Interestingly enough, I've learned a strange lesson about writing and production Off-Off Broadway: less is not always more. In fact, sometimes more is more. And less is less.
I am a fan of minimalism, obviously, but I also once saw what I felt was it's practical value. In effect, a play created with a smaller cast and few budgetary needs is simpler to produce and cannot fail to deliver on it's big dreams. If you write "Black stage, No Set, Three Actors Who Do Not Move" your parameters for failure, at least on a production level, are few. You also will not be forced, due to time or budgetary problems, to build a half-assed set as opposed to a full-assed (one might say) blank stage.
Budget aside, though, your parameters for success are also tenuous. Much of the fun and pleasure of the stage, those that are expressed with visual creativeness and a richness of character and good old-fashioned drama... this is harder to achieve. Poetry is complex, obviously.
I used to view minimalism as a sort of solution to, and nod to, my limited resources.
But, in the end, the benefits of a large cast evens out with the benefits of a small one. For example (and this is pure icky untouchable work-a-day thinking) more cast means bigger audience. If you have 20 cast members, and they have friends and family, then you've got a bare minimum audience that is NOT guaranteed with one person on stage or two or three. And yes, those things will add up when you're working on a smaller scale. If you've got $15 ticket prices and not everyone can get a comp ticket... 20 people in the cast sells tickets. I feel dirty for saying so, but it's a fact.
(On the other hand 2 people in the cast, shall we say, means you might be able to perform this piece on a smaller scale and with enough buzz, you won't need to trick yourself into believing you actually have a big audience with friends and family. )
The broader point is...unless you're writing things that simply leave all logic and reason out the window (Stage Direction: "Scene 1. And then the two dragons fight, and the actors run into the town below. Fire is everywhere. Scene 2. Ten Years Later in a Briar. Scene 3. The middle of the ocean, 50 men sing and dance.") you shouldn't be afraid to creatively (the operative word) go where the play requires and places the necessary voices on-stage to create the play in your head. The benefits even out, as long as you're bright about resources and positive creative solutions.
Success and failure should be a function of risk, not a function of carefulness.
- Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.