Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Written and Directed By

Thalia (muse of comedy) and Melpomene (muse of tragedy). Statues cir. 500 BCE
In non-South Stream news, I will be directing The New Wizards, a play that I also wrote, in the Open Doors festival at Sonorous Road in September. It got me thinking about directing and writing and the intersection of the two.

I have directed several plays (once for 10x10 at the Cary Arts Center, and twice for South Stream - Seascape and Blackbird).  I have also written several short plays (around 15 or so) some of which have been produced locally and internationally (I had two in last year's Open Doors, A Gift From God and Interrogation). But this production will be the first time I have ever directed my own work. I thought it would be interesting to talk about why that is.

I have had the opportunity to direct my work in the past. When presented these opportunities, I have asked others to direct the work instead. This has been for three reasons. First, as a playwright, if I can't pass the script to a cast and director, if I personally need to be involved for the script to "work," then I haven't done my job really. The work should be able to have a life of its own, outside my imagination. Second, I genuinely want to see what someone else does with my work. Allowing other people in to interpret, produce, and perform the work is exciting. It's part of the magic of play writing. I know how it looks in my head, but what will it look like filtered through other people's creativity? Finally, I have avoided it because I worry that as a writer AND director, the cast will defer too much to me. Often in rehearsing a play, the cast and director will wonder what is meant by a word or phrase, they encounter the language and the characters without explanation. As an actor, that's part of the creative process that I enjoy. What does this mean? How do I make this mean something to me? I have always worried (and still do) that this exploration will be replaced by "hey, what did you mean by this?" I don't want there to be a short-cut. I suppose there might be a fourth reason as well. I worry that it would seem a bit egotistical to write and direct my own work.

So why did I change my mind? Well, for one thing, I had the time. I am not currently busy with another production, and rehearsing a 10 minute play over the month and a half between now and the opening doesn't seem terribly taxing. I also thought it would be a good experiment. While there are disadvantages, there are advantages too. This will be the first time The New Wizards has been produced so in some sense, the cast will be helping me fine tune the script itself. It's not a work shop production but the opportunity to see it on its feet will hopefully help me find areas that might need improvement. The flipside to the peril of being able to ask the writer "what do you mean?" is the freedom to ask the writer "can I say this instead?" I have also become quite a fan of the Reduced Shakespeare Company Podcast. It provides a number of really insightful interviews with actors, writers, and other creators that are fun to listen to. But it also provides insight into their writing process (they've written 10 "reduced" shows in the 20 some years they've been in existence), and listening to some of these, they seem to get a great deal out of directing workshop productions of their shows as they are being developed. Listening to their experiences has made the idea seem like it might be a good one after all (albeit on a smaller scale).

So, that's what I'll be doing in late summer. If you want to see how it went, come check it out in early September.