Posted on Sat 14 May 2022

script assistant

I’ve had this idea for seven years and haven’t done anything with it, so I hereby release it into the public domain and hope someone will make it – preferably an open source version.

Live theater rehearsals rely on actors memorizing their lines. Historically, not everyone learns their lines at the same time. So, for rehearsals, people are walking around on stage clutching bundles of paper, usually with highlighter over their lines.

Everybody has a smartphone now, so let’s use that. This application can be handled in HTML, CSS and JavaScript with a fairly minimal backend for synchronization and distribution. Or you can make yourself unhappy and do it as native apps in every platform you want to support.

In the setup phase, someone loads a play script or musical book into the server and tags every line with one of:

  • nobody
  • stage directions
  • character X

Just a little pattern recognition can do an excellent job of autotagging, but proof-reading is essential.

Once all the lines are tagged, setup is over.

The subsequent phase is to start a rehearsal session, which needs a distinctive name. Each participant logs in to the server from their smartphone and selects a character, overview, or director. Multiple simultaneous logins of each of these can happen, but director ought to be password protected.

During a rehearsal, all devices receive a copy of the script/book. If a character is selected, that character’s lines are rendered in a very obvious form – special background/foreground color combos, and/or larger, bolder, different fonts – or even whispered via text to voice. It should be difficult to accidentally change characters, but fairly easy to change on purpose. Per-device customization of character’s special line rendering is a good idea. If the selected character has a line on the next scrollable page, there should be an indication of that before we get there.

The director gets a special set of controls to synch all the other views. Although the director controls feel like a mix of absolute and relative position changes, they are actually all implemented as a goto to an absolute line position. The director controls should include directly starting at a particular point and moving relatively forward or backward.

So: a rehearsal session starts. Actors log in and select characters. The stage managers and techs and anyone who is observing select overview. The director, and very likely an assistant director or two, select the director view, which is the overview plus motion controls. Those controls send instructions to all the logged in views to move to the next line or page or other mark.


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