Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Man! Them Playwrights sure can get uppity

Someone ought to put em in their place!

Here's some hyperbole...just for fun...which scenarios are acceptable to you and which are dear reader?

A young promising playwright has been commissioned by a arts org to write a play for their ensemble. The piece is written, the playwright has been compensated, and rehearsals have begun. During the first week of rehearsals, the director (who happens to be a member of the ensemble with previous acting/directing/and playwriting credits) has one or more changes to propose such as...

1) Changing definite articles like "a" to "the" so that certain lines flow better
2) Moving the protagonist's monologue from one scene to another because it will carry more emotional weight
3) Deciding that a certain secondary character in a few scenes is superfluous and wanting them removed and their lines given to a different character
4) Wanting to change the locale specified by the playwright...i.e. moving a certain scene from the kitchen into the bedroom
5) Deciding than certain lines that were written to spoken at the same time should be spoken separately
6) Thinking that the premise of the protagonist works better it some sort of change is made to their gender, sexual identity, race, class, occupation, physical appearance, degree of health

When the playwright insists that these changes are not acceptable to him/her...the director makes certain suggestions like...

1) Well, we commissioned it so we have a right to change anything we want without the playwright's approval
2) So long as as I am respecting the basic premise/scenario of the playwright, changes to the actual events and words are acceptable
3) The playwright should just be grateful we are producing the a play even if we insist on changes. We could have just as easily produced a dead playwright's work and made all the changes we want
4) Playwrights have to understand that their words are only a polite suggestion about how the performance should be undertaken, and in a world where a piece can be distributed and documented without utilizing the written word, theatre is no longer literature
5) If the playwright ever wants to work again, they better be willing to concede artistic choices they make to the will of the director

Hyperbole? Maybe...maybe not. What do you think?


Paul Rekk said...

Ick. If my vision as a playwright is so important (and this isn't hypothetical, this is the playwright side of me speaking) that every last bit on the page must be translated to stage, I'll direct the damn thing myself.

But, for the most part, I'm more disappointed if my words and concepts don't inspire other artists to explore the options the work can serve as a springboard for.

I've had words changed, characters dropped, concepts ignored. And it bites a little at first, but then you realize that what you are seeing is not a bastardization of your work, because the other artists are not there to serve you and your words alone. It becomes a combination of my work and the director's work and the designers' work and the actors' work.

I believe in ideas, I rarely believe in boundaries. And come the end of the day as a playwright, I still consider myself a little luckier than other artists -- no matter what happened, my words still exist. My performances will never be had again.

Of course, it is a tricky line and there is absolutely a wrong way to approach changes, but I firmly believe that the playwright generally has far too much veto power in the theatrical process and seems to keep asking for more

Devilvet said...

Ohhh Paul...that sounds positively warm and fuzzy...

It is a shame that aint the way it always plays out.

But really... it is so selfless...totally devoid of ego...

Wouldnt it be great if those of us out there that spend in some instances years working on a script were so willing to acquiese to the temporal whims of those who arent there to serve our words but rather some higher....

(DV blows a raspberry)

Laura said...

But, DV, if this was the premiere of a script you've spent years creating, why on earth would you allow somebody you didn't trust to take a crack at it in the first place? If you've given permission to somebody who doesn't respect your words, perhaps you've simply chosen the wrong collaborator.

Paul Rekk said...

Bob, you know better than many that devoid of ego is in no way a description that fits me.

But I do firmly believe is that art is that "some higher..." and is more important than my ego. Or the playwright's.

But feel free to worry about temporal whims deflowering your baby in the temporal environment in which you set it free. That seems to be a useful place to draw stress from.

Devilvet said...


I agree with you there. If a playwright signs away rights to someone who has no respect for the writing...well then it is a little late...however it is the assumption that in 'some' instances it is ok to disregard the living playwright...that is what bothers me...or that playwrights should be just shut up and be thankful...If a director can convince me that something needs changing that collaboration...if the director just changes it without my consent...well who would call that collaboration?

Paul- I wasnt attacking your ego (just in case my post was intrepretted that way)...I know we are sort of taking a hyperbolic approach to each others' statements (it is more fun that way) but regarding stress ...however if I didnt care about the words I choose...why choose them in the first place, why not just come up with a scenario...rather than playwrights we can just have scenario by PRekk. And the idea that too much stress is involved in protecting one's contribution?

More Pie In the Sky BS... The idea that for a playwright to invest in what they have written enough to want it see it as they created whiny or too obsessed or what have you... Paul...come on...really?

You really mean to tell me that if you spend years on a project (something I know you are commited to doing) make artistic choices about said project and then have egoless ambilvence if your collaborators choose to willful disregard your choices....being upset a such a notion is some how wrong? Please dude...

RLewis said...

Clearly, this hypothetical is not an ensemble piece - it doesn't include the writer as part of the ensemble. First question, why on earth would you bring in someone from outside; and second, why didn't you keep that person inside the ensemble until opening night?

You're running a theater company and don't have a stable of talented writers that you're just hurting to work with? Well, you probably deserve what you got and should be forced by flame to use every word on the page.

But most importantly, it's a commission: these things should have been worked out at the time of the commissioning (and in writing), so this is probably just a bad example trying to stir up inexperienced excitement.

Laura said...

I would never disagree that it is EVER ok to "disregard" the playwright or that the playwright should "shut up and be thankful." That is diminishing their contribution to the project, and that's why I keep using the word "collaboration" over and over. I don't support anybody steamrolling anybody in this scenario. I DO support more than one person brainstorming before major decisions are made, that's all.

I actually also kind of get the impression that you and Paul are saying the same thing, deep down: that letting go is OK, and that asking for changes is OK, as long as nobody's piece of the pie gets bastardized in the process, because everybody recognizes that they're contributing to this piece because it's important to them. Or am I misinterpreting you both? Is that too rainbows and unicorns?

Devilvet said...

@Rlewis -

I wouldnt call this total inexperienced example especially since a bunch of folks are giving ear to that backstage article which I intrepretted to be "such up and be thankful you are getting produced"...and there are too many stories out there about Writers who were comissioned and then told to change things or not get produced to even though this is admittedly hyperbole, it isn't just BS bud.

Laura -

I am not accusing you or anything, but I have met directors (especially students) by the truck full who do think it is perfectly acceptable to change alter anything they want without the consent or even dispite the author's refute.

I am not talking about scenarios where everyone is playing nice. I'm talking about what happens when the director wants something, the living playwright does not especially in a preimere situation.

Laura said...

Then in that case, it is 100% the director's responsibility to do the play as the playwright wrote it. That is, in the end, what they signed up to do. Period.

Paul Rekk said...

I'll grant you premieres and commissions, Bob. And that's about it.

Devilvet said...

@PRekk - Then you've got a deal.

Besides...any other would be my responsibility to contractual dictate my terms... and live the consequence of whether or not directors accept them and/or if the play wouldn't be produced.