My best friend Dave and I don't get in to many arguments with each other. We're pretty good, most of the time, at listening to each other and actually having productive conversations when we have a difference of opinion on something. To be quite frank, I actually do this pretty darned well with just about everyone I know, because I'm not typically a self-centered ass, but I will admit that when I was younger I hadn't mastered this yet.
Way back in 1996, Dave and I had what is certainly the most heated argument we have ever had, and really the only one I can clearly remember. It was epic. It was passionate. We were both in school studying theatre and we felt really strongly about our momentary leanings.
It was an argument about the playright versus the director.
Dave argued that the director should never under any circumstances alter the sacrosant words of the playwright, as they had descended from divine inspiration and were pure and perfect. I contended that the script is a jumping off point that would hopefully provide a usable backing for an interesting show of the director's vision.
Obviously, we were a bit young and a bit extreme, and reality actually lies, as it often does with extreme views, somewhere in between. At the very least, I think we can all admit that of all of the directors and all of the playwrights who exist in the world, only some of them are mind-blowingly brilliant, and the rest gun a gamut of good to bad. Even if we were childish enough to believe in ridiculous absolutes such as "the playwright is supreme" or "the director's vision is key", given the variability of skill present, we're gonna have to admit that sometime the director is going to be more skilled than the playwright, and sometimes the playwright is going to be more skilled than the director.
It turns out then, that what is needed most of the time is the same sort of give and take, the same sort of collaboration that is present elsewhere in our art form. We all know this... it's pretty impossible to make a show that is even halfway good without knowing it. (ok, there's a lot of crappy theatre out there, so perhaps we don't ALL know it)
That's why when I come across seemingly earnest denunciations by someone on one side of the aisle of those on the other from people who aren't sophomores in college, it really ruffles my feathers.
He would have hated the advent of the auteur director,
smothering the natural brilliance
of his plays with their dense cloying concepts.
Buried inside of an otherwise amusing rant about the state of modern theatre is a dig about those damned directors screwing up the brilliant work of the playwrights. I know, I know: he used the word 'auteur so that he's indicating a certain type of director. But rather than saying "bad" director - he goes for the word that impies the problem with the director is too strong a sense of their own place and then contrasts it with the phrase 'natural brilliance' to quite clearly indicate that it's ok for the playwright to have an elevated sense of self, but heaven forbid if the director does anything but bow to his whim and whimsy.
Really? You REALLY want to see a full, uncut production of Hamlet with no directorial vision applied?
It just might be the case that we do actually operate within the confines of a collaborative artform, comprised of sets of both creative and interpretive artists. It turns out that we sort of need both sets of people, we need them to be good at their jobs, and we need them to not feel threatened by other people who are good at theirs.
You know what makes Shakepeare brilliant? I can take Macbeth and set it amongst warring tribes in central Africa, and not only does it not break - it has the chance to illumate both something about the original script and about the new context. It's actually really hard to make art that is good enough that it can handle so much reinterpretation.
My same friend Dave later got his MFA in Scenic Design, and while in school got feedback on one of his models. "It's beautiful. But the problem is, it's too perfect - you've created a work of art that is complete before the actors step on it, so once they add what they do, they're messing it up rather than completing it."
If your play is perfect without my directorial additions, then you are a bad playwright and should probably be writing novels. If my direction could be applied without change to another play, then I am a bad director and should probably be making lolcats.
I need you to write a script. You need me to turn that into a living production. We both need each other - perhaps we should learn to value the contributions that we each make to the game. Maybe when we do that, people will think about coming to see the good theatre we make.