March 18, 2010

Yoink! Playwrights and artistic power

Isaac tries (and fails -hahahahaha!) to raise hell by suggesting that the way we think about plays focuses too much on the text/writer. Isaac, perhaps you should try referencing the spontaneous growth of genitalia. At the very least you can insist that not agreeing with you make you un-American - which means you are a terrorist.

Anyway, part of what I like about theatre (as opposed to film) is that it's more democratic than other art forms. There isn't (or rather, doesn't have to be) a central authority figure who makes all the "important" decisions about the play. I like not having complete control over the process. I like the unpredictability of it, how the story and characters in my head can be given a life I never imagined while still using the same base ingredients (my words on the page - whether dialogue or stage directions).

When I write, I deliberately leave space there for an actor, director, or designer to play with. Sure, the story and the words are mine but the performance, the play? Not so much.

I'm inclined to imagine that this sort of "demand" for knowing who's boss at all times comes from the fact that for most of us born in the latter half of the 20th century, film (including television) has been our default dramatic medium. That world is extremely hierarchal and authoritarian, with the director wielding the most power over a performance. I'm certainly not making any sort of value judgment whatsoever about that since film is what it is - a completely different medium that demands different things from its creators and audiences. But the fact remains that, in film at least, it's a medium that puts directors on top of the creative process.

So, I see Isaac's point, which I want to refine a bit. It's not that there's too much focus on the script. It's that people expect the script to do too much. Several comments in response to Isaac's post hint at that, particularly J. Holtham (99 Seats):
I never really understand why we need to parse it out so much, to what end. I was just talking to Matt Freeman about this the other day and he quoted the old saw about being a playwright and how, if everyone loves the play, they'll credit you, but if no one loves the play, they'll blame you. Every play changes in rehearsal, in performance, has limitations that are fixed by the actors or directors, sometimes in the actual words on the page, sometimes in the performing. We all know this, we've all gone through production, but the attitude is still it's all about the playwright. Which, I think, puts undue pressure on playwrights and adds to the frenzy for The Right Play.
As a writer, I've never understood the "need" to create "actor-proof" or "director-immune" scripts. As far as I'm concerned, I'm just there to get the damn story on paper. My duties are pretty simple. Let my collaborators know who is doing what onstage. That's it. Whether that takes the form of a coherent narrative with more-or-less natural dialogue or is a shifting series of images and/or sounds is anybody's guess. But as far as I'm concerned, that's all I'm there to do.

1 comment:

  1. One word: Copyright.

    That little connection to commerce determines the survival of the work in a cultural archive, since we pooh-pooh any more meaningful commercial archival mechanism (film/DVD). If my slice of the work gets to reside 4eva and ever in the Library of Congress, then am I gonna fight my collaborators about how they say the words as I wrote them. If we advance the conversation about how each collaborator gets a piece of the cultural immortality pie, then things would change for the better -- and the playwright wouldn't be seen as the stick in the mud.

    Operas got over themselves decades ago, about this -- isn't it time that we do, especially considering that theatre actors belong to film and tv unions, too?