Sunday, November 06, 2005

A C Douglas

Over at Parabasis, guest blogger Abe Goldfarb takes A C Douglas to task for a decidedly uninformed post responding to Isaac's comments on directing. Douglas' hobbyhorse are directors (in his case, opera directors) who see themselves as creative artists instead of "servants" to the play. He gets bent out of shape by "Eurotrash" directors who use the text as a pretense for their own theatrical meanderings. Well, me too. Nobody should accept a director who dismantles a play or an opera in order to strut their egos. However, the alternative is not seeing oneself as a "servant" of the play.

The director is creating a new work of art, not interpreting a pre-existing one. To interpret a play would be to describe in words the play's meaning, significance, etc. But a director transforms the text into a new work of art: a performance. He or she works with words, pauses, inflection, breath, facial expression, movement, rhythm, images, sound, lights, music, costumes, and sets to create a new work of art that lives and breathes. The play on the page is a work of literature; the play on the stage is a work of theatre.

The play provides only the barest hint as to the moment-to-moment artistic decisions that a production demands. Take the simplest of theatrical moments: a pause. How long should it be? Should the actors remain still or move during it? Should they be close together or far away? Facing each other or facing front? Take a simple line: which word should be emphasized? Should it be shouted or whispered? Said quickly or slowly? No script provides the level of detail needed to turn the director into a servant. People who talk about directors as servants are ignorant of the sheer number of details provided by the director, not the playwright.

A director should have artistic ethics. If you are doing a production of Hamlet, you should direct that text, and not use it as a pretext to riff on some personal hobbyhorse. But a servant acts on the orders of another person -- the master; the text of a play is not directive enough to be a master. Instead, it is suggestive. To that extent, the director should see himself or herself as the playwright's collaborator. But servant? No, Mr Douglas, you misunderstand what a director does. And the fact that George Hunka, a working playwright who has had several of his plays directed by Isaac, agreed with Isaac's statements about the director's relation to the text should have made you think a bit more before blasting your opinion to the blogsphere. Frankly, there was something kind of canned about it.

6 comments:

A.C. Douglas said...

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."

ACD

joshua said...

I think that we're all field hands in service to the play and its audience . . . but that's just me.

A.C. Douglas said...

Oops

My,

"I think you need to reread what I wrote instead of responding in knee-jerk fashion as you've done here."

should have read:

"I think you need to reread what I wrote instead of responding in knee-jerk fashion as you've done here, and as did Mr. Goldfarb in his, um, warmly-worded post on Parabasis."

ACD

george hunka said...

I don't want to drag this out any longer than it needs to be--ACD has his opinions to which he adheres more strongly than anyone else--but I do want to make just two notes, since my agreement with Isaac's argument is what brought all this up.

My argument with ACD primarily is with his assumption that a script, in its written form, represents a "vision ... embodied fully in the text or score itself." My whole argument (and Isaac's also, I believe) is that this simply isn't true. Playwrights from Aeschylus on wrote their text with the knowledge that it would be interpreted by others--directors or performers or choreographers, it matters not which--before it premiered before an audience. Similarly, if Shakespeare agreed with Mr. Douglas, he would have spent far more time overseeing their progress through the press. I don't claim to be able to read Shakespeare's mind, but Shakespeare's reluctance to do this, I think, testifies to his belief of the malleability of theatrical performance, malleable because incomplete without the creative participation of his collaborators.

Finally, who's to say that any given production of a text represents the vision of that play in "its truest, most effective concrete physical form"? The playwright? As I think I've noted elsewhere, the playwright recognizes the incompleteness of the text as a play; indeed, he or she has written it that way, with supple boundaries around its contours, to allow for the collaboration of others. Does the recognition of this "truest ... form" inhere in the audience? In the critic? Ultimately, is there such a thing?

A.C. Douglas said...

First, let me disabuse Mr. Hunka of his notion that "[his] agreement with Isaac's argument is what brought all this up." What brought this up originally (i.e., my post, "The Director's Chair") was my disagreement with Mr. Butler's appallingly wrongheaded notion that,

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!"

That is what provoked my response, and nothing else. My expressed astonishment that Mr. Hunka, a playwright, agreed with that wrongheaded notion was written merely en passant.

But to respond to the substance of Mr. Hunka's above comments contra my argument, I would first point out to Mr. Hunka that his,

Playwrights from Aeschylus on wrote their text with the knowledge that it would be interpreted by others--directors or performers or choreographers, it matters not which--before it premiered before an audience

in no way makes invalid or is contra anything I wrote (and it's almost needless to say that Mr. Hunka using Shakespeare to bolster Mr. Butler's and his view is plainly sophistic as Shakespeare wrote his plays to be performed by his own company alone where he had absolute control over all aspects of production).

While it's unquestionably true that all playwrights write with the awareness that their work must ultimately end up in the hands of others in order to be presented to an audience, that does NOT in any way suggest that playwrights therefore write their plays "...with supple boundaries around its contours, to allow for the collaboration of others." The very idea is absurd. Any playwright who writes that way does so because he's either too inexperienced, or too insecure, or too unsure of himself to trust in his own judgment alone, or because he has an imperfect idea of what it is he wants to say, and is hoping that those others will later "fill in the blanks" for him (and the audience), so to speak.

The playwright's equivalence to the opera composer in this matter is here almost perfect. NO opera composer (or any composer, for that matter) worth his salt ever writes a composition "with supple boundaries around its contours, to allow for the collaboration of others," or writes it "incomplete," even though he at all times writes with the awareness that his work must ultimately end up in the hands of others in order to be presented to an audience. He, as does the playwright, writes it complete as he hears it in his inner ear and sees it with his inner eye, and what he hopes for most fervently, even most desperately -- as does every playwright worth his salt -- is that those others will serve his work in the most faithful manner possible, and that thereby what he wrote will be presented to an audience in as distortion-free a manner as possible so that his essential vision (or idea(s), or fill-in-your-own-term) embodied in that work -- his vision -- is what emerges in performance.

Thus has it always and universally been, and thus it will always be.

ACD

A.C. Douglas said...

Oops (missing words)

My,

While it's unquestionably true that all playwrights write with the awareness that their work must ultimately end up in the hands of others in order to be presented to an audience, that does NOT in any way suggest that playwrights therefore write their plays "...with supple boundaries around its contours, to allow for the collaboration of others." The very idea is absurd.

should have read,

While it's unquestionably true that all playwrights write with the awareness that their work must ultimately end up in the hands of others in order to be presented to an audience, that does NOT in any way suggest that playwrights therefore write their plays "...with supple boundaries around its contours, to allow for the collaboration of others," or write them "incomplete." The very idea is absurd.

ACD