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Old 10-27-2006, 06:01 PM   #1
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Stage play: how many words?

Quick question: what are acceptable word counts for a stage-play? I am neither sure what length of time is acceptable for a play nor how many words these actors can produce in an hour or so, so I did a word-count on a randomly selected play (Wilde's Lady Wintermere's Fan) and ended up with about 19,000. Is that a reasonable word count? Can someone give me approximate minimum/maximum word counts? Thanks!

[edit] I've continued looking up word-counts randomly; it seems that between 18 and 26k words, unless you were Shakespeare, in which case you could apparently write a lot more

Last edited by DanielZKlein; 10-27-2006 at 06:15 PM.
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Old 10-27-2006, 06:06 PM   #2
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Hi Daniel, welcome to the boards.

Regards your questions, I'd say word count isn't as important as page count. Plays range in length wildly but the scriptwriting adage of one page = one minute is still pretty true for playwriting. So if you want a play an hour long, go for 50-70 pages.

Most plays run about an hour/hour thirty with an intermission. Of course there will be exceptions, but I wouldn't think about it in terms of word length - it's not something you'd get asked. More likely it'll be, "How many pages?"

One page = one minute assumes standard playwriting format.
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Old 10-27-2006, 06:17 PM   #3
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Thank you clock work! That still leaves me with one problem: how do I format my play so I can be reasonably sure that one page will come out as one minute? Should I apply general screenwriting formating? (which I know a little bit about)
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Old 10-27-2006, 06:25 PM   #4
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there's some writers who post on the playwriting thread who have had their plays produced. Perhaps they'd be able to give you a definitive answer.
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Old 10-27-2006, 06:29 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DanielZKlein
Thank you clock work! That still leaves me with one problem: how do I format my play so I can be reasonably sure that one page will come out as one minute? Should I apply general screenwriting formating? (which I know a little bit about)
Plays aren't so different that you need to worry about it. Standard script format will serve just fine as a starting point.

But as with anything, research is the answer. Buy some published plays and have a read. From my limited experience of reading plays it seems as though they are very similar to scripts save for the stage directions which are even more sparse than their movie counterparts. Less emphasis is put on screenwriting precepts and they tend to be largely about the dialogue.

As xhouseboy said, this should really be posted in Playwriting where more experienced hands can guide you.
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Old 10-27-2006, 06:40 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DanielZKlein
Thank you clock work! That still leaves me with one problem: how do I format my play so I can be reasonably sure that one page will come out as one minute? Should I apply general screenwriting formating? (which I know a little bit about)
No, stageplays use a little different formatting; doing a stageplay in screenplay format would look really odd. There are examples all over the Internet; the BBC has templates with both UK and US versions. And if you're using one of the screenwriting programs, they will generally have a option to format a stageplay.

There is a more variation in stageplay formats than in screenplay formats, so you'll see slightly differently ways of doing things.

Try these sites for starters:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/scr...ownloads.shtml

http://www.pubinfo.vcu.edu/artweb/pl...atnumbers.html
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Old 10-27-2006, 08:51 PM   #7
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I have never done a word count for my plays or been asked for one, made me curious! There are no hard and fast rules but it seems that most plays run 90 minutes to two hours plus an interval. It is quite hard to assess that by page count as unlike film/TV there is no definitive format. I dug out a script for a play which came in at 90 minutes and it has 110 pages. This script had very few stage directions in and as everyone is on stage all the time and as it takes place in real time there is hardly any scene/act info, so it is short on page count. I usually find a page comes in at about a minute and a half on stage. It is all down to how you format and the amount of character info/stage directions etc you give.

A good test would be to have a read through of your script and have somebody also read the directions etc which roughly covers for the time spent moving between scenes etc. This is your best bet for a realistic estimation.

Not much help I'm afraid but the good thing is there are no unbreakable rules!

Last edited by endless rewrite; 10-27-2006 at 09:17 PM.
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Old 10-28-2006, 03:20 AM   #8
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I've never thought of my plays in terms of word count. It's always been running time. Until now, I've also only ever done one act plays. At the moment I'm working on my first two act, and it's come in at 104 pages. Act One goes for 1 hour 20 minutes; Act Two goes for 35 minutes. Having said that, I still have more rewrites to do, so that could change.
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Old 10-30-2006, 12:22 AM   #9
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Running time

The rule of thumb for screenplays is one page = one minute.

The rule of thumb for stageplays is one page = one and a half minutes.

The standard format for stageplays uses a wide paragraph for dialogue (all the way from left page margin to right page margin). Also, speeches can be rather lengthy. Consequently the running time is a little longer for a page of a stageplay.

I would pay no attention whatever to word count. It is not relevant.
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Old 11-11-2006, 07:55 AM   #10
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Samuel French offers a guide to standard play formatting, which you can purchase online at Samuelfrench.com for around $8. I highly recommend you use this guideline--sending out a play in screenwriting format smacks of a beginner.

Comicbent, I've never heard of stage plays one = 1.5 minutes. Everyone in the theatre world uses the 1:1 ratio, same as screenplays.
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Old 11-11-2006, 07:25 PM   #11
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"Comicbent, I've never heard of stage plays one = 1.5 minutes. Everyone in the theatre world uses the 1:1 ratio, same as screenplays."

I've read in a couple of places that 1.5 is the rule. However, I've also read the "rules" in stageplays are somewhat lax. I can see short, choppy dialogue reading faster than longer sentences. There must be variables.
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Old 11-12-2006, 12:51 PM   #12
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Having spent the last two weekends involved in readings and development for short plays and having these pieces timed for a total production running time I can assure you the ratio is not 1:1. I have worked on a number of plays through the production process (my own and others) it is always higher than 1:1. It is also higher than 1:1 for radio plays.

There is no definitive rule but it tends to move towards 1: 5 , usually slightly less. The only way to know for sure is to have a proper read through taking into account how the play will work in production, number of scenes, moving between scenes and pace of dialogue, format of script, amount of action etc despite these variables I have never known a play run 1:1, though I have known them to run as high as 1:5 - usually I find a 90 minute play comes in at around 120.

Last edited by endless rewrite; 11-12-2006 at 04:46 PM.
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Old 11-12-2006, 01:03 PM   #13
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You can download free script software for stage/TV/radio/film from the BBC Writersroom here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/scriptsmart/

Alleycat - sorry, missed you had added this!

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Old 11-14-2006, 07:30 AM   #14
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More on style sheets

You might want to check out this site, the VCU "Playwriting Seminars" site, which is probably the most influential one in the U.S.

http://www.vcu.edu/arts/playwriting/seminar.html

I also recommend the BBC site that someone linked to in a post above, for obtaining a template. A couple of caveats: Use the stageplay template for the U.S. (not the U.K.) if you are writing for the U.S. And you should be fairly competent in using Microsoft Word, or you will not be able to tweak things when needed, and you may be terrified by the plethora of paragraph styles.

As for Samuel French, I am tired of hearing about its "style sheet," since I have never been able to find it referenced anywhere on the http://www.samuelfrench.com website, although many other sites tell you to "call" Samuel French to purchase the style sheet. The Samuel French website itself, in its information about submitting plays to Samuel French, just says to use "standard format," but makes no reference to its perhaps mythical style sheet. Many other contests say to use the Samuel French style sheet or copy the format recommended on the VCU site.

I have spent several years looking at various "style sheets" on the Internet. I even bought one, which is almost identical to what you will find on the VCU website for free.

The fact of the matter is that there is no ONE style that is absolutely the standard for stageplays. The VCU style is a good representation of a theoretical standard, though it varies from some other styles in a few particulars, such as how to handle scene numbering and page numbering and what font to use. (Most contests specify a "readable" standard font; some style sheets specify Courier.)

Some styles use a blank line after character name and after a parenthetical, though dialogue itself is single-spaced (usually).

If you use a style with a lot of white space, you may approximate the SCREENPLAY standard of one minute per page, but in general a STAGEPLAY will move more slowly, and a page will run somewhere between a minute to a minute and a half (at least).

Remember that dialogue runs from left page margin to right page margin. A long speech in a play can be really, really long, and it is not necessarily rattled off at a fast rate. A page can run a long time.
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Old 11-16-2006, 11:32 AM   #15
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I'm just going by my experiences in a professional theatre capacity, and what theatre companies I've worked for estimate when reading submissions. Of course it depends on what type of play you are doing, etc. Shakespeare will run longer per page than Beckett. But unless you are Shakespeare, be wary of writing page-long monologues. If your play does not have a lot of "white space" and too many speeches, your pacing might be off.
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Old 11-17-2006, 01:05 PM   #16
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Quote:
I'm just going by my experiences in a professional theatre capacity,
Just doesn't seem to be the experience of anyone else professional or otherwise. Though we all agree there is no one format there are generally accepted norms and there will be the odd exception to those.

I don't see anyone on here thinking they are Shakespere or writing page long monologues but it is good of you to keep us right.

Last edited by endless rewrite; 11-17-2006 at 01:08 PM.
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Old 11-17-2006, 08:21 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by endless rewrite
I don't see anyone on here thinking they are Shakespere or writing page long monologues but it is good of you to keep us right.
Page long monolgues? Absolutley not. Why, the monologue that kicks off the second act of the script I just submitted was a solid two pages, easy.
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Old 11-17-2006, 11:33 PM   #18
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Maybe it's a location difference, Endless. Just going by what I've learned. It's roughly the same, regardless.
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Old 11-28-2006, 05:47 AM   #19
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Thanks for the link.

I don't write plays but I read them for a regional theatre's new playwright's festival. It makes me cranky to get a "play" submitted in film script format.They are very different beasts. I'm going to suggest that this go up on the website as a helpful link - and possibly a standard to go by.

BTW, I second having a play read aloud (complete with stage directions) as the best way to figure out the time. I've heard the 1:1 ratio for most of my theatre life and it's never really worked for me. I tend to look at density and white space and guestimate from there - so I can decide how long a first read-through will take.

As for word count - a page from a Pinter play with 50 words can run longer than a Neil Simon 200-word page.
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Old 12-17-2006, 07:45 AM   #20
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The 1:1 ratio is closer to being correct when the play is in a booklet/published format, not on a standard page. Ditto to the idea of reading a play aloud to estimate running time.
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Old 09-26-2009, 10:58 PM   #21
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Calculating running time of play

I'm a theatre director with an MFA from Carnegie Mellon.
I've done this a lot.
I work with new plays that need trimming, cut Shakespeare, etc., and the calculation system. below is pretty damn accurate.

Stage speech is usually 170-180 words per minute.
MSWord has a Word Count under Tools. Final Draft does, too.

Count the number of words.
Average in the number of Character names that preceed speakers and stage directions, and deduct those.

Divide by 170.

Estimate the time for non-spoken action and add that time.

Estimate the time for scene changes (better not be longer that 15 secs each unless it's a staged and interesting part of the show), and add that time.

Add 5 minutes for holding the curtain and 20 minutes for intermission.

That's your running time.

Encourage your actors to pick a word in the other characters speech that preceeds theirs--a trigger word--to get the roused to deliver their speech in answer to that one. It cuts down on dead air time between speeches, and the "pick up your cues" is so perfunctory which makes for bad theatre.

Let me add that I am appalled at the other "know-it-all-answers" that can really mess up your production. Like Mark Twain said, "What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know. It's what we know for sure that just ain't so."

Break a leg.
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Old 09-27-2009, 09:57 AM   #22
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I've only worked with local directors and producers and they have all used the one page, one minute formula. Toss in the caluculated time for scene changes and a twenty minute intermission to get running time.
Evening length should be 90 to 120 pages.
One acts and black box stuff varries.
If I spend too much time trying to figure that out, I won't have time to write.
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