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Adapting the Script

“For TV, this needs to be cut to 56 minutes. Can you do it?”

That’s the question KET Director of Arts Programming Nancy Carpenter posed to Liz Bussey Fentress after seeing a stage performance of Liz’s Circus Story. Although it would mean cutting her play virtually in half, “I thought for about a second and said yes,” Fentress recalls.

As she began the work of rewriting the play, Vince Spoelker, KET producer/director, helped the playwright hone in on a focus for the shorter television version: “Wayne Franzen takes a risk and his influence on my life. Vince told me that anything that didn’t relate to that had to go.”

Liz also looked to her mentor, Warren Hammack of Horse Cave Theatre, for help. “Warren and I went through scene by scene, discussing the purpose of each scene. It was very interesting to analyze it that way,” she says.

Rewriting the script took about a year, Vince recalls. “When she had something new, Liz would mail us copies of the script. Nancy and I would read it and give her feedback: This works, that doesn’t, this would be hard to shoot, this isn’t getting the point across. Losing 60 minutes off a piece is really hard work, and Liz had to lose a lot of stuff she really loved to make it work for television.”

Many anecdotes and characters were left out, including scenes involving Liz’s Grandpa Bussey. (See our script comparison for an example.) In other cases, important information was shifted to other scenes. “For example,” Liz says, “the first version had three stories about driving in a blizzard. I made the decision I would not get to talk about every darn thing.”

Once the new script was ready, all involved realized that they had a new play that had never been performed before. Because Vince is not a theatrical director, he asked Robert Brock, who had directed the production of Liz’s Circus Story at Horse Cave Theatre, to help Liz rehearse. Vince attended rehearsals and offered suggestions about what types of movements and staging would work best on television. He also made a videotape of the rehearsal to use in planning camera shots—just one aspect of the pre-production preparations the KET team was making.

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