Tag Archives: Search

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.

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.