Tag Archives: script

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.”)

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.