A C Douglas responds:
"I think you need to reread what I wrote instead of responding in knee-jerk fashion as you've done here. Note, please, that nowhere did I used the words interpreter or interpretation, and my focus on the director as servant was as faithful translator (i.e., faithful to the text and the vision of the play's creator), not mindless, uncreative toady. But the director's creative contribution to the work should be to "faithfully and as free from distortion as possible translate the creator's work from its form on the printed page into its truest, most effective concrete physical form so that the work becomes apprehensible to an audience in a theater as its creator envisioned it, which vision is embodied fully in the text or score itself."
I am puzzled about how I have misinterpreted Mr Douglas.But first, the catalyst for Douglas' screed, which are the following words from Isaac's post on the role of the director. Isaac writes:
We make a big mistake in theater by confusing The Script with The Play. The Script is the foundation, or the stem cell. Or, as Simon Callow writes about it, like a piece of music score where you only have some of the notes and you're not sure what key its in. It's just words. It's not the finished thing. We have this ridiculous idea of "Serving the Text." Bullshit! The Text serves the Play!
Now, to me, this seems pretty innocuous statement, almost a truism: the script is not the play, and I doubt that you could find a playwright (or a composer, for that matter) who would claim that it is. It is the raw material for a play, but raw material that is very much incomplete -- much more incomplete than a musical score or an archtect's blueprint, for instance. As I said in a previous past, there is a tremendous number of decisions -- decisions that affect the way the story is perceived by the audience -- that must be made by the director.
However, Mr Douglas uses Isaac's fairly neutral words to attack "grotesque directorial outrages" that he labels "eurotrash," Douglas writes: "And behind such Eurotrash outrages are opera directors who view matters much as does Isaac as reflected in his above quoted remarks; directors who imagine the composer's score is "just words" and notes, and merely "the foundation ... the stem cell" on or from which the director can shape his own "vision." That sort of self-serving, self-important view of things is quite beyond the merely insufferable, and ought not to be tolerated, much less countenanced or, worse, encouraged."
Now, first, Isaac doesn't say anything about using the play to express a directorial vision. Rather, he says the script is not the production. A production is made up of a great number of elements: acting, sets, costumes, sound, lights -- the text may be the founder of the feast, but the minute it enters the production process it becomes one among many.
Douglas goes on: "As a first principle they should be reminded that the playwright or the opera composer is the sole creator of his work, and that the playwright's text is the play, just as the opera composer's score is the opera. Any text or score that isn't, isn't worth the paper it's printed on."
It is very true that the playwright and the composer is the sole creator of his work. But his work is the script or the score, not the performance. If the play or the score were the performance, then we would have no need for all these other collaborators to bring it to life, and theatre and opera would be a helluva lot less expensive. But if we accept Mr Douglas' idea, then it follows, doesn't it, that as long as a singer sang the notes accurately, the composer's work would be served. In fact, he says a similar thing a bit later: "In short, a director is doing what he ought to be doing only when he and his work are perfectly transparent middlemen." But surely he can't mean that, or else why would great opera singers be in such short supply, and so fiercely fought for? Clearly, they add something to the notes written by the composer -- something the composer couldn't put on the page, but that comes from the performer's soul, talent, and heart. They are not "transparent middlemen," because such a thing is impossible -- and actually, undesirable. Why? Today's computer technology allows us to enter a composer's work into a computer program, which will then convert it into sound. But the result is sterile, uninflected, uninspired -- in short, dead.
He goes on: "Second, they should be reminded that the creators of plays and operas neither need nor require partners or collaborators once the work is finished." This is a statement that I find completely baffling. I guess the "work" to which Mr Douglas refers is the script or the score, and if I am right about that, then what he says is unarguable. But as Isaac says, the script is not the play (or, perhaps as a way of eliminating confusion: the script is not the production). And the playwright and composer clearly does need partners to convert the script or the score into a performance.
In his comment above, he seems to be referring to the following lines in his self-defense: "What the creators of plays and operas need and require are gifted servants of which the director is one; servants who will faithfully and as free from distortion as possible translate the creator's work from its form on the printed page into its truest, most effective concrete physical form so that the work becomes apprehensible to an audience in a theater as its creator envisioned it, which vision is embodied fully in the text or score itself." I have already addressed the impossibility of being a "servant" to a master that is incapable of giving thorough orders, so I won't review that. But what Mr Douglas seems to be referring to is what has long been referred to as the Intentional Fallacy: the error of assuming that what a text means is what the author says it means, and the even greater problem of knowing what a dead author thought something meant. What did Shakespeare "mean" by Hamlet? What did Sophocles "mean" by Oedipus Rex? And perhaps as importantly, is what it mean to them more important than what it means to us today? Aristophanes wrote Lysistrata in reference to a very specific war -- must it continue to do so, or can it now refer to any war since then? I think Mr Douglas thinks we know more from a text or a score than is actually available, and he apparently believes that the way something was originally meant to be heard (say, played by ancient instruments rather than contemporary ones) is how it should remain. This is museum theatre and museum opera -- artifacts, not living experiences.
This has nothing to do with postmodernism, by the way. Wimsatt and Beardsley proposed the Intentional Fallacy over half a century ago; Vsevelod Meyerhold was reinterpreting texts in Russia at the turn of the 20th century, and Nahum Tate was rewriting King Lear with a happy ending in the 18th century.
This issue is complex and many-sided. I, too, don't like director's who seem to disrespect the play they have chosen to bring to life. But I don't think "transparency" is possible.