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 Posted: Mon Jun 9th, 2008 09:11 pm
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LadyBug
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Mana: 
I keep reading these articles that are really against the idea of workshoping and playwright development.  They seem to espouse the opinion that playwrights should be able to write great works on their own, without any input from the outside world.  That seeking out these opinions is promoting group writing and ruins an authors voice.    

I agree that allowing other people to dilute your work is bad.  As an artists, I think it's important to stay true to your vision.  Even if that vision is bad.  

But, I was wondering, do people think it's cheating to get opinions from other people about your writing?

Often I'm blind to the some of the flaws in my plays because I'm too close to my work.  I need the eyes/ears of my peers to help me catch those things I'm blind to.  Does that mean that I'm not or will never be a great writer?

Novelists get to have editors.  And, it seems to me that even works written by great writers can have flaws.  Also, don't many of the supposed "great writers" have peers that they sought out to read their works?  

Aren't we always hearing about historical moments in arts where a group of artists clutched together to create a community for themselves?  I would assume that those communities were some version of the formalized development groups that exists today.

As an artist, I think I will always be learning.  I don't believe in the idea that at some point in my career I will be "perfect."  To me the word "perfect" brings up images of something immovable.  Something stagnant.

I'd like to believe that it isn't cheating to seek out other's opinions.  Instead, it's part of making my work great.  And I come back to that old adage; theatre is, by it's nature, a collaborative experience.    

Last edited on Tue Jun 10th, 2008 12:00 am by LadyBug

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 Posted: Tue Jun 10th, 2008 02:22 pm
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IanFraser
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Mana: 
I think 'cheating' is the wrong word to use, its already loaded with negatives.

Some people seem to need and improve by hearing the criticisms of others - and perhaps there's a confidence boost in the process to the individual, who's unsure of themselves and/or the quality of their work.

Others tread happily as something of an auteur, without needing whatever the group might provide to them, during the writing process.

I think each person has to follow their own path, and find what pleases them the most - and what seems to sit well with them.

Just because theatre is a collaborative process - that doesn't automatically mean that every script that gets written, should be offered to all and sundry to put their two cents worth in.

The collaborative part of theatre, comes in rehearsal - when actors meet script via the guidance and vision of the director.  I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that, because at this point, the script is being looked at by a number of people, that this somehow means that the playwright 'should' put up with asking everyone in the company 'what they think' of the work while its being written.
That sounds more like an issue to do with the writers confidence, or fuzzy overall vision, than anything else. But that's just my take on it.

Personally I'm wary, as an artist, of any group of people who set themselves up as somehow having a 'better' or 'deeper' understanding of my work, than I have. And the inherent implication of suggesting that - provided I let them poke, fiddle and play with my vision, they might deign to stage it. Hmmm.
 
That sounds like people who can't write, trying to make themselves appear useful to the theatrical process.

That said, writers do improve in writing classes, sure. But as for 'workshops' and 'developmental processes' - surely the object of being a solo artist, is to be trying to break away from the Herd, and find new ways of showing things, telling stories, making points.

Doing things in a way that WOULDNT be done in a nice, touchy-feely workshop process.

Instead, one gets 'creative input by the lowest common denominator'. 
I'd like to know what seriously offensive, or scandalous, or controversial pieces, have emerged from 'workshops' or 'developmental processes'? I think all the individuality gets ironed out, and whatever the solo artists vision might be, is gradually subordinated to the Group's idea of 'good taste' 'marketability' and other middle class concerns that shouldn't really be part of the writers thinking when initially creating a piece.

There's the danger of ending up with yet another (admittedly) carefully structured piece that ultimately says nothing - as its all been dumbed down so as not to offend, or confuse, or anger anyone in the controlling Group.

I forget who it was who said it, but there's a great phrase to keep in mind:
'Art begins where good taste ends'

/rant off - (its hot today, what can I say :)

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 Posted: Tue Jun 10th, 2008 07:13 pm
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LadyBug
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Mana: 
IanFraser,

Thanks for you input.  I appreciate your candidness.

"Cheating" is a negative word...but even you expressed some strong feelings about the negative side of group readings.  That's why I used such a strong word.  The subtext of WHY people are so against getting opinions from outside sources can really get confusing.  Sometimes it can feel like they are saying; "your cheating if you seek out critique from other people."

I agree with you about the "lowest common denominator."  Mater of fact, that's my biggest complaint about my workshoping experiences.  Most recently I got a comment from someone that a piece I'd just written was "fatally flawed" and the insinuation from this person was that I should give up on the piece.  For that exact same piece, another person told me it was "production ready."  Go figure.    

Sad thing is that I pretty much agree with all the negative stuff you said about developmental groups.  For me there is ALSO a very positive side to the developmental group process that I believe has improved my writing.  I’m too stubborn to give up the controversial parts of my plays, so I ignore any comments about content.  Also, there is no formalized playwrighting program where I live, so this is all that’s available to me.     

I have a bit of a problem with the following:

“Some people seem to need and improve by hearing the criticisms of others - and perhaps there's a confidence boost in the process to the individual, who's unsure of themselves and/or the quality of their work.”

First off, are we talking about true criticisms or are we talking about the love fest of some groups?  Also, I’m drawn back to my comment about confusing subtext, because you used phrases like “confidence boost” and “unsure of themselves.”  It would be easy for me interpret that line to mean, “if you can’t do it on your own then they’re something wrong with you.”     

Especially since you follow that line with this:  “Others tread happily as something of an auteur, without needing whatever the group might provide to them, during the writing process.”  In the first line you talk about someone “needing” and in the second line you talk about someone who doesn’t “need.”

So…I guess I’m not really clear on where you stand on the question.  Do you seek out input from anyone when you're writing your plays?  It doesn't have to be a group...maybe a friend or a peer?  Or are you exclusively an “auteur” (ie you don’t seek critique from ANY outside sources)?

Eliz

Last edited on Tue Jun 10th, 2008 09:48 pm by LadyBug

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 Posted: Tue Jun 10th, 2008 07:41 pm
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Shanahan
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Mana: 
I write to please myself first. When it's done, I arrange to hear it in front of an audience--no matter how small. Plays aren't meant to be read, they're meant to be heard and seen. Any feedback I get I sift through and throw out all the useless stuff. I consider what's left, see if anything has value, then I go back and rewrite--again, aiming to please myself first.

No other writers' opinions need apply during the process.

Two opinions matter: Mine, and the audience's*.


*Said audience may also include any theater I send it to hoping to get some stage time.

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 Posted: Wed Jun 11th, 2008 06:06 am
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msdirector
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Mana: 
Hi Ladybug,

I don't put my two cents in too often because I'm not a playwright.  But I am a dramaturg and director who works extensively in collaboration with playwrights in the development of new plays and musicals, and this is a subject which touches on my area so I thought I'd add a few of my own observations...

I've worked with playwrights who basically work alone and others who enjoy and benefit from the feedback and support of a group.  Most in the second catagory do not expect the group to actually collaborate in the writing of their plays, but to act just as an educated audience would at points in the development process when their play is not yet ready for an actual paying (or invited) audience, but where the playwright feels the need for intelligent, knowledgeable and constructive criticism. 

I also know that some groups - certainly not all - seem to feel their job is to tear down the playwright's work rather than to objectively assess what is working and what is not in the play as it is at that moment.  Others feel it is their privilege to tell the playwright what the play "should" be about.  I can certainly understand any playwright who belongs to such a group being put off by that kind of abuse or interference in their creative process. 

There is, however, another alternative to working either entirely alone or with a playwrighting group - as well as being an adjunct to either choice - and that is working with a new play dramaturg.  I realize that "dramaturg" seems to have become a dirty word lately, and that there are certainly some dramaturgs who feel that same urge to rewrite the playwright's work.  That's not the kind of dramaturg I'm talking about.   There are new play dramaturgs out there who work closely with playwrights without trying to take over their work.  They are there to help and to be an audience surrogate until the play is ready for a real audience.  Dramaturgy is a field that is so varied that each individual dramaturg may work differently, but I can give you an idea of what I do...

As a dramaturg and director working with playwrights in development, I am a combination of script consultant/editor, sounding board, someone to bounce ideas off, someone to read and give constructive, creative commentary - and nothing else.  I'm not a writer and don't claim to be.  But 26 years of directing, acting, producing, stage managing and study has given me the tools to be able to read a play and visualize it as a production, see/hear it from the audience's point of view and recognize what is working and what isn't.  My job is to make sure that the playwright is saying exactly what s/he thinks s/he is saying in a way that is producible, and that the plot, characters, relationships and dramatic arc are consistent and convey what they playwright wants them to.   I take notes as I read, and report to the playwright by phone, email or in person.  It's up to them what action they want to take - if any - on my observations and suggestions.  There is no abuse, no intimidation, and no obligation to agree with me or to act on my comments.  I'm there to help and that's all.

This is not a working relationship that works with every playwright, but it is a possibility that works well with many, and it is an alternative to the options of writing alone or working with a group.

Best,
Arlene (MsDirector)

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 Posted: Wed Jun 11th, 2008 03:31 pm
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in media res
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Mana: 
it is just fine and perfectly proper to ask for an analysis/critique.

There are some good workshops. But there are more back alley chopshops. From what we have most heard about more people get their plays chopshopped than workshopped.


ms director did a very clear summing up of the types(s) of people you want to find around you for any critique.


in media res

Last edited on Wed Jun 11th, 2008 03:39 pm by in media res

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 Posted: Sat Jul 5th, 2008 01:42 pm
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Celsun
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Mana: 
All the playwrights I've read about and know about have done rewrites at some point after their plays were accepted for production. There are many reasons for this, but among them are two: 1) the feedback from all those involved; and 2) time has put some distance between the playwright and his/her work--the playwright is able to see the work in a new light.

That's the point of critique: seeing your work from a different perspective. You can put your play in a desk drawer for a few months before pulling it out again to rework it. That will give you a new perspective, too, since you are not the same person. But it makes sense to get feedback from anybody. And not just playwrights. Remember, the people who pay to see a play (everyday people) can be good judges, too.

The way I see it, even critiques you don't agree with are harmless, as long as you have enough confidence in yourself as a playwright and what you want to do with a play. If somebody else says, "That line of dialogue sounds artificial" and you disagree, you should be able to justify that line of dialogue to yourself. You should be able to justify every line, every word. Anybody can point out these details to us and we should be happy to receive their feedback.

When you think about the millions of things people can be doing, the millons of things they can be reading on the internet, we should feel honored that someone has taken the time to read what we've written and is willing to give us their thoughts.

That's my opinion.

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 Posted: Sat Jul 12th, 2008 05:20 pm
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Martin H
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Mana: 
I'm generally a fan of the feedback I get from any source. I've had useful insight in this office from comments on pieces I've posted, and in a number of offices I belong to in the Zoetrope Writer's Workshop. An actor friend once organized a reading by several colleagues and himself of one of my plays, which to date is the one opportunity I've had to assess whether my written words had the impact I imagined they would when spoken. I take it for granted the last draft (if there ever really is one) of any play is the one written when you see what happens to the lines and situations under the lights, on stage, in rehearsal.

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 Posted: Wed Jul 16th, 2008 11:02 pm
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playwright_bo
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Mana: 
I for one enjoy hearing my play at least read out loud before going into the production process because well... my dialogue can be damn clunky and I wont have any clue until I hear it read in front of an audience.
I enjoy festivals and feedback but you have to have the right midset or you will get befoweled by a mass of mediocrity...

This is a quote by Dawson Moore that I go by when taking feedback, "60% of what I am given doess not apply to the play that I am writing.  I discard these responces and am not damaged by them.  About 20% of what is given is also off base, but the fact that they have had the reaction they are having leads me to further understand how to clarify what I am trying to achieve.  And about 20% I say, 'Wow good idea thanks!' I then write their good idea into my play as if it were mine."

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 Posted: Fri Jul 18th, 2008 07:39 am
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HarveyRabbit
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Mana: 
I never write a play according to poll numbers, like some sleazy politician. I write the play I want to write. If someone likes it and wants to produce it, I’m a very happy man. If they don’t – I move on.

 

If you already know your dialogue is “clunky” why would you ask someone else to fix it? Why wouldn’t you fix it yourself?

 

I don’t wish to be obstreperous, but you’re supposed to be the wordsmith.

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 Posted: Fri Jul 18th, 2008 11:39 am
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Martin H
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Mana: 
Hearing dialogue in front of an audience isn't quite the same as writing a script by poll. It may be crucial to hear lines spoken so you know how it flows. That's something you should be doing on your own as you write as well--testing the sound of the lines you write, and sometimes the pronounceability. The rhythm of a sentence carries the meaning as much as the words, and is crucial to keeping an audience involved.

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 Posted: Fri Jul 18th, 2008 03:22 pm
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Edd
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Mana: 

I attend the same school as HarveyRabbit.  I write it.  And if I like it and you don't, too bad.   The only times I make changes are when I am inspired with insight to see a better way--which is quite often--when those I know and trust make suggestions and during rehearsals while listening to the actors.  I've said it before, and will say it till the day I die, I'm loath to be advised by those without a vested interest.  I have learned this the hard way.  "Vested interest" means, in this case, the actors, the director, all those who are working to make it happen and those who have their money invested in the show.  The opinions of those who have nothing to lose is of less than little interest to me -- especially the opinions of  playwrights whose work I do not know.   But that's me, my choice.  I certainly don't think it is necessarily a good choice for everybody.  It has taken me decades to learn to trust in myself and in my work to arrive at this harbor of certitude--so don't expect me to engage in a debate. Those whose ships have yet to sail might do best by closely listening and considering all the opinions that come their way, but not necessarily accepting them with knee-jerk compliance.

~Edd


P.S. My favorite play of all time is TINY ALICE--a disaster in its time--and the play that inspired me to choose playwriting as my vocation.  Had Mr. Albee rewritten it to suit the crowd, including the critics and the audience, this great treasure of dramatic literature would not be in existence today--nor would much of the Art we value most.

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 Posted: Fri Jul 18th, 2008 08:09 pm
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playwright_bo
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Mana: 
I'll just say that it is nice to hear others opinions on the matter.  I dont write according to a pole, in fact if you read what is written I was explaining that I ignore 80% of the feedback I get, but sometimes it is worth it for the remainder.

Theatre Conferences and Readings are a great tool if you know how to use them, but much like a table saw they will completely F you up if you dont.

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 Posted: Sat Jul 19th, 2008 02:13 am
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Martin H
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Mana: 
Another good example, Edd, is Peter Barnes' The Bewitched. The actors sunk into despondency during the run of this, according to Ronald Bryden who put it on at the Royal Court Theatre, because the audiences were small and unresponsive. On the last day of performances a dozen or so students from a local art college, who'd attended every show or very nearly, gave the cast a gorgeous set of caricatures of the entire dramatis personae which showed that somebody at least in the audience had gotten what Barnes was getting at. 

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 Posted: Sat Jul 19th, 2008 09:31 pm
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deepakmorris
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Mana: 
I'm all for workshopping.

I'm wholly against "feedback".

To me, hearing the dialogue in a workshop gives me input (in a way, feedback, but not as it has come to mean in the modern playwriting context) that makes me tweak the play to reach even greater heights.

But let a single workshop participant try to suggest what I should do and I go ballistic. Some call it ego. I say, call it what you like, it's my play and I get to say what my character says (okay, we won't get into characters in our minds who take off on their own and say some amazing things - we're all a centimetre into madness anyway).

Hearing the dialogue helps me. Being told what to do - or even advised with all good intentions - makes me dig in my heels.

Overall, I've found that digging in my heels makes for a better play than one I've modified because of well-meaning feedback.

But hearing the dialogue helps. Definitely.

Deepak

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