Where I Came From
First - before I began writing plays, I was an actor. In fact, one of the motivations that lead me to toss my hat into the playwright ring, was my experience as an actor - as you know an actor is forever reading scripts, memorizing scripts, performing scripts - an actor will live,breathe and sometimes eat scripts. As an actor, I learned play scripts backward and forward. It was this routine and knowledge gained of plays and theatre that created the urge to write.
I did not jump into writing right away, nope - baby steps -I began writing short skits for a comedy group I was involved in. From short skits I moved onto one act plays and finally two acts. So, my formal training was not in playwriting, but in play performing - one could say I came to the craft from the inside out.
When I started writing plays, one important piece of information I wanted to know - had to do with the technical side. How did it work? What were the parts and pieces I needed. The rules or laws? I found many books and articles on content and conflict and character arc and so on - but that's not what I wanted to know. I was interested in how it should look - fonts and type size and margins. The technical stuff.
The funny thing about this technical quest is that I found I was not alone. A few years after I had a few short plays produced, an old college teacher contacted me and asked if I could fill in on a playwriting panel he was hosting at writing conference. His scheduled playwright called in sick. Yea, sure I guess I could. I mean, I knew a little bit.... So I showed up, trying to look like a playwright - whatever that is - jeans, sweater, Doc Martens - I don't know - and I sat at the head table with another local (well known) playwright and the moderator who was the Chair of the English department. What am I doing here?
We were asked to take 5 minutes and introduce ourselves, I was called to go first - I tried to stretch out my intro to 5 minutes but I think it lasted all of 2. The other playwright began her intro and was very eloquent, she began talking about the beautiful weather and weaved that into the craft of playwriting - the muses and the psychology - the art and blah blah blah - it was all very nice. And then the moderator opened it up to questions. The first question was simply - "How much stage direction should you write?" followed by "Does it matter much about character description?" "Do you need to specify furniture colors?" - It dawned on me at that moment - this is what new writers wanted to know. This is the stuff I wanted to know when I started! Forget the artsy fartsy crap - give us the details! The nuts and bolts! As a side note - I immediately fielded the stage direction question (from my acting background not my writing) It was my experience that most directors ignore elaborate stage directions - all the actors need to know is when they enter and when they exit. If you compose a direction such as "Howard enters looking worried. As if the weight of the world rests on his shoulders and the sorrow of humanity reflects in his eyes" - A director will tell the actor playing Howard - "Screw the poetry - you enter here, that's it!"
When it comes to format and how a play should look on the printed page - I simply used the format of every play I ever read or performed in and most of the plays came from the large publishing houses like Samuel French or Dramatists - and it looked like this on the page:
HOWARD: (enters) Hello, everyone. I am worried. The weight of the world is on my shoulders.
I believe the above format -Character name followed by the dialogue is called British. Later I began seeing a different format - some called American - it looked like this:
Hello, everyone. I am worried. The weight of the world is on my shoulders.
Each page you write should be considered to be a minute of time. No, it should be a minute and a half. But it depends on the amount of white space. Do you have a lot of action and pauses? Then add 45 seconds.
My 2 Cents
You get the idea? You can Google "play script format" and find endless theories and rhetoric on the subject. But as I said at the beginning, before I was a playwright, I was an actor - and as an actor I can tell you - at the Bottom Line - It really doesn't matter. Your fonts and types and margins. Where the characters name goes - No, I am sorry Mr and Mrs Professional MFA in Playwriting - It doesn't matter. Actors get the scripts, highlight them, scribble all over them with notes, doodle little graphs, spill coffee on them - how they are formatted has no bearing on anything. Actors memorize the words and toss the scripts aside. The words then get spoken on a stage. Actors don't speak the fonts or types or margin dimensions.
As an actor, I have been in new plays and the scripts have been handwritten on legal pad. Even pages scribbled on the back of napkins. All I needed to know is what I had to say on stage. Commit it to memory and toss it down.
While I understand, each art form must have rules and standards - and some will hold play formats in high regard, I get that. People must be able to read and understand a script, I have no objection to that. At the end of a day - a play script is eventually transformed into a living thing on the stage and that is where the art really lies. How you put it together has no bearing on the overall result. If the audience doesn't like your work, the correct format won't change their minds.