromising the artistic intention.

This, for example, puts Louise Roche’s Girls Night firmly in the Musicals, since it is set in a karaoke bar where the characters sing popular songs, and it puts my youth theatre piece Witch Hunt into Plays With Music, since there is a song available to complement various parts of the action, but it is not essential.

The “Browse” and “Search” functions on the Lazy Bee Scripts web site now use these classifications – along with many others!

Your Search is Out of Order

In the contents pages of  “A Book of Bits or A Bit of a Book”, Spike Milligan provided a helpful list of illustrations.  It went something like:-

A Special Guest Appearance of Eric Sykes (page 12)
Special Guest Appearance of Eric Sykes, A (page 12)
Guest Appearance of Eric Sykes, A Special (page 12)
Appearance of Eric Sykes, A Special Guest (page 12)
Of Eric Sykes, A Special Guest Appearance (page 12)
Eric Sykes, A Special Guest Appearance of (page 12)
Sykes, A Special Guest Appearance of Eric (page 12)

Somewhat along these lines, a while ago playwright Frank Gibbons made a plea that Lazy Bee Scripts should list scripts in “Library Catalogue” order, as distinct from “computer sort” order (what the computer does unless you tell it to do otherwise).  The issue here is articles.  This must be much easier in languages like Russian, which don’t have articles and therefore automatically sort “A Fantastic Story” and “The Fantastic Story” as “Fantastic Story”.  Computers don’t automatically recognise an article as an article and will therefore assume that an opening “The” is as significant as any other opening word.

“Library Catalogue” sorting (“Fantastic Story, The”) is now automatic on the Lazy Bee Scripts web site.  This means that when there is a drop-down selector, the titles will be displayed in Library Catalogue order and in Library Catalogue format (with any articles at the end).  The results of a search will also be displayed in Library Catalogue order, but the titles will be given in their natural English versions (with any articles at the beginning).

To illustrate this, take a look on the web site at the Search Scripts by Title page.  In the drop-down list of titles (under “Option 1:  Select a Specific Title”), The Accident by Herb Hasler appears (near the beginning of the list) as Accident, The.  However, if you take “Option 2: Enter a Partial Title” and type The Accident, the search engine will find the same script and display it in the same way.