View single post by Doug B
 Posted: Thu Apr 12th, 2012 04:28 pm
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Doug B

Joined: Thu May 20th, 2010
Location: Eastsound, Washington USA
Posts: 94
I've been following this thread and want to weigh in. I am a sometimes playwright but mostly a director and producer. I run a small 60 seat all volunteer theater in a remote community of 4,000.

We do 5 to 7 productions a year. One is a ten minute playfest for local playwrights, one slot is for plays that push our audiences comfort zone and the rest are mainstream. We have never had a production that lost money.

We have done more second productions than first productions. It takes more time to bring a premier to the stage than I can give it.

I pick all of the plays that we present. In an average year, I see a couple dozen plays, buy 100 scripts from the royalty houses and receive about 50 from friends and other playwrights that have not been published. Our sets cost between $200 and $500, costumes from $50 to $250. I probably wouldn't buy or read a play that required many sets or complex sets or costumes.

I am presently considering directing the play "TORSO" which I mentioned in another thread. It has absolutely no set, just a few set pieces that are moved around as needed. We also did "ENCHANTED APRIL" that had a full size fully operational fountain on stage. To me, plays are about words and relationships that present a "Grand Idea" to the audience. Without the playwright being in residence, the Grand Idea is mine to choose.

A couple of examples: I saw two productions of Enchanted April - one at a very large community theater in Florida and one in a very small theater in Washington State. In both productions, I felt they told the wrong story - same play, same words, similar sets - just a different Grand Idea. Same for "Noises Off" and most recently for "When Bullfrogs Sing Opera".

Last fall, I saw Sam Waterston in King Lear in NYC. Granted, I saw it in previews, but they made Lear a bitter, angry old man without a lot of redeeming attributes. My Grand Idea is that Lear is not crazy but a man who is clinically depressed over his life and has lost the will to live.

The point I am making is that each director will present a very different version of any play.

A few years ago, I was directing one of our locally written ten minute plays with the playwright sitting next to me. The playwright kept whispering to me things like: He has to take a breath here or he needs to raise his arm here with the palm facing the audience. The playwright didn't want actors she wanted puppets.

In the last play I directed, I had a young woman who rose, took exactly three steps down left rotated 90 degrees clockwise and said her line.  When I asked her why she was doing that, she said I told her to.  The script said "She moves away".  What I actually said was for her to listen to what the other actor was saying and find something in it which would make her want to move away from him.  I also said that she might react to something different every night and she should move in response to how she felt at the moment and it would probably not be the same every time.

I agree there are places where the actor has to do something at exactly the right moment (Noises Off) but for the most part I don't want to actors to do exactly the same thing at exactly the same moment every time. The dynamics on stage are slightly different every night and I want the actors to respond to those differences and that means their performance will be slightly different each night.

Getting back to stage directions, there are two kinds: Notes for the actors ("smiles") and notes for the director ("Exits"). When we do a reading, we have the stage manager read the stage directions that move the story forward. Others we ignore. I have worked with directors (back in my acting days) who actually had the actors blank out actor stage directions with a felt tip marker. I don't go to that extreme but I do tell the actor that they are "suggestions". We strive to have the actors be truthful in the imaginary circumstances of the play and if they can't truthfully smile, they shouldn't - remember that it is my Grand Idea and that may preclude a specific smile at a specific moment of time.

Blocking directions are even harder to interpret. Our stage has no wings. The side walls are permanent, the doors are where they are and there is no room off stage to store anything. It is hard to follow written stage directions.

What about my responsibility to be true to the intent of the playwright? Who is to say that my Grand Idea isn't closer to the playwright's intention that the other director's?


Paddy, Edd - if this is too long, feel free to edit it down.

Last edited on Thu Apr 12th, 2012 04:42 pm by Doug B