View single post by Doug B
 Posted: Sat Apr 14th, 2012 03:53 pm
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Doug B

Joined: Thu May 20th, 2010
Location: Eastsound, Washington USA
Posts: 94
I'm enjoying this thread too.

I live in a retirement community. Until a few years ago, I had no actors available to me under their late 50's. I routinely cast older actors in roles that call for younger actors. Lottie and Rose in Enchanted April were both in their 60's. Rosannah and Henry Harry in Brilliant Traces were both in their 60's. Both plays called for actors in their 20's.

I was told a long time ago that a production can have one "Big Lie" that the audience will accept. More than one lie will turn the audience off. My Big Lie has always been the age of the actors. At the same time, I sat on a great play (Arthur: The Begetting by Jeff Berryman) until I had the right young woman to play the lead. An older woman would not have worked.

Here is the first line in a performance contract:

(1) The play must be presented only as published in the Dramatists Play Service, Inc. authorized acting edition, without any changes, additions, alterations or deletions to the text and title. These restrictions shall include, without limitation, not altering, updating or amending the time, locales or settings of the play in any way. The gender of the characters shall also not be changed or altered in any way, e.g., by costume or physical change.

I don't know of any director who changes a single word in a script. Several years ago, I put the play "Flight Into Danger" on our approved list and a Director proposed doing the play as a farce. He couldn't convince me that he could do this without making changes to the play so I didn't approve the production.

The mantra of our theater has always been "Quality, Quality, Quality, Quality" : Quality scripts, quality direction, quality acting and quality production values. When we started out and didn't have a home theater or any money and "quality production values" consisted of a table and two chairs. The door to a room or a house was a piece of fabric on a wood frame. We moved from venue to venue every night. The set had to fit in the back of my car. We didn't have big audiences - I felt that double digits (10 or more) meant a big audiences. I picked plays in a narrow range that I thought would appeal to our older residents. We did three performances of a show.

Now we have a home - a 60 seat theater - and a good deal of money in the bank. Our audiences average over 70 per performance and often hit 100. We have more than doubled the number of performances of a production.

I now have the luxury of picking plays because they mean something to me. Our audiences have responded well to the non mainstream plays I have directed. My guess is that these non mainstream plays are what brought the young actors to our theater.

As a closing thought, if I were to direct your play, it would be because it had a message that I thought the people of our community needed to hear. I would present the play to bring that message to life. It might not be the message you had in mind when you wrote it but the message had to be in the play for me to see it. If I want our theater to survive I have to present your play in a manner that will appeal to the audience. No one wants your play to succeed more than me. It takes five great plays to wipe our the damage of one bad play.

Remember, we have to do good theater or people won't come and we don't survive. We can't do any good if we cease to exist. The bottom line is that it is all about money. We have to do things that put butts in seats.

One final, final thought. I have worked one-on-one with over three dozen playwrights. There have been playwrights who are honored that I chose to direct their play and sit back and let me do my job. The majority of the playwrights don't want actors they want puppets who will say the line the way they heard it in their mind when they wrote it. If they let me direct their play, 99.9% will be happy with the result.

Then there are the few playwrights who direct to play from backstage telling the actors to forget what I tell them and do what the playwright tells them to do. These plays are always failures. There are talented playwrights I refuse to work with because of this.

One last note: The great plays have many interpretations of them; some obviously better than others. That is what is great about Shakespeare - there are so many different ways of presenting the play, all equally valid. Well, some more valid than others but you get the idea. I've talked to a lot of directors who have done King Lear. They all have a different idea what the play is about. Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could write a play that is so full of greatness that it could be presented in totally different but equally good ways?

Another thought: I have directed several plays which were done around the same time as the large professional theaters in Seattle (about 100 miles from our community). In at least two cases, knowledgeable people have told me that our production was better than what was done by the professional theater. Was the script better? Obviously not. Was the acting better? Doubtful. Was the set better? Clearly not. Was the direction better? Probably not. What was the difference? I like to think it was the way the story was told. How the Great Idea was presented to the audience. I probably will never know if my interpretation was what the playwright intended but if the production is well done and appreciated by the audience, isn't that more important?

Remember what I said yesterday about the play "Visiting Dad" that I wrote. A friend who is very knowledgeable in the theater said it was the best one act play she had ever seen. Isn't that better than if the play was directed just the way I imagined it when I wrote it????