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The Playwrights Forum > General > Take the Stage > Stage Directions- guide or prescription?

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 Posted: Thu Mar 8th, 2007 11:55 pm
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theatralite
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Mana: 
I was asked a question by a director this evening and I wasn't sure how to answer her.

She was a little concerned that a playwright had politely asked to attend a rehearsal. Would he be critical if his stage directions had not been followed to the letter?

I pointed out that with my writers hat on that though I wrote stage directions into a script that I wasn't expected them to be followed. My main concern was merely with getting characters on and off stage.

As an actor I expected to be allowed to move as I felt appropriate to the character I was playing.

As a director I expected to give actors that same freedom. But as the "third eye" would give actors such direction as seemed necessary in terms of blocking, etc.

Any thoughts experts?

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 Posted: Fri Mar 9th, 2007 09:33 am
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Swann1719
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Mana: 
I personally expect my stage directions to be tossed - especially my earlier plays where I had way too much stage direction.  It rather impinges on the actors' and directors' job.

Having said that, though, I think this is the most useful way to think about it:

 

The actor or director has to have a good reason for ignoring something in the script.  If it is because the set is not as described, or this character is so excited, he runs instead of walks in, and it is true to the play, then this good reason trumps the written directions.  If the playwright is generous and intelligent, she will see these good reasons and not need to be told.  

If she doesn't see the good reason, she has the right to ask - especially if she is attending rehearsals.   I don't know if she has a right to be offended - I think ultimately in a clash between the stage directions and the director's vision, the director's vision will probably trump.  But as a general note on life, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar anyway and a few well-placed questions are likely to be better than leaving in a huff.  Or if it is a long play, a minute and a huff.

respect to anyone who can tell from whom I stole that last gag.

 

 

 

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 Posted: Fri Mar 9th, 2007 12:43 pm
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theatralite
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Mana: 
I reckon the staging aspect is certainly valid.
For example, I've just had one of my one act plays
accepted for a festival. I wrote it for a basic box set.
The main part takes place backstage but as written part of the action occurs on stage but off stage through a back stage curtain. However, on re-writing the ending of the piece as requested and doing a final revision of the whole of it occurred to me that the onstage could just as easily be done using the theatre audience as the audience.Does that make sense?
The point is that would radically change many of the stage directions but retain the dialogue as it stands.Of course, being a festival the company may have to accept further constraints on staging which could mean changes in stage directions. Personally I have a very open mind on this.
Certainly some amateur productions I have seen have suffered from directors using the Acting Edition like a bible even though the set bears little or no relation to that suggested in the acting edition.

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 Posted: Sun Mar 11th, 2007 08:31 am
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Poet
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Mana: 
Swann - I try to duck responsibility, but I never duck soup!

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 Posted: Sun Mar 11th, 2007 05:37 pm
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muncy
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Mana: 
As someone who has come to writing after experience of acting and directing I am firmly of the opinion that stage directions should only ever be a guide.

We staged 'An Inspector Calls' a couple of years ago using the latest script available from French's. For half the play the directions were very precise

"Eric moves the chair to the right of the table and sits, Mr Birling crosses to the drinks cabinet, Mrs Birling enters, crosses in front of Mr Birling and sits left of table"

that sort of thing. For the rest of the play there were no directions at all! You would get charactors delivering lines having not had any direction to enter the room. Or you would get something like

"Sheila puts a hand on Eric's shoulder"

but the last time either of them were referred to in the directions they were at opposite ends of the room.

That experience put me off stage directions for life and I tend to put the minimum in my own plays letting the director make up the moves.

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 Posted: Sun Mar 11th, 2007 10:15 pm
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Jack
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Mana: 
I've just wasted 20 mins searching the BBC to find a listen again site for a programme they've just deleted! (I can't wait until the BBC go Podcast fully!)

They have been running a series of programmes on Radio 4 about acting/directing methods. It has become the norm today (in UK pro theatre at least - or this is what the programme was saying) to never block a play. Instead the actors start things off and the director guides them - a bit like not sitting in a classroom anymore, you're 'facilitated'.

I had a horrible habit of wrirting directions in my early plays. I'm a lot better since I started taking the tablets.

But I love to attend rehearsals - indeed I went to one last week. I would not tell anyone how I wanted a part played... But I did tell them stories that I had in the scenario and the character bios that didn't make it to the script. I also told them the motivation I had to write the script.

I was very strange, because after doing so the way they appraoched on the stage afterwards was so like the way I had seen it im my mind's eye whe I wrote it.

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 Posted: Mon Mar 12th, 2007 03:06 pm
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theatralite
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Mana: 
It's perhaps not quite the process you're describing but it seems to be fairly common practice now to "workshop" plays especially new ones. Not quite in the Mike Leigh fashion but using a fully developed script. The increasing practice in provincial theatre of putting together an ensemble cast for the season i.e doing three or four plays with mostly the same cast and odd "guests" allows a familiarity between actors/actresses that facilitates this.

Amdram is of course an entirely different world.Directors are not always chosen on ability. 'Nuff said. Their basic insecurity leads them to lean heavily on the Acting Edition. When the directions are not spelled out they are often at a loss. I recently saw a production of Brass'd Off in which actors were virtually wheeled on, said their piece and were wheeled off. It was reminiscent of those dreadful junior school pantomimes where Johnny is pushed on by the teacher or his school pals, shouts out his few words and then gets back in line.

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