Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Playwright Makes a Small Request - Upsets Applecart

Theresia Walser, a well-received and emerging playwright in Germany writes:

It has seemed to me for some time now that directors have imposed an unspoken rivalry on their relationships with authors--as though the point of a performance is who will win the evening. It is as though the director feared nothing more than to disappear behind the author's play. When a director feels he has to layer his
own images over my text, I suspect he is trying to subject our relationship to a democratic principle, to win a battle that need never be fought. There is no question, of course, that the wonder of the moment belongs to the director! Without the magic of transformation, a play would never come to life--I often feel that interpretive choices that seem to contradict my plays are inspiring and, in the end, essential.

Some time ago I added the following clause to the contract for an upcoming premiere of one of my plays: "Music may only be added in consultation with the author." This wasn't meant as a threat; I had had a previous unpleasant experience regarding music and wanted to draw attention to the play as an independent score. The clause caused an outrage at the theater in question, as though I had
crossed a line that was not mine to cross, as though I wanted to shake the very foundations of theater. It wasn't merely that no author had ever demanded something so impudent. I was admonished that the clause represented an attempt to intervene in the artistic freedom of directors!

I didn't hesitate to remove the offending language. I didn't suffer or even feel that I was giving in. I secretly thought that the clause, having been forcibly excised, was even more dangerous in its absence. At the same time, I couldn't get the phrase out of my head. I had not heard the demand for artistic freedom in this manner in a long time, certainly not in connection with my plays.

1 comment:

isaac said...

It's important to give a bit of cultural context to this quote... Germany is a much more director-centered theatre culture than the United States. The idea of the invisible director is extremely unfashionable there, and in continental Europe, there director is frequently considered the Primary Artist. There's a kind of Cult of the Director there that (in my opinion) leads frequently to arbitrary, unenlightening choices.

There's nothing really like that here. Most directors consider the text the thing and the weight is definitely with either (a) auteurist work which is either director or company created or (b) a director and a playwright fulfilling a joint vision or (c) the director fulfilling the writer's vision.

Now in the States there are a lot of shitty directors who make arbitrary choices and treat writers badly. But that's not what she's really talking about.