Okay, my Dear Darlings, I kept myself quiet for way too long, listening to your (something) whining about this and that. Today is the day for me to give you the 3 kopeks I still have about writing for theater.
You all seem so bitter and too serious about your craft, my Dear Writers. Have a drink or something and let’s discuss why your ego and lack of flexibility hurt us all.
I see that some of you might not really know how theater really works. You get all worked up about your genius ideas and ze words you write in your plays. There is a lot I want to say about all that ego business it seems you have when it comes to producing your play. The thing is, my Dear Darlings, nobody wants to work in theater with anybody who has a big ego, unless, of course, it’s Serge Plastikoff himself, then all is forgiven.
There are oh so many things that bother me about American theater, but I will keep that for another entry, when I am less drunk, besides America is not ze country I grew up in, so I need to show some class I might never have (smiley face).
The American theater is strangely stuck on this imaginary belief that what is written should always stay in the production. No, my Dear Darlings, a play or script is a blueprint for a production, simple as that. Why do so many directors return to Shakespeare, Molière, Chekhov or Ibsen? Because all these writers left their plays as blueprints with written ideas in it. The most successful play writers will be the ones who write their plays leaving space for interpretation.
When I take on a play to direct, first I look for how I could express what hurts me now and the society. I ask the question: “Is this play relevant today?” I read plays as drafts to express something other than what is written. It is sometimes very tedious work to do, but every director looks for that perfect blueprint to be able to build a house which is the play/performance/show.
Let me say it straight: if you don’t trust directors, actors, designers, composers and all the collaborative effort that goes into producing your play, then don’t ducking do it. Write a novel or a short story or something. Theater is collaboration; nobody wants to deal with your big ego. If you know how your play should be done, then do it yourself, by yourself and to yourself because you will never have a great production when collaboration is absent.
After reading a few thoughts you expressed, My Dear Writers, on one message board or another I got this strange feeling that you are missing something very important about theater arts. I will repeat: it sounds like some of you don’t even know how theater actually works. Have you made any effort to research and read about successful theater groups? Have you asked yourself why certain authors and their plays are being produced year after year after year? What makes a great play? Have you researched how Shakespeare, Molière, Chekhov, Ibsen wrote their works?
Oh, I know I will be attacked as another one who doesn’t respect the sacredness of writers and their works. Darlings, I don’t care, there are plenty of works that just wait for my drunken mind to get mixed in. You should look forward to seeing productions that make your work exciting, because they open something you hadn’t thought while writing it. All those different interpretations and the decisions others make while working with your play should be your priority, not the offensive mess you see when a director decides to remove one or another scene or word.
How many times were the works of Shakespeare, Molière, Ibsen, Chekhov cut, rearranged, or rewritten? All that business only made their plays more interesting and exciting even in some high school productions. There were/are so many interpretations of “Hamlet” alone that a play writer who wrote a play like this could live for hundreds of years on stage. Oh, that’s right, Shakespeare did it and he is somehow still relevant. Point blank, if you want to be as good as Shakespeare, be prepared to see your favorite scenes, words and what not cut from your play, because somebody saw something else in your work.
A play is incomplete without a live performance. Without that live breath it is nothing. It should inspire directors, actors, designers, musicians and other writers to come back to it time and time again, unless you want to be a legend in your own living room (thank you, Madame Lennox).
Directors are not your enemies. They are messengers who decipher your message and deliver it to the audiences, through the actors and production.
Actors are not invaders of your plays. They are the ones who give your words life. You should cherish and trust them. They take your characters on themselves and live the life you wrote for them on the stage.
Designers and musicians dress and move your written words with their imagination.
In short, you all should strive to have as many different approaches to your work as possible and let go of your ego. The tree which is the most flexible survives the many storms ahead.
Do you need more convincing? Okay, let’s see how Shakespeare became who she/he/they became.
You see, to this day it is unclear if it was one writer who wrote all these plays. What we know is that somebody recorded the text. Shakespeare’s success is in a collaborative process that was developed on the stage. The texts allow us to re-imagine who one or another character was. Romeo and Juliet have been a boy and a girl, a boy and a boy, a girl and a girl, or a giraffe and an elephant in many productions since the actual work was written. Still, “Romeo and Juliet” is and will always be “Romeo and Juliet.” Shakespeare could care less if his/her/their text is re-arranged and re-imagined by generations and generations to come. It is still an ageless story, a blueprint many directors will return to for many years.
Let’s look at Molière now. He wrote his plays while performing and directing them himself. He “borrowed” from Commedia dell’Arte, Marlowe and what and who not. He made those plays his own, because he was not afraid to let his ego go when there were audiences involved. What he cared about was the performance.
Chekhov had Stanislavski himself to direct his plays. I don’t need to tell you what it meant to him when Nemirovich-Danchenko, after “The Seagull” (my favorite play by Chekhov, by the way) flopped, told Stanislavski that he should direct the play. The production directed by Stanislavski returned Chekhov to fame in theater. Do you think it is an accident? Oh Darlings, you haven’t experienced theater the way it is with all its magic and…
And here comes Ibsen, the one that has been produced as often as Shakespeare. While employed at Det Norske Theater in Bergen, Ibsen was involved in many plays as writer, director, and producer, and even though he didn’t become a successful playwright at that time, all this collaborative experience helped in his writings later on. When actors speak the words I wrote, I feel where I made mistakes and I let them correct me with their inner voices.
Sometimes, when I am tremendously bored with directing I become an actor… or is it the other way around, I don’t remember now. I show my doubts while working on one or another character in a play. One day I decided to write my own play and, on top of it, I decided to direct that play too. I had one of my bastard actors question the words I had written the same way I was questioning somebody else’s work when I was acting. I let him change my words the way he felt it fit his character, just later for him to realize that what I wrote was correct and he wanted to return to that original text. I took it, of course, as a huge compliment, but still let him know that I was “open” for his interpretation, because he was “feeling” my words on the stage. I know I know I am so giving and forgiving. You can put your flower into my limo. Thank you!
So, My Dear Darlings, if you get offended by somebody interpreting your written words on the stage you should probably choose another way of expressing yourself, because theater is fluid, theater is flexible and most importantly, theater is collaborative. Boom! The news splash for you? I hope not!
You want to be another Ibsen, Chekhov, Molière or Shakespeare? Meet the live theater and people who are eager to change your written words. Believe me, you will gain a lot from it and who knows, collaborations might make you another great playwright. Break a leg and keep it broken in appreciation that somebody is inspired by your writings. Plastikoff’s out. No, I mean I am out of Port. Tah-da!