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Thursday, February 10, 2011

First Person: Anna Papadakos - Working Title


Today, I want to discuss “working title” simply because I am fascinated by the term and I think you should be too!
We often see a draft of a piece with a title and nestled quietly next to it usually in parenthesis is - (working title). We live in a universe of “working titles”. Try sitting on an Art’s Council jury and you will know what I mean. And to all and any of us who have written or created a piece of theatre “WORKING TITLE” is an all too familiar expression. How does one characterize this term? 

My questions are plentiful, my answers are few. Does it mean that the title is working itself out or that you have absolutely no clue what your final product will be therefore you cannot name it until you see it? Hence, “working title”. Why don’t we approach the unborn children in the same manner? Generally speaking, outside of certain cultures where grandparent’s names are passed on to children, people do not wait until their baby is born to name it. On the contrary they diligently, at times, select a name and unquestionably slap it on the infant once it comes into the world. The baby then begins to look like its name. Osmosis! Identity is born. 

I ask you, could you, at this point in your life, see yourself called by any other name than what you are called by? A play is not much different! And let us NEVER forget that.

Think of MEDEA, HAMLET, OTHELLO, ROMEO and JULIET, UNCLE VANYA, A DOLL’S HOUSE, THE TAMING OF THE SHREW (AKA “the fave title amongst feminists"). Could we be waiting for anyone else but GODOT? Iago, Blanche Dubois, Stella, Stanly Kowalski, Willy Loman, Nora, Estragon, Masha and…….

Oh I am sorry, I slightly diverted from the subject of “WORKING TITLE”. Excuse me for getting carried away by character’s names but I find them to be compelling and intriguing. I cannot imagine Blanche Dubois as Sophie Piché or France Dupuis. Can you? “Blanche DuBois”, try repeating it six times and you will see how it captures the character or is it that the character captured Blanche? And since I am on to Mr. Williams, what about one of his titles: “A Streetcar Named Desire”. Splendid! I am left spellbound by the name. Did this perfect title ever have a “working title? Actually, “Streetcar” had three working titles:  “The Moth”, “Blanche’s Chair on the Moon..” and “Poker Night” were all flying around at the time of creation/writing. I am happy that “THE MOTH” did not receive the Pulitzer Prize. I can see the marquee on Broadway: “Marlon Brando, Jessica Tandy and Kim Hunter in “THE MOTH”. Hum…. doesn’t sound right. 

Let’s face it, titles are important. You may have a wonderful and brilliant piece on your hands but if your title lacks that twist and ‘je ne sais quoi’ you may not be able to share your work with as wide of an audience as you would have if you had a knock’em dead title.

So, remember that eventually the “WORKING TITLE” should work! One suggestion: names as titles are great. Names work! Try this: take your name, open a document, save it as “working title”, on the document write your first name, although you can use first and last if you have a name like Hedda Gabbler, as the title and in parenthesis (working title), proceed with writing a play. See where that takes you. You never know. 

ANNA (working title)


  1. Well said, Ms. Papadakos. I particularly like the example you site for children. Actually, if we followed this “working title” idea, we would need to wait until the child is at least three or four to name it, as his or her personality won’t show an inkling of development until then – Angel (good child?) or Damien (hell raiser!) This is a tough call. So, can you help me understand this? Outside of naming your piece after a main character (like JULIUS CAESAR; although JULIUS CAESAR is not about Caesar; why didn’t he name it BRUTUS?) or THE main character (OTHELLO, but who is THAT play really about?), isn’t what you name it the key to what you are writing, the prime objective, “the point.”? Certainly we can’t imagine Streetcar being anything but Streetcar. Now. But when Mr. Williams was slaving over his typewriter and attempting to come up with this brilliant piece of work, do we know what came first, the title or the work? And you pointed out it did have working titles you could not imagine it being called. But what if it had been? Then, certainly, you couldn’t imagine The Moth being anything but The Moth. So is it not just as creatively responsible to give it the title it deserves? If that prime objective changes in the course of the writing after being given a brilliant title, then what? Please understand, I am not disagreeing with you. You should know what you want to name something from the outset. But I also see the other side of it. Sometimes, maybe, a title has to come out of the molding of the clay. Frustrating, perhaps? But necessary. Hey. We’re all still works in progress. Cassius Clay became Mohammad Ali. We all know how that turned out.

  2. My mama's working title for me was Émile and it wound up being Winston. Can't win them all.

  3. To Mr. Elliott:
    I will gladly respond to your thought and comment at a later time.

    One thing I would like to thank you for is your time to really read through this piece.
    It would be great if we had more folks out there who actually took the time to comment in such a thorough manner as you.


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