Thoughts on “Word Play: do theatre titles matter?”

This article in the Guardian yesterday rang a few bells with me as I am currently thinking about tweeking my 2013 performance title because

1) it was site-specific and the title refers to the place I and the audience were in, which was a synagogue vestry.

2) I am taking the performance to another synagogue but the new site does not refer to the space as a vestry and this has been pointed out to me.

My quandry is, to keep the title or change it according to the space I am in, the whole title is Coffee with Vera in the Vestry, so it could be shortened to Coffee with Vera or Coffee with Vera in the … (fill in the dots appropriately). Initially the title was Kosher Coffee; I loved this title, it was clean, punchy, had a play on words and alliteration, but, coffee isn’t kosher and I knew that. I was warned off it for many varied reasons, including the site owners possible confusion with the obvious mistake so, I reluctantly changed it but always privately hankered after the first. I selfishly thought it’s my title and I like it, so what if people don’t get the clever wordplay which makes for interesting debate.

I now have two other titles to contend with, one created quickly for a scratch night and, with which an application was applied for. Being successful that title has now gone into the festival mix and will have to stay, I tell myself there’s something to be said for going with first choices. It’s not a title that gets said by a character, which is one of the points the Guardian article is talking about, yet it could easily end up in the text which is still to be written/devised. The third title is still a working title i.e haven’t got one yet, and I am going to take great care with my decision.

If you read the comments that follow the Guardian article the first retorts that this is ‘a silly unnecessary question’ but I couldn’t disagree more; I am still wondering whether 2 of my titles are the right ones and will therefore anguish over the third. As a punter I look at titles and sometimes think ‘ great title, I want to see that’, Daniels Bye’s How to Occupy an Oil Rig for example. A couple of days ago fellow performer Derek and myself took two hours to come up with 250 characters for a brochure copy, that’s basically 2 sentences, our heads were in our hands for most of the second hour. Why is it so hard? The title is the first text that people see before anything else, the first text that people will make an instant decision about and when that is a festival brochure the title of the piece can be a deciding factor whether you play to an extra few people or not. As a play reader, or reader of plays (yes, I get paid) I occasionally wonder why a title has been used, sometimes I can mull it over for more minutes than it’s worth (and believe me on script reader pay you can’t waste minutes) but sometimes it really bugs me, so I don’t want people making a decision before they’ve seen the show on the basis that the title doesn’t warrant a viewing.

Therefore, do I take my title from the text in the play or have a title that is not referred to but gives an overarching theme of the play? This could be one of the hardest decisions I’ve made and certainly, at the moment, the hardest text to write.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on “Word Play: do theatre titles matter?”

  1. David Cohen

    Ruth, I don’t know who told you that coffee isn’t kosher but it is. The only issue would be where the coffee was prepared and packaged. i.e was it processed in Kosher conditions and that would be printed on the packaging
    Coffee with Vera…in the upstairs kitchen doesn’t have the same ring as ‘in the vestry’ I’d admit.

    1. Ruth Post author

      Thanks David I will look into this, My informant was an Ashkanazi Jew but I will rethink as I really like the old title … and that would get over the ‘in the vestry’ problem. Thanks


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